[Review] Sweetness & Lightning
a beautifully drawn story about comfort food and family and grief
by Jason Bradley Thompson
© Gido Amagakure / Kodansha Ltd.
Math teacher Kohei Inuzuka is a widower, raising his preschool-aged daughter Tsumugi alone ever since his wife died six months ago. While the wound of their loss slowly, slowly heals, he patiently tends to Tsumugi’s laundry, daycare, and feeding ... but he doesn’t cook as well as his wife did, so he’s not so good at the feeding part. In walks Kotori, one of Kohei’s teenage students, who invites them to her mom’s acclaimed restaurant.
Surprise: the restaurant is closed, the business is falling apart since mom has issues, and Kotori begs her teacher, “I’m going to be eating dinner alone most of the time from now on, so ... would you eat with me? Could we cook and eat together?” Tsumugi needs to be fed, so soon the two amateur cooks are working to put dinner on the table, making a simple meal of rice, miso beef, and pickled greens. Will the unlikely pair learn to cook together, and will Tsumugi again find the taste of home?
Fans of the manga Bunny Drop, in which a thirtysomething bachelor ended up as the stepparent of a little girl, will find much to love in this manga about another single father ... in fact, it’s probably the better story for a manga neonate, since the art’s nicer and it doesn’t go south with skeevy plot developments in the second half. Sweetness & Lightning does have its own tasteful hints of inappropriate romance—Kotori clearly sees Kohei as more than just a father figure—but Gido Amagakure goes out of their way to make Kohei a responsible teacher who consults with his boss before he spends time with her and tells her what we’re all thinking: “Eating dinner with some random guy and his kid? I doubt your mother would be okay with that.”
At heart this is a cooking manga, in which each chapter centers on a meal and ends with a simple do-it-yourself recipe: miso pork soup, burgers, fried chicken, etc. The cooking formula means it doesn’t have a very strong narrative drive, but little by little we learn more about the characters, and there’s plenty of subplots involving the adorable Tsumugi and the various challenges of raising a child (troubles at school, childhood illness, etc). A beautifully drawn story about comfort food and family and grief, it’s a delightful read, especially in small doses. Recommended.
story and art:
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