As a rule, I don’t often like slice-of-life. Moreover, I don’t tend to like food-centric anime, either. New anime sweetness & lightning is both, and yet even only one episode in, I am hooked.

Sweetness & lightning is the story of high school math teacher Kohei. The father of a precocious daughter, Tsumugi, his life changed dramatically six months ago with the sudden death of his wife. Now a single father, he struggles to be both supportive to his daughter and keep food on the table–both monetarily and literally, with the latter being something especially hard as his wife was the cook in the family.

In the first episode, we see him trying his best but still failing in his new responsibilities as sole caregiver. The food he makes for Tsumugi is either convenience store boxed lunches or items from the frozen food section of the grocery store. Chores like cleaning and washing slip through the cracks.

Each day, he drops Tsumugi off at daycare, arranges for a sitter to pick her up, and then heads off to school–more an 8-to-7 job than a 9-to-5 one. Getting home after dark, he is exhausted but nonetheless does his best to dote on his daughter. Yet it’s clear on his face that he knows the truth: He’s not able to give Tsumugi the environment she needs and deserves. What makes it even worse is the fact that Tsumugi is too young to really understand the concept of death and sometimes wonders if perhaps her mother could help them out in some way.

Watching Kohei try to hold together the fragments of his shattered life is, quite frankly, heartbreaking. Tsumugi is incredibly real and ignites all kinds of paternal instincts with every word out of her mouth. This reaction comes largely due to her voice, as the actress is actually a child herself.

Now, I’m not a father, but the desire to become one someday is enough to make Kohei’s pain feel real. Moreover, he is a truly human character that is easy to root for. He knows there is a problem and, while overwhelmed, faces it instead of running from it.

While he can’t bring his wife back, there are little things he can do to make Tsumugi’s life better, and he decides to start by giving her a freshly-prepared meal. With his lack of cooking skills–something he and I most definitely have in common–he sets off with Tsumugi in tow to a restaurant with supposedly excellent food. Unfortunately, it is closed. However, the owner’s daughter, a student of Kohei’s named Kotori, decides to do her best at feeding the father/daughter pair, even though her actual cooking knowledge is purely secondhand.

It works out and the episode ends with Kotori making an unexpected offer to help prepare meals for Tsumugi and Kohei on a regular basis. And while the episode treats this as a surprising twist, it makes complete sense given what we know about Kotori.

Kotori is also the daughter of a fractured household. With a single mother, she knows all too well the pain of having your only parent absent much of the time. And as a teenager, she is also saddled with the additional pain of understanding that said absence has all been for her sake. When she sees a similar situation in Tsumugi’s life, Kotori can’t help but reach out to help. Moreover, this arrangement is also apt to fill the void in her own life by infusing her mealtimes with companionship and giving her a taste of the family life long denied her.

In a single episode, I have come to care deeply about all three characters, and am very excited to see where the story goes from here. As long as it keeps its focus on the relationship among these three and not solely on the food they make, I have no doubt it will be one of my favorites of the season.

Sweetness & lightning can be viewed for free and with English subtitles in the US on Crunchyroll.

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