Sweetness & Lightning Volumes 1-2
Sweetness & Lightning combines two favorite types of manga series: the uncertain single father raising a child (as in Bunny Drop or Yotsuba&!) and learning more about food and cooking, complete with recipes (as in What Did You Eat Yesterday? or Food Wars!).
Inuzaka is taking care of his little girl, Tsumugi, after his wife died. He doesn’t know how to cook, so he feeds her pre-made boxed meals, but he worries about nutrition and whether he’s doing the right thing. He meets Kotori, a student and daughter of a restaurant owner who also wants to learn to cook to follow in her mother’s path.
The first meal they make together is the simplest possible: rice. But when you put hard work and effort into making your own, it tastes amazing. Gido Amagakure’s faces capture the astonishment and pleasure, particularly when it comes to the adorable little girl.
The three continue to come together to make simple meals (aided by Kotori’s mother’s recipes) and learn more about food preparation techniques. Cooking also makes for an excellent opportunity to have meaningful conversations, while hands are doing other things. The recipes (included) are basic but sound tasty and seem achievable — miso soup, salisbury steak, a picnic lunch with fried chicken.
The universal theme of these kinds of stories is how food symbolizes love and the act of cooking is how you show you care about others. A meal prepared with thoughtful consideration tastes better and is more fulfilling for everyone. Kotori is often alone, since her father left and her mother is busy working. Cooking with others gives her companionship.
The second volume begins with a challenge most everyone can relate to. Tsumugi doesn’t want to eat strongly flavored vegetables, particularly bell peppers. Dad makes her try, and it makes her tear up, which makes him sad. He wants to find a way to have her enjoy them, and Kotori has a great suggestion, with multiple areas of interest, including taste, camouflage, and color. Much better to convince the child to try unfamiliar foods by making them appealing than by forcing them.
Another charming chapter tackles trying to make something for Tsumugi that she remembers her mother making for her. There’s an air of uncertainty, since they fear they won’t get the taste right, but since it involves squid, there’s also humor to lighten the mourning aspects.
Amagakure does a terrific job illustrating the food, making it all look tasty, and the techniques seem achievable. The author also finds ways for Tsumugi to participate in the process, whether it’s simple stirring, kneading, or mixing.
Now that the premise is established, the second volume branches out with more characters, making dumplings together and attending a festival. Sweetness & Lightning is fun and inspiring and educational, but mostly, it’s as satisfying as a nice bowl of stew.