Sweetness & Lightning Volume 5
Suguru, a little boy in Tsumugi’s class, is acting up. His mother is in the hospital, and he doesn’t want to visit her (because it scares him, what might happen — although she’s not sick, she’s giving birth). Out of the goodness of her heart, Tsumugi invites him to come over and visit. Although she reminds him of the potential of losing his mother (since Tsumugi’s mother has passed away as part of the series premise, which is why dad has to learn to cook for his daughter to have healthy meals), Suguru also sees how much she and her father care for each other, and how they cook together.
We’re reminded that cooking isn’t gender-specific, which is nice, as the two kids and dad make different flavors of mochi. Dad conveniently talks to himself while cooking, which gives the reader the instructions and details of the four kinds of chewy rice cakes. The process of preparing good food distracts the little boy from his concerns, temporarily, and lets him do something for his dad as well, making him leftovers.
I particularly liked Gido Amagakure’s treatment of the kids in this chapter, since it captures well their outsized feelings. They’re understandably strongly emotional, and their little bodies don’t know yet how to cope with everything they’re experiencing. Sometimes, as in Suguru’s case, that means shutting down, being grumpy and less responsive to kindness. But it’s not overdone, and the implications of many reactions are left to the reader, trusting their knowledge of human nature.
Plus, as a light touch, there’s a funny scene where, since this is Tsumugi’s first friend-who-is-a-boy, dad starts envisioning him as a boyfriend, doing teen stuff while still looking not much older than toddler. Some of the food in this volume is particularly Japanese, which makes it less likely for me to try making it. I can still appreciate the sentiments behind the dishes, though, even if yellowtail/radish stew is beyond me. And the “sushi cake” that they make for Tsumugi’s birthday sounded amazing!
Tsumugi branches out into other cuisines, thanks to a new fellow student who tells her about spaghetti carbonara. The recipe is at the end of the chapter, as usual, but I found it odd that there’s a note to leave out the pepper if making for children, but white wine as the primary sauce base is just fine. Cultural changes, I guess! There’s also a chapter on making croquettes, which sound both yummy and achievable.
It’s winter in this volume, too, with snow serving as a metaphor in the chapter where we finally meet Kotori’s father. (Her busy mother owns the restaurant where the friends often cook.) Tsumugi says something wonderful, here, inviting the friends to eat together: “cold and lonely are kinda the same, right?” Turns out that that’s kind of a pun in Japanese (thanks, translation notes!), but I focused on how she doesn’t want Kotori to eat alone. There are some nice lessons in this chapter, both about prepping for smooth cooking of multiple dishes, and about how to handle life changes as people grow apart but still care for each other.
Sweetness & Lightning remains a terrific food manga read, where the dishes sound great and provide a key to demonstrating love among their eaters.