Manga of the Month: Sweetness and Lightning

Sweetness and Lightning (甘々と稲妻) by Gido Amagakure

hisui_icon_4040_round If you have ever talked to anyone who licensed manga you know the holy grail of titles is a series that is getting an anime. Not every manga that gets an anime becomes profitable but any series that has an animated version will be more profitable than it would have been if it has to stand on its own. While manga has a distinct presence and fandom in the English-speaking world it could be argued that manga often acts as an add-on to anime which is the opposite of how it usually works in Japan. If nothing else, that is how I found Sweetness and Lightning.

While I regularly read several series on Crunchyroll manga I have found that I am slow to start new series. I check in every Tuesday to read Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches and The Seven Deadly Sins. When I remember I catch up with GTO: Paradise LostSpace BrothersPrincess Jellyfish, and The Heroic Legend of Arslan. With all of that, it makes it a bit daunting to start a new series. Sweetness and Lightning was a series that I was thinking of starting but I just never mustered the momentum to try it. After watching the anime I went back and have started reading through the archives. I mostly realized I should have started when I first had the chance.

This gives me a new way of reading a series. I often either read the manga before watching the anime or watch the anime and then use the manga to continue the story. This is the first time I am reading the manga alongside the anime. Every time I watch an episode of the anime I then go back and read up to that point in the anime. I am curious to see how this method changes the way I look at both versions.

Being a responsible single dad and a teacher does not leave Kohei Inuzuka with an immense amount of free time so he often has to buy his daughter,  the serviceable but soulless convenience store meals. A series of chance encounters with Kotori Iida, a student at his school, leads to her teaching him how to cook. A lonely young lady who is afraid of knives, an earnest father trying to do his best for his daughter, and a magical girl loving firecracker come together to make delicious food.

Kohei seems to come off as a bit of the nice guy dad at first. He seems very pleasant and patient. If anything his major flaw is he can be a bit milquetoast. If this was all that there was to his characterization he might come off as nothing more than a harem hero who become a father. They wisely let him get angry, perplexed, frustrated, and overwhelmed from time to time. Raising a child is hard and no one can claim to be perfect in the regard. Showing that despite having a good heart he does not always have it together helps humanize him greatly.

That said the real stars of the manga are the two ladies. Tsumugi is clearly the lightning in the title. She adds a good deal of energy to the series in a way the reminds me a lot of Yotsuba. Much like her father she can come off as a bit of an idealized version of a child but they let her be flawed enough to feel real. As a side note, I really want to know more about that magical girl show she watches. It has some great monster designs.

Kotori Iida is the final leg of the trio. She comes off as very aloof and a bit robotic when she is away from Kohei and Tsumugi but there is a much more frantic, emotional, and passionate girl underneath all of that. She clearly has a crush on Kohei which acts a the strongest ongoing plot thread. The series wisely makes sure that her romantic angle never overtakes the most important parts of the series: the bond between Kohei and Tsumugi and the wonderful food.

I have noticed that the meals in Sweetness and Lightning tend towards comfort food. If you’re expecting anything frou-frou you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The meals are more thins like curry, donuts, and gyoza. You know the good stuff. But in many ways that is 100% perfect for enhancing the mood of the series. Sweetness and Lightning is definitely in the iyashikei category of manga and the food they cook reflects that gentle nostalgic tone.

One of the major differences between the anime and the manga is subtle but powerful. The anime very clearly picks and chooses what chapters it uses. Any major character introduction is there but the anime is clearly gunning to get to certain point in the series so it cuts some of the smaller stories. I don’t mind that because it usually lets the anime end at a reasonably satisfying point while still acting as a method of hooking the viewer of the manga as a method of continuation. That is just the sign of a smart adaptation.

The big change is the art. It is not immediately obvious but look at any reaction shot in the anime and compare it one in the manga. There is a certain boldness and cuteness in the manga that they just can’t capture in the anime. (You could even call that a certain sweetness and lightning.) The anime has its strengths especially when it comes to greater breadth of scope in the dream sequences but overall the characters just have a charm that is wholly unique to the manga. In a series so focused on the characters this is an advantage that cannot be underestimated.

The greatest power Sweetness and Lightning has had is it has made me believe again. If you have seen any reviews of this series you have invariably seen one series always come up: Bunny Drop. It was a similar sweet series about a single father and his daughter. It got so much acclaim as an anime which hooked people and then got them into the manga. It seemed like a wonderful time for everyone. Then came the LESS THAN POPULAR (to put it lightly) ending of Bunny Drop. I like a lot of people became irrationally gun-shy about similar manga.

As Kate has repeatedly pointed out the similarities are extremely superficial and there is pretty much no chance of Sweetness and Lightning going the same way. But for some reasons the whole single parent manga genre unfairly has received a stigma from one bad apple. Thankfully Sweetness and Lightning has proven that while could still have a mediocre or boring ending it  has proven that the weird fear that Bunny Drop engendered is just silly.

Look. Sweetness and Lightning has cute characters, a warm feeling of happiness, and delicious food complete with recipes you can make yourself. The only thing it is missing is an animal mascot for it to be laser focused on getting the Internet to love to forever.

– Alain

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