Imagine the most important person in your life, the one you love unconditionally, who takes care of you or your family, suddenly ceases to exist. In the grieving wake of the unexpected you cling to whatever is comforting, dreading beginning the next day without them. I have a friend who lost her fiancé to a car accident a few years back, and although I couldn't empathize appropriately, I provided the support that I could for the disaster that rocked her world. She was left to take care of her then three year daughter and pick up the pieces along the way. In light of the initial struggle, life stumbles on and we learn that we can be happy again, even after something as devastating as this. When I heard about Amaama to Inazuma's story, I instantly felt a sinking in my stomach. It reminded me so much of her situation and I knew i had to watch it.
I want to take a minute to reset the somber tone I probably just created. While Amaama to Inazuma has its share of sad moments, this is a very endearing anime. The writers do a decent job of attaching us to the character's internal struggles through the medium of cooking. An added bonus is how much I personally enjoy the art of food... something I feel gets less serious attention in anime than it deserves. The average person will spend over four entire years of their lives cooking and eating, so it's only natural that it can be used to convey and heal our many issues in life. The relatively small cast bonds quite well over the course of the show and creates an enjoyable, episodic approach to everyday problems like socializing, raising children and managing loss.
The plot of Amaama is simple. A widower (Kouhei) taking care of his daughter is motivated to start cooking better when she questions why she never has a home cooked meal. This motivation, coupled with the use of one of his student's family restaurants helps Kouhei grow in both his cooking skills and relationship with his own daughter. That's pretty much it. This is not an anime you go into expecting a riveting or revolutionary story, or even a super engaging episode structure. It's best described as "charming", and you stay for the lighthearted atmosphere and Tsumugi's cute and cheeky personality. It's nothing to write home about, but its positivity and focus on food is what kept it afloat for me.
I was delighted by Tsumugi's adorable demeanor in the first few episodes. She reminded me a lot of Naru from Barakamon or Rin from Usagi Drop, and embodied the actions of a six year old girl perfectly. She isn't written to be more mature than her age, and responds appropriately to the various situations she's placed in throughout the series. This is something I've noticed anime directors having problems with in the past. She's naturally innocent, and even throws tantrums from time to time... something I would truly expect from a six year old. Turns out she also doesn't care for green peppers. Yep, sounds like a typical six year old.
However, as Tsumugi's charm began to fade (around episode 5 or so), the series began to trip over itself and become boring. The episodes began to become soothing and I actually found myself dozing off in the expanded cooking segments. Don't get me wrong, I love food and these segments were quite technically accurate, but it just didn't translate well into entertainment value. I actually thought I had watched the same episode a few times in a row due to their repetitive nature. I eventually found I enjoyed the non-cooking snippets more as the series went on, because they allowed the writers to focus on the relationship between Kouhei and Tsumugi more. It was for this reason I realized why shows like Usagi Drop are superior to Amaama to Inazuma. It's all about focus. While relationships were the focal point of the former, the cooking centered approach from the latter just didn't satisfy as much.
Aside from a few internal monologues and flashbacks, Kouhei is a rather bland protagonist. I guess it's only fitting, as Kotori's friend Shinobu pointed him out as "plain" near the beginning of the series. I feel Tsumugi's importance completely overshadowed him, and it would've been nice to get some development here as well. His relationship with Kotori was just as strange. I might be wrong in this assumption, but is it normal for a single, male teacher to be texting one of his high school students every day? There were even subtle instances of Kotori appearing to have feelings for him (which apparently are furthered in the manga). Subtle, but still there. A rather unnecessary addition to the show, and one I'm still confused about. Maybe I'm just overthinking it, since Amaama is otherwise as innocent a show as you'll ever watch. Zero fan service, and zero cursing. A nice change of pace for sure.
I didn't care for the rest of the cast in Amaama either. Kotori had a constant blush emblazoned on her cheeks, a testament to her nervous demeanor. She just didn't work as a character for me, but her strife was understood in regards to her parent's divorce and social anxiety. It's honestly more of a preference issue than actual character development. I'd actually argue that she receives the most out of any character in the show. Yagi and Shinobu are both rather one-dimensional characters that exist to propel the series forward. Both add slight comedic value, but ultimately aren't that important.
As I mentioned previously, the characters look to correct both their internal struggles and awful cooking skills by focusing on food. The writers absolutely nailed this aspect of the show. I only learned to properly cook a few years ago, and every bad tendency I had when I initially started was explored here. Overcooking meals, screwing up recipes and the like were handled well, and the actual dish preparations were quite accurate. It really made me hungry at times. The scene with Kouhei filleting the fresh caught fish was a great example of Japanese culture, since they basically devoured the fish raw O_o At any rate, I wish the same amount of effort would've been spent on other aspects of the series as well.
Since it is 2016, I would hesitate to call the art in Amaama "good". It's relatively below average compared to most of the shows being released today. Even though the scenes are mostly still and not animation heavy, there were still instances of lazily drawn character models from time to time. I did appreciate the amount of life drawn into Tsumugi's character, and the artists did a great job adapting from the manga. The OP was a real toe-tapper, with an upbeat, cute melody that welcomed you to the show. The ED also fit nicely with the tone of the series, with the rest of the background music emphasizing the current scene appropriately. Nothing flashy or over composed here. Tsumugi's VA (Rina Endou) ironically voiced the overly shy Hina from Barakamon and excelled in Amaama as well. I like to see younger characters actually voiced by kids.
If you love food as much as I do, then Amaama to Izuma is an anime you cannot miss based on premise alone. Throw in an endearing girl rivaling only Naru from Barakamon in terms of cuteness and you've got a casual, feel-good show that engages your heart more and your mind less. It's definitely got its share of issues, but it makes for a great time passer, an anime best enjoyed occasionally. I'd recommend it to fans of Usagi Drop and Barakamon, or someone looking for something lighthearted to cheer them up. I did enjoy Amaama to Inazuma, but it isn't my favorite of the season. If for no other reason, watch it to learn a thing or two about cooking... I know I sure did!