Amaama to Inazuma

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Feels good.

Amaama to Inazuma (甘々と稲妻, Sweetness and Lightning) is a family and cooking manga created by Amagakure Gido (雨隠ギド). Going by this author’s body of work, mostly consisting of yaoi (boys’ love) followed by yuri (girls’ love), this manga that is mainly about raising a child and making delicious food is a surprise. It’s also quite surprising how well done it is. I’ll have to check out her other comics, maybe even the yaoi.

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I have a cold, nearly dead, and hardly beating heart. It is somewhat a result of my super harrowing life experiences, but mostly a result of spending far too much time on the Internet. Therefore, I regularly seek out series that might make me feel something again. Amaama to Inazuma is one such series. These kinds of series can be called “iyashikei” or “healing” series. Light on drama and even light on plot, these are slice of life series that will likely soothe you. They’re comfy and mostly easygoing and there isn’t much to talk about when talking about them, but even that last one is a positive in this genre’s case. Amaama to Inazuma is really one of the much better ones, and as a person who has a particular fondness for family-oriented manga, its healing effect is strong on me.

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This series has three main characters, but I’ll start off with the first two. Inuzuka Kouhei is a high school teacher and a single parent for his daughter, Tsumugi (a very young child in preschool). He’s a widower, and when the manga starts it’s been six months since his wife’s passing. He finds himself rather busy with school, and since attempts to cook have ended abysmally he simply buys meals for his daughter and lets her eat on her own while he goes about his business. It’s not a great situation, but he does try to be a good father, and he clearly loves Tsumugi. The cherry blossoms are in bloom, and after a petal catches his eye he decides to take Tsumugi out for flower viewing. At the park, they meet with the girl who will be the third main character.

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Her name is Iida Kotori, and apparently she has quite an appetite. Tsumugi and her dad find her as she’s finishing a large lunch set for two, barely holding back from tears. We learn that Tsumugi is a forward and inquisitive tyke, as she hops from her father’s shoulders and engages the young girl to ask if she’s okay. Apparently she was supposed to come for the flower viewing with her mother, but her mother had to cancel at the last second for work. It seems the woman is a great chef, and prepared the lunch for the flower viewing even though she was busy. Though she’s not sure why, eating this food her mom prepared started to make Kotori cry, and she was lost in her thoughts and memories until it was all gone. Tsugumi’s takeaway from all this is that that food must’ve been tasty, hinting unsubtly that she’d like some. But alas, Kotori really has eaten it all. In the meal’s stead, she offers a business card and suggests the two of them come to her family restaurant sometime.

amaama to inazuma -09The chapter proceeds and it isn’t long before Inuzuka decides to take Kotori up on her offer. After coming home from school with a ready-to-eat meal in hand, he finds his daughter glued to the TV. She’s entranced by a meal being shown on it, and requests her dad send a letter to her mom telling her to make it. A realization dawns on Inuzuka, he drops the bought meal, and he picks up Tsumugi. He calls the number on the card he was given and asks Kotori if he can come in with his daughter. She says the restaurant is closed for the evening, but he insists, saying he’s already on his way and wants his daughter to eat something good. After some consideration, Kotori agrees to his request, and he continues his dash toward the restaurant for her mother’s cooking.

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He doesn’t find Kotori’s mother, though.

He finds Kotori without glasses and with her hair down instead. He doesn’t recognize her for a moment, but it’s readily apparent to him that this isn’t the restaurant’s owner. It turns out her mother is really busy, and isn’t even home (the home basically being this restaurant). Still, she is determined to make the Inuzukas a proper meal — delicious rice at the very least. She tells them to sit, and gets ready.

There is a big problem, though.

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Kotori is in the same boat as Inuzuka: neither of them can cook.

Thankfully despite Kotori seeming to go from memory on this, the rice does turn out well. Along the way, Tsumugi comments that it’s been a while since the two of them have eaten. This makes Inuzuka realize that he hasn’t sat down with her to eat in ages, which comes into play in just a bit. First, Kotori sets down the finished rice, and Tsumugi takes a bite.

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Read the manga, and you’ll be seeing a lot of faces like this.

Ah! How cute! It’s so cute, and so nice to see such a face, that Inuzuka is brought to tears. He vows to learn how to cook and eat meals with his daughter from now on, and the first chapter ends.

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Wait, no it doesn’t.

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It turns out that Kotori is a first year student in Inuzuka’s class — with his mind in a fog he hadn’t memorized all his students’ names and faces yet. Kotori is a very lonely child, with her mother out often these days, and being with the Inuzukas really brought light into her life. She had such a great time she wants to do it again, so she asks if they can. And so…

…Well, naturally her teacher refuses, but that doesn’t last long. Tsumugi quickly grew fond of Kotori, and the idea of learning how to cook with another total greenhorn is an enticing one. After thinking it over, getting some advice, and having Kotori’s mother agree, they start their days of cooking and eating in pleasant and fluffy yummy happiness.

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How nice~

After this chapters become fairly formulaic. This isn’t a bad thing. Something familiar and hardly changing feels nice, and is often the ideal for a healing series. Amaama to Inazuma‘s formula is:

Of course, not every chapter is like this, just most of them. For instance, some chapters revolve around some growing up with Tsumugi where a conflict arises between her and her classmates. However, a conflict is almost always resolved within the same chapter it appears (like so). This really isn’t a drama. It’s a funny, adorable, lighthearted tale. There’s a little more to it, but I’ll save that for a bit later.

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Amaama to Inazuma has a few side characters that add to the fun of the series, but generally don’t really matter. This is not a bad thing, as this isn’t something you read for a wealth of complex characters. First up is Kojika Shinobu, Kotori’s friend from middle school. She’s very energetic and loud, liking to butt in excitedly at any opportunity. Her experience with her younger brothers makes her good with kids, which can be very helpful should Tsumugi or others get in a mood.

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Next is Yagi, Inuzuka’s friend who looks a little dangerous. He works at a cafe and bar and occasionally babysits Tsumugi when Inuzuka’s out of options. He has a pretty serious face, but knows how to make a kid laugh. Occasionally, he and Shinobu come to help Inuzuka and Kotori out with cooking, since they’re actually good at it. The two of them can be pretty amusing, particularly together.

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And of course, there’s Kotori’s mother, Megumi. Megumi is a divorcée, and her ex-husband is mostly absent from his daughter’s life. Sadly, so is Megumi during much of the series. She’s become a very minor celebrity for her cooking and has been doing quite a few television appearances and promotions. When I first read this, I was worried Megumi would come across as the archetypal “too busy for their child” parent who is distant and hard to connect with, but in actuality it’s very clear that her parent-child bond with Kotori is strong (which really just makes her absences sadder). She’s a very caring, thoughtful woman. Her presence in the manga feels “warm”, I suppose. She’s concerned about her daughter as she’s rarely home these days, and so when she actually does appear and interact with Kotori in the manga (it takes a while) it really feels nice. Her ex-husband also appears in the series, and I find him and his story to be particularly touching, but he’s kind of a surprise so I won’t discuss him much. All I’ll say is that it’s clear Kotori takes more after her dad, and that’s heartwarming and cute.

On that note, let’s talk about Kotori.

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Kotori is an awkward dork with rather asocial leanings and a truly enormous appetite. She’s cute. She’s eager to learn how to cook not only to have good times with the Inuzukas, but to also connect better with her mother. She unfortunately has a fear of knives due to a childhood trauma, though, so Inuzuka has to take care of any cutting of ingredients. And speaking of Inuzuka, as she spends more time with him outside of school and in, eventually she naturally starts to nurture some sort of feeling for him. She isn’t sure what it is at first but, surprise surprise, she comes to the conclusion that her feelings are romantic in nature. It takes quite a while though, as she’s in denial. She doesn’t want to ruin the good relationship she has with her teacher’s small family.

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If the idea of student-teacher relationships greatly offends you, you might want to steer clear of this series. For the record, as of this writing Kotori’s feelings are entirely one-sided. Inuzuka hasn’t considered any new women in his life whatsoever let alone a kid from his class. Right now, his only focus is Tsumugi, his child. I couldn’t tell you where the manga seems to be going regarding romance, either. Personally, I find Kotori’s love to be adorable, and that’s all I’ll say on the matter.

I don’t blame her for falling for Inuzuka, since he’s pretty quirky and in a way also manly. He’s a cool guy, and his kid is just the cutest thing.

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Tsumugi is the heart and soul of this manga. She is the titular “sweetness and lightning”. She’s a rather mature kid for a preschooler, having a grasp on responsibility, knowing how to help others, learning a bit of cooking, and even being aware of some higher concepts of life. Some of this know-how is just from her natural smarts, but sadly some of it is from being a child who lost her mother very early in her life. It’s not fun seeing Tsumugi cry, but it happens now and then. Sometimes, she’ll actually hold back her emotions actively, knowing she’d burden others with her depression. She’s a good kid.

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She is still a kid, though. She can be selfish, naive, silly, and bratty. I think she’s a realistic depiction of a pretty bright child. It’s fun reading her adventures. Sweet like sugar, strikes like lightning; I understand the title!

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And that’s basically all there is to say about this series in summary! The food looks tasty and the meals are all well-researched and thoroughly explained while not feeling boring. Another character becomes a regular side character, but they’re added in relatively late so I don’t think discussing them is a good idea. All in all: very feel-good series. RECOMMENDED.

Amaama to Inazuma is the first manga I’ve reviewed that you can technically only read in English if you pay some amount of money. The typesetting and translation of the official release seems good. I read it “digitally” although on close inspection these may be scans instead of eBooks, just very good ones (not sure). The tanks come with recipes and directions for the meals on display in the chapters so there’s good reason in buying the volumes. HOWEVER, I am personally always hesitant to spend money on a book, manga or otherwise, without reading it first. There are ways to read this series without putting down money, but I’m not going to tell you exactly how that works. I don’t see this as a bad practice in the slightest. If I did, I may as well consider something like borrowing from a library a bad practice, or the idea of handing over a book to a friend and seeing if they’re interested in it a bad practice. If you don’t take my word for it, take the word of a well-respected, highly successful author who advocates piracy (Neil Gaiman). Neil Gaiman actually gave his works away for free as an experiment and enjoyed increased sales overall (by 300%). Really, this is how many authors are discovered: by readers reading their works freely. It’s never a lost sale; a reader can buy after they try.

Amaama to Inazuma may not be a series for you, maybe because you don’t like the lack of “plot”, don’t like a student falling for her teacher, or just don’t like it. Page through it first, and then decide. If you’d like, you can do this legitimately without spending a cent through the use of a free trial from a certain service that I won’t mention because I’m also encouraging “piracy”. I don’t recommend doing this since canceling is not immediately possible, and from my experience if you cancel your trial early you lose premium access. That’s just not right. I don’t particularly think highly of that service, to be frank (the overall quality is hit and miss), but even if you don’t mind spending money it only costs about 7 USD to get unlimited access to their entire library of manga. This service is up to date with Japan with thirty-one chapters released and translated (the series is released monthly). Five volumes are out, though just four so far have been released in the West. It’s translated in conjunction with the original publisher. Not bad, though again, you can find these chapters in other ways.

For me, Amaama to Inazuma is one of those works that I raise on a pedestal and judge all other series of its genre against. It’s actually not my absolute favorite healing manga (which I may review one day), but it’s probably the most solid I’ve seen. It is truly wonderful. The art is also amazing (I find that I often mention the art last…), with every page looking fantastic. Amagakure-sensei’s artwork is beautiful, but can also be absurdly funny. In pretty much all ways, I consider her manga to be an ideal comfy/iyashikei/healing series.

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Amaama to Inazuma was greenlit for an anime literally yesterday (this review is not reactionary; this really came as a surprise). The anime will air in July of this year (2016), but we don’t really have any more details aside from that. Though I don’t really watch anime these days, I’m definitely looking forward to it! You can import volumes of this series from Bookwalker (guide), CDJapan, honto (guide), or ebookjapan. And Amagakure Gido’s Bookwalker author page is [here]. If you want it in English as Sweetness & Lightning, look [here].

Thanks for reading. Have a good weekend!

Amagakure Gido
I’ll Send Her Home on the Last Train

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