Growing up, I'm sure many of us have consumed one too many sugary sweets during our childhoods. We gouge down, smacking our lips, lapping up the remaining sticky stains that pepper our face, slurping the sweet syrup that coats our fingertips, savoring every last drop like sweet-tooth extraordinaires. But after awhile, that sugary delight leads to an unwelcome stomach ache, where we're left bloated and forced to endure the rightfully earned scorning from our parents:
"I told you not to eat all those sweets at once!"
as they march us off to the restrooms to brush away the very thought of any potential cavity taking refuge between the crevices of our underdeveloped molars. It's the right of passage for us kids. For us mischievous sweet-tooth extraordinaires. Without the guidance of our parents to keep us within our bounds, however, we'd more than likely been sporting a smile with teeth weathered by decay.
Sweets are good, but overindulging in it often lead to this expected end result. And as you've undoubtedly figured out what I'm alluding to by now, Sweetness and Lightning suffers a similar fate. A show that barrages you with all the cuteness that the namesake would imply, and on that end, it certainly delivers, but doesn't offer enough levity to let it settle in. It's all dessert without dinner, every child's wildest dream in theory, but in practice, a very tiresome endeavor that turns our sweet-tooth rotten and our palates too soaked to ask for more. Sweetness and Lightning share in our delight for all things sweet, but unlike the reprimanding we received as kids growing up, when this show overindulges, there aren't any parents around to scold it. And for a show that centers around parenting, this becomes an issue that even the smile of a bubbly little girl couldn't dissuade you from taking notice of.
There really isn't much here to talk about, despite what the premise would have you believe. A man who's wife died having to cope with that pain of losing a loved one, while also raising a daughter, taking on all the motherly duties that he took for granted. All the while with food being used as a catalyst to show his parental growth, as well as a common means for both parent and child to bond, the story was practically gift wrapped to the creators. And yet, even with this hand-delivered theme of parental bonding and coping with lost being right in their grasp, very little of it went beyond the occasional reminder of a motherless home and dishes reminiscent of happier times in the father and daughter's life. Parenting is placed on the backburner for cooking lessons and food montages. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing if that's all you came looking for.
But there's also something else that the show's premise alluded to. Something that isn't as important as the themes it skipped over but still wanted nonetheless. And that was a cute mascot. And boy, did this anime ever deliver. Tsumugi is, with little dispute, one of the most adorable kid characters to have ever been conceived since the likes of Naru from Barakamon. Cuteness that transcends regulatory standards. Cuteness that hurts. Cuteness that bursts past the stratosphere. Tsumugi is cuteness incarnate. And dear I say it, the sole reason for this show's existence. Without Tsumugi, there wouldn't be a Sweetness and Lightning worth discussing. Which, quite frankly, is a double-edged sword if you were watching the show for something beyond its flagship character. For when it comes to everything else the show presents, the act of slouching in disinterest becomes far too common of a practice.
As far as the rest if the cast goes, there's really no other characters worth mentioning beside Tsumugi. Everyone else is simply introduced to feed off her energy. To say she's the star attraction would be an understatement. The very foundation of this show's existences is made impossible without her inclusion. She's the poster-child of Sweetness and Lightning. The very thing people will remember the show for, long after they forget the events of the show itself. It's the kind of character who's reputation would outlast the source material it's attached to. She's the Yuno Gasai. The Haruhi Suzumiya. The Holo. The Major Kusanagi. She's the very legacy that the source material will leave behind.
This isn't to say that the cooking the show presents each episode isn't interesting. Just that in the backdrop of a show that's taking things slow and steady, it's lost in translation to the little girl twerking on the floor, practicing her cooking dance charms to make the food delicious. And when you pair that with a mild-mannered man lost behind the frame of his glasses and unkempt bushy top that hides his soft-spoken expression... well, what you have here is a recipe for amnesia-inducing content.
If I was placed on the spot to recall the events of any given episode, the best I could sum up would be "they cooked food, Tsumugi acted cute, they ate and went back home." Not really the lasting legacy any creator would want now, is it? Whether premeditated or not, the show becomes one big blur when it repeats the same exact scenario every episode. Which brings us back to the pestering question, why is there no focus on parenting?
It's an aspect the show seems to hint at on several occasions, but whenever it gets too close to crossing that line between happy-go-lucky to something sobering, it skittishly pulls back and retreats to the kitchen to avoid confronting the elephant in the room. For what I could only surmise as the creator wanting to keep the same bubbly tone throughout, we're forced to only stand at the edge looking down at the canyon of parental responsibility and struggles of living life as a single parent. And as we as the audience step further away from the edge to resume the same routine that we've encountered throughout every episode since, it becomes apparent that we'll never take that plunge in the show's brief 12-episode lifetime.
But I guess for those that do love this carefree disposition, that isn't necessarily a bad thing at all. And if you're one who likes this more syrupy type of lifestyle, then Sweetness and Lightning will certainly deliver.
This routine cycle I spoke of sees Kouhei, the soft-spoken father and full-time teacher, befriend one of his pupils named Kotori, a girl who's constantly on pins and needles with a mannerism that's best described as a series of micro personality ticks and perpetual flustering. Together these two form a mutual friendship centered around their need to cook different kinds of dishes and keeping each other company. And the source of influence that they both gravitate towards is, of course, our poster-child Tsumugi. And as the synopsis states, the rest of their time is spent cooking tasty treats while Tsumugi entrances the viewer with a barrage of cute antics.
And as if the point wasn't made clear already, even the moments that don't focus on her just ends up surrounding her anyways. The creative team behind Sweetness and Lightning are simply obsessed over their gooey gumdrop of a mascot. And by the looks of it, so am I at this point.
Tsumugi is adorable and isn't even sexualized, which to any outsider of anime may seem like an odd thing to say about a child, but let's face it, Japan's obsession with sexualized lolis isn't something that just magically disappears when we don't pay attention to it. So in that sense, Tsumugi is a HUGE breath of fresh air when the only other option for kid characters tend to be morphing them into moe blobs or letting a gust of wind expose their pantsu for purposes I think Jared from Subway would take far too much satisfaction in seeing. So until the current social norm for child anime characters change,Tsumugi stands as an example of one done right.
And I'm sorry if I'm droning on and on about Tsumugi, but that's literally all the show leaves you to talk about. What was initially described by many as "Barakamon meet Usagi Drop", simply became one facet of that idea when all aspects of parenting, or progression for that matter, abandoned ship. And so, with nothing else worth addressing, it's time for us to part ways as well, as I bring this review to its final stop.
"Too much of a good thing" is the phrase that comes to mind when I reflect on this show. With a cute tyrant running rampant and a timid father trailing behind her, Sweetness and Lightning mostly became Sweetness and Murmur. Despite wanting the anime to take a leap into the parental aspect that it kept hinting at, I can't say I was displeased with what I got in return. If I had known that parenting wouldn't be an important aspect beforehand, I would have still watched the show for the sheer enjoyment of its meditative programming. Yes, it got a bit underwhelming and tedious at times. Yes, it could have done more to change up the formula. But, when all things were said and done, I still walked away with an adorable pint-sized bundle of joy that left me with a smile on my face. And at the end of the day, that's more than enough for me.