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Friday, May 4, 2018

Selah's Manga Mania: Sweetness and Lightning Vol.1 by Gido Amagakure

by Gido Amagakure (Author, Illustrator)
January 6, 2016
Volumes: 10
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
English publisher: NA Kodansha USA
Genre: Slice of life
192 pages

Having lost his wife, math teacher Kouhei Inuzuka is doing his best to raise his young daughter Tsumugi as a single father. He's pretty bad at cooking and doesn't have a huge appetite to begin with, but chance brings his little family and one of his students, Kotori Iida, together for homemade adventures. With those three cooks in the kitchen, it's no wonder this dinner table drama is so delicious.

I like to bop back and forth between newer and older series, and there’s one that I’ve gotten into lately that’s super cute, great if you’re not here for gooey romance, and spectacular if you love food.

If you know me even for five seconds, you know that I’m here for food. I will binge culinary documentaries to relax, Chef is a fave comfort movie of mine, and I will zone out to PBS cooking shows.

So I am completely here for Sweetness and Lightning by Gido Amagakure. The basic plot is Kohei Inuzuka is a teacher who has lost his wife and is trying to care for his young daughter, Tsumugi. The thing is, he’s not great at cooking. He encounters his student, Kotori Iida at her mom’s restaurant and helps prepare a basic meal for the pair. The thing is…she’s also not too great at cooking. Her mother is an expert, but is often off doing media stuff around the country and isn’t home a lot. Through the offscreen help of her mother and some friends (and some trial and error) the three meet at the restaurant to learn to prepare dishes together.

We all know I love Baby and Me (review), so this series is going to tick a lot of my boxes.

The Good: Just a lot of cute. So much cute. Tsumugi at school, her gaining confidence through learning about food, and just so many great scenes of the three muddling through things. I also really like that the parent/child relationship is extremely positive, and there are also plenty of scenes of them working through missing the wife/mother – a lot of the dishes they make are things that remind them of her or can be traced to her, so you never feel like her death is a complete macguffin to get the series rolling. You also see Tsumugi grow a lot (I’m up to volume 5 out of 10) and interact and learn with the kids in her preschool and extracurricular activities.

I also like a lot of Iida’s development – she has a phobia of knives but wants to progress as she sees Tsumugi learn things. You also slowly get a sense of her relationship with her divorced parents and friends around her. She starts out super introverted and she never becomes terribly extroverted, but there’s a realistic progression.

And the food. If you ever wanted to learn about Japanese food, this is a great series. The preparation scenes have almost loving detail, and it’s fun to see characters taking time to enjoy and talk about why these dishes have meaning to them. Food is definitely a character all its own and this series handles is really well. And it will make you so hungry. I went out for Japanese the other day and it was all I could do to not order one of everything (and I may have been scanning through the menu covertly seeing if anything was from the series so I could try it. What, we all have our priorities).

It’s also great to see female characters enjoying food, and pretty much most of the main cast has their own unique relationship with certain dishes, as well as various levels of skill in the kitchen (men and women. This is even brought up at times, which is extra nice).
The bad: Nothing, really, so far. The only thing I’m a little antsy on is that there’s the undercurrent of Iida having a crush on Inuzuki. The thing is, so far this has been played pretty subtly so I’m not quite sure if it’s going to go into her seeing him as a father figure or keeping with the student/teacher crush. The only reason I bring it up is manga sometimes has a history of pairing students and teachers together, and honestly, it’s not my thing. Plus, in the context of this (because she’s like high school and presumably a minor and he’s old enough to have a kid that’s about three), seeing that through on-screen would kind of kill it for me. As of volume five, nothing has really developed and though her feelings are noticed by others and it’s brought up from time to time, it’s been danced around so far, which feels normal to me. If it starts actively becoming a thing, though, then we’d have to revisit.

The ick: Nah, nothing, unless you hate reading about gorgeous food preparation and enjoyment.

The bonus: this is one of a few food-centric mangas, and like its brethren it features recipes. No, I haven’t taken the time to try one yet (I have some anxious flashbacks to Kitchen Princess and trying to help make flan from its recipe), but it has them, and it’s also really great about explaining the dishes and the process within the pages of the story, itself. The endnotes about certain things that may not translate are also very good for this manga, as well.

All in all, I say give it a try. Have a snack handy, though, you’ll need it.

4.5 hungry sheep

About the Author:
Selah Janel is a writer who is trying to start doing that again instead of reading manga all the time.

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