Anime/Sweetness & Lightning
Sweetness & Lightning is a 12-episode anime series, based on the manga of the same name, that aired in the summer of 2016. It follows widowed, single father & high school math teacher, Kohei Inuzuka, his young daughter Tsumugi and Kotori Iida, a student of Kohei's who is the daughter of a famous chef & restaurant owner. At the start of the story, Kohei & Tsumugi have been living mostly on frozen food since his wife, Tae, died six months earlier and Kohei is beginning to worry about the affect that it might be having on his daughter. One day, while walking through a park, they encounter Kotori, who gives them a card for her mother's restaurant. When they arrive at the restaurant the next night, however, it's closed. Kotori invites them in anyway and insists on cooking for them, but it soon becomes clear that she doesn't have much experience. After they finish the rice that she managed to prepare, Kotori convinces Kohei to come back to the restaurant, with Tsumugi, on another night to cook with her and this turns into a series of meetings, during which the two learn to cook together. Eventually, Kohei's friend, Yagi, who works at a another restaurant & Kotori's friend, Shinobu, the daughter of the produce supplier for both restaurants, begin joining them and the four form a sort of surrogate family.
There are a few elements that make Sweetness & Lightning particularly interesting, the first of which is that it's just as much about the food as it is about the characters. The latter half of each episode is devoted to the cooking segments and each recipe is described in nearly as much detail as it would be on a cooking show. In fact, I've learned a lot about Japanese food from watching it. Another element that makes the series unique is how it handles character development. Even though Kohei & Tsugumi are ostensibly the main characters, Kotori is given almost equal importance, despite having less screen time, and it makes her very sympathetic and relatable. Even Yagi & Shinobu, who would be little more than recurring, one-dimensional comic relief on a lesser show, are nicely fleshed out and it it really helps establish the bonds that develop between all of them as the series progresses. The final element that sets Sweetness & Lightning apart is that, while it's a very cute show, it still manages to stay grounded. Because it focuses so much on Tsumugi, It would be very easy for the series to become a ridiculously saccharine excuse to show off her antics, but for all of its cuteness, it still doesn't shy away from the reality of many of its situations. The gruff, irascible, chain-smoking Yagi who we're suspiciously introduced to in episode 5 never softens, Kotori's loneliness due to her mother's continual absences is absolutely palpable, When Kohei finds Tsumugi, after she wanders off from their apartment in episode 7, he does what any parent would in that situation; he screams at her and we see all of the fallout, and when Tsumugi finally realizes that her mother is gone in episode 9, her reaction is one of the most heartbreaking moments that I've seen on film. It's Sweetness & Lightnings attention to detail, willingness to revel in its obsession with food and its ability to rise above the potentially overwhelming adorableness at its core that make it the best anime that I've seen in recent years and one of my favorite anime of all time.
I'll leave you with a trailer and a clip from the series. You can watch Sweetness & Lightning for free (with ads) on Crunchyroll.
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