What’s the Appeal & Why do I Love these Anime so Much?
I was watching Sweetness & Lightning with my mother awhile back and we had an excellent time watching it. It reminded me of Barakamon and Usagi Drop, two shows that have some commonalities with Sweetness & Lightning. This got me thinking, “Why exactly do shows like these appeal so much to me?” Join me as I discuss why anime like these are so impactful to me and why they have such innate appeal.
While some may not see these three shows as having much in common past the vague “slice-of-life” genre tag, these anime are actually fairly similar. They all explore a single-parent, father-daughter relationship. Now I can hear some of you saying, “Um actually Jon, Barakamon doesn’t feature a father-daughter relationship. Naru is just a neighborhood kid and…” blah blah blah. She doesn’t have parents (that are around at least) and Handa basically takes care of her. Not to mention the thematic similarities, but at this point I’m getting way ahead of myself. The point is, this is what appeals to me most about Barakamon, Sweetness & Lightning, and Usagi Drop.
I first stumbled upon these types of shows early into my anime watching career. Back then, there was really just Usagi Drop. At this time I mainly turned to Glass Reflection for my anime recommendation needs. I watched every single video of his and made a list of shows to watch. Usagi Drop, or Bunny Drop in English quickly made the list. Here’s the original video that got me interested by the way (it’s kind of cringe and old; sorry. Info is good though):
With my list in hand, I bought this series shortly after I started my previous job when I was first beginning University. I sat down to watch and was immediately hooked. Seeing this father-daughter dynamic develop overtime as Rin and Daikichi learn and grow from each other. Coupled with the painterly visuals and gentle soundtrack, it was basically guaranteed to be an anime I would enjoy immensely.
Usagi Drop is a grounded portrayal of a single-parent family that illustrates the daily struggles and joys that I’m sure many can relate to. I know I could. Even if you were fortunate enough to have both parents in your life growing up, Usagi Drop grants perspective without sugar coating everything a parent in this situation may go through. It’s something I greatly appreciated while watching this anime.
This anime aired back in the 2011 Summer season, a time where a lot of great anime were coming out, and Usagi Drop was certainly no exception. I seriously cannot recommend this anime enough (made a list I did last year). If you haven’t seen it you can watch it on Crunchyroll, which you should definitely do, like right now. Seriously, the article isn’t going anywhere.
Upon completion, I desperately wanted more anime like this but there weren’t any at the time. I scoured the internet and asked around but came up empty-handed. So I thought I’d check out the manga…
Word of advice, definitely DO NOT check out the manga. Trust me, you’ll regret it.
So with that there was a three year gap where I watched other anime but kept an eye out for more shows like Usagi Drop. Enter Barakamon. Premiering Summer 2014, this show was instantly on my radar. However, this was before I was really streaming anything. I had amassed a HUGE anime collection (seriously, I own well over the 100 or so titles I had then) and primarily worked my way through that. It wasn’t until Funimation finally released the show a year or so later that I picked it up and gave it a watch.
Unlike Usagi Drop, which was fairly relaxed, Barakamon is more comedy focused with occasional breaks into the laid-back. I decided to give this anime a watch with my mom while visiting with her for a weekend. Typically, we watch headier anime with deeper philosophical ponderings such as Ergo Proxy or Ghost in the Shell but I thought this was something we could enjoy together as a change of pace.
In addition, my brother also joined the watch but he dropped it after only three episodes. He thought that Naru and the villagers were annoying. He also found the comedy to be obnoxious. This is important for a little later. My mom and I, on the other hand, had a great time with Barakamon.
The story for Barakamon follows a calligrapher named Handa. At the start of the show Handa is sent away to a remote village after punching an old man in the face after he criticizes Handa’s work. There he meats tons of great people, one of which is a little girl named Naru, who help Handa become a better person and a better artist.
Right out the gate, “Rashisa” by SUPER BEAVER, the opening theme grabs your attention. It’s actually one of the main reasons I decided to check the show out even. The song is insanely catchy and the visuals that accompany it do an excellent job of telling you exactly what kind of show you are getting into. This opening was definitely a fan favorite. A thing I noticed with these shows, they tend to get some pretty great OP’s.
I think the biggest thing Barakamon did right for me was in how it handled the portrayal of Handa and Naru’s relationship. Beyond the obvious father-daughter dynamic I enjoy, Naru looks up to Handa despite their lack of blood relation. This is something that is criminally underrepresented in any media really and when you do the father figure is usually an aloof mentor or somebody to be idolized.
This isn’t the case for Barakamon. Handa and Naru are relatively equals. Obviously, Naru is only a kid and Handa is an adult, so there is some “power” difference between them, but that doesn’t really come into play much. Kids are deserve respect and the show demonstrates this. It’s something I found to be quite interesting.
On top of this, Naru isn’t perfect. Children are not perfect angles all the time. She’s allowed to be annoying and get on Handa’s nerves. Usagi Drop’s Rin never really does this, she’s pretty much always perfect. There are times where this can feel overdone in Barakamon but it paints a more realistic picture in these ways, despite not really doing so overall.
The pacing of this anime was helped by the comedy, it was easy to marathon this show over the weekend and it never got boring. That isn’t to say there weren’t weak parts, looking at you Handa’s Mom, but in this front I’d say Barakamon has a slight leg up on Usagi Drop in accessibility. Personally, I found Usagi Drop to be the better show, but Barakamon offers more with broader themes and ideas, such as self-discovery and self-improvement, which is a story beat that I always appreciate.
Since Funimation has this one you can watch it subbed or dubbed if you happen to have access to VRV. Otherwise, you can find Barakamon on Crunchyroll subbed. This is an excellent starting point to get into these types of shows since it has a little bit of everything for everybody. Even if this isn’t your typical sort of thing, I do recommend giving this one a go.
After the conclusion of Barakamon I didn’t really have another show like this on the docket to turn to. So some time passed and a lot of shows in this vain started coming out, seemingly all at once. There was Poco’s Udon World, that bear anime that turned out badly (I can’t recall the name but there was a Twitter apology and everything), Alice & Zouroku, and the show I most recently watched Sweetness & Lightning.
What drew me to Sweetness was that the show also doubled as a cooking anime. I don’t know about you, but cooking anime are innately interesting to me for some reason I don’t really understand. So the marriage of a cooking anime and a father-daughter slice-of-life was all I really needed to know I was going to have a good time.
Now I’ll be upfront and say that I think this is the weakest of the three shows, but don’t let that dissuade you. This was another one I watched with my mom while visiting during the weekend. Again, my brother joined the watch but he actually enjoyed the whole thing. By the end, Sweetness managed to be 3-for-3 in approval ratings.
In Sweetness & Lightning, the main character’s wife has died, leaving him to care for his young daughter, Tsumugi, on his own. Tsumugi is 10/10 best daughter character out of the three shows. “Why?” I can hear you asking; it’s because she sings about everything! Sweetness is surprisingly musical, which I didn’t at all expect. I mean how could you not like this?
Literally the best episode
Fun fact, Tsumugi is actually voiced by a child. This is a rare thing for an anime to do and is important to note. It adds a lot to the anime, even if it doesn’t seem like it. I’m sure you’ve all heard adults try and play children, it doesn’t often work.
On the note of children not being perfect, Tsumugi isn’t either. It doesn’t paint her in a positive light all of the time and highlights the difficulty her dad, Kouhei faces as a single-parent. Now things are idealized a bit, since things really do fall their way a lot, but that isn’t really an issue for a show like this.
Again, the opening here is phenomenal. Had I seen this show before I wrote my Top 25 Anime Openings article, “Harebare Fanfare” would have certainly made the list. It’s fun, colorful, and demonstrates how a child views the world. Take a look.
I did mention some negatives at the start but these are relatively minor gripes. I would have liked to see the show go on a bit longer. The ending is a little lack-luster and it would have been nice to see some more moments about Tsumugi’s mom. Her death is never really explained, which was a little irksome for me, but not a deal-breaker or anything. I was just really curious.
More importantly, I think there was a missed opportunity in an episode where Tsumugi and Kouhei visit the mom’s grave. It would have been nice to see them go there and pay their respects. Little things like this would have pushed the anime into favorite’s territory but it fell just a bit short for me.
The cooking was fun though and you can learn some stuff if you pay enough attention. Recipes aren’t given too much focus or attention, it’s more about solving problems with food, but if I can have an hour long discussion with my mom about the difference between weak and strong flour than what more can I really ask for?
Other characters are fun and interesting but they don’t get as much attention as Tsumugi and Kouhei do. Even Kotori, who is a main character, is kind of in the background. Her story is told through context clues, but I could see how people might miss it.
Once I finished Sweetness & Lightning, I got to thinking about why I enjoyed this kind of story so much. It inspired this whole article and managed to be surprisingly provocative for me. While I think it’s certainly the most niche of the three anime I discussed today, I whole-heartedly recommend it.
You can watch this show on Crunchyroll. Derek over at Apprentice Mages Lounge also told me that you can read the manga there as well if you are a paid member. After watching the show, I may just have to do that myself, and I don’t read manga at all!
These three shows illustrate a relationship that I would enjoy having. That’s the draw for me. They can be fun, sweet, sad, and everything between but they all bring their own unique flavor to the table. Each show also has an optimistic outlook on life, and everybody can use an anime like that in their life. That’s why I enjoy anime like Barakamon, Sweetness & Lightning, and Usagi Drop so much.
While these types of anime may not appeal to everybody, they certainly have a great draw for me at least. Let me know if you have watched (or plan to) any of the anime I mentioned today and feel free to recommend any shows like this to me in the comments below. If you enjoyed this article, give it a like and consider supporting me on Patreon so I can have money to not die :p Just click the button for below for more details.
With that, I wish you an excellent day and hope to see you back here at Jon Spencer Reviews again soon!
15 thoughts on “Barakamon, Sweetness & Lightning, and Usagi Drop – What’s the Appeal?”
No need to warn me about the Usagi Drop manga. Other sources have already warned me of the weird direction the story takes.
I can’t imagine ever getting my mom to watch an anime. Shame, if she could overlook the fact that it is a cartoon I am certain there are some movies out there she would enjoy.
Sweetness and Lightning, along with Usagi Drop, are great. I’ll have to check out Barakamon if it really is in a similar mold.
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Haha, no kidding. It would be an injustice if I didn’t include the warning though.
I’m surprised you haven’t tried Wolf Children with your Mom. That would be a surefire win and a possible gateway into some other anime. Maybe try that (if you haven’t already).
I’m glad I could recommend you something! Barakamon was quite enjoyable. Let me know if you give it a watch, would love to hear your thoughts 🙂
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While I enjoyed Barakamon, the other two here I couldn’t get through. Usagi Drop and Sweetness and Lightning both gave me sweetness overload with the overly cute kid. I get the appeal of these shows for some but this is definitely not my thing.
Though, similar feel in Poco’s Udon World which was actually kind of adorable (though has a minor supernatural element which might be what managed to pull me in and put up with the overly sweet kid).
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Understandable, I know not everything is for everybody. Thanks for the thoughts 🙂
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The kids in Barakamon are voiced by children too. In fact Tsumugi (Sweetness) is voiced by Endō Rina who voiced Hina in the Barakamon. For me, that’s a huge part of the charm of both, lending a sense of verisimilitude lacking in Usagi. Don’t get me wrong, I love Usagi, but she’s just a touch too picture perfect and when I watched them the difference the voice acting makes really stands out.
The classic kids slice-of-life story is of course Non Non Byori. Listen to Me Girls, I am Your Father tells a tale not unlike Usagi except it’s an older brother who inherits custody of his younger siblings (yes plural) and tends a bit more towards comedy. (It’s also got some harem and echi elements that squick a lot of people out.)
If you like food and family type anime, Gourmet Girl Graffiti is probably right up your alley.
And thanks for the shout out!
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Oh, I forgot to mention the bit about Barakamon. I did know that but since I watched it dubbed I didn’t think to mention it XD
Non Non Byori is on the shelf. Looking forward to that for sure. Seen some of Listen to Me Girls, it was alright. I’ll probably finish that but it isn’t a priority. Surprisingly, you are the second person to recommend Gourmet Girl to me so I guess I should check that out lol.
No problem man, happy to give you a shout out! 🙂
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