Book Review:Sweetness and Lightning

Bibliography:
Amagakure, Gido. sweetness-and-lightning Volume 1. 2015. New York, New York. HarperTeen, HarperCollins.
ISBN: 978-1632363695

Plot:
Kouhei Inuzuka is a widowed high school teacher raising his young daughter Tsumugi. He’s a busy single parent, and they usually eat take out. His late wife was a great cook, but since her death he saves time by buying their food. When Tsumugi complains that the food doesn’t taste good, Kouhei has to find another way to interest her again. At the annual Cherry Blossom Festival they bump into one of his students, Kotori Iida, who is eating and crying.

She’s not sad, but extremely happy because the food tastes so good. Tsumugi asks her what she’s eating, and they begin talking about food. This leads them to Kotori’s family restaurant which becomes their training ground in cooking. Her mother is a famous television chef which keeps her very busy. The restaurant is closed whenever she has a television appearance, so they may use it often to practice. As the story goes on Tsumugi , Kouhei, and Kotori come to love cooking, gain confidence, and even invite other friends to share in their culinary adventures.

Critical Analysis:
Sweetness and Lightening is one of the happiest manga this reader has experienced in some time. With popular series right now having a high gore and violence factor, this series is a breath of fresh air. A slice of life cooking manga without the fan-service of Food Wars, this is a manga to slowly savor. Each recipe that they cook together brings more humor and fun to the reader. It’s not necessary to love cooking to enjoy this manga.

Kouhei is a sweet character trying to make it as a single parent. He’s hard working and a bit shy, but he makes up for it with his love for Tsumugi. She isn’t the easiest child to care for, but he handles each problem with patience. He gains confidence in cooking, and it gives him a new zest for life. Losing his wife took a very big toll on him, so he’s learning to enjoy life again.

Tsumugi is a sweet chibi-ish child, and her cuteness can be overwhelming at times. She’s also rather rambunctious, and occasionally has fights with the kids in her class. These disputes are part of being a child, and the author handles them very well. They add a sense of authenticity to an already grounded series. Tsumugi is an anime fan, and her favorite series Magi Gal appears throughout the volume too.

Kotori is a pretty shy character too. It’s good to see a teacher student relationship that is not romantic, stilted, or condescending. Kotori has her own fears that she has to overcome such as her fear of knives. She usually leaves the cutting and knife skills to Kouhei, at least for now. As the manga progresses hopefully she will overcome this fear.

Plot development over many more volumes may reveal some mysteries brought up in this first volume such as Kotori’s mother, and more about Kouhei’s wife’s death. The story will need a few more characters to help move the story along as well. Most likely these will be other family members and friends of both Kouhei and Kotori. In this volume they make rice, Salisbury steak, and Pork Miso soup. One particular scene is funny, where Kouhei tries to use a snorkel mask over his glasses to cut onions without crying. This reader will be excited to see what gets cooked in subsequent volumes.

Reviews:
A beautifully drawn story about comfort food and family and grief, it’s a delightful read. Recommended.”  -Otaku USA Magazine

Connections:
Book Clubs or discussion groups could talk about the food that is cooked in the story, and what they might want to try making. They could discuss how food is such a big part of our lives as humans, and how we feel deeply about it. There is always a learning curve with new cooks, or those trying to gain new skills. Why are cooking stories so prevalent in every culture? What is your relationship to food? Do you cook? Why? What makes cooking special to you? Are there any memories from your childhood associated with food? How has your palate changed as you’ve aged? Is Kouhei a good father? What makes his relationship to Tsumugi interesting? This manga has a slower pace than most other manga. Did you find that appealing?

Similar Reads:
Your Lie in April by Noashi Arakawa
Horimiya by Hero
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun by Izumi Tsubaki
Food Wars by Yuto Tsukuda

Reviewed by Beth K.