I’ve stated over and over again to my family and friends how I am not a fan of children, and how they are not fans of me. There are some notable exceptions–like my friend’s kid who quietly ate his weight in oysters at my wedding and grinned the entire time, and my cousin’s two adorable ginger children–but the vast majority receive a pass in my book. But! Anime has this strange ability to turn almost everything into something cute, lovable, and almost desirable–including kids.
There are two special shows that aired this past year that toppled my misgivings about children and brought me to laughs and tears almost every episode. I’m speaking of course of Amaama to Inazuma and Udon no Kuni no Kin’iro Kemari, both of which feature a father or father-figure with children. They both also happily use food as a starting platform to their stories. I would gladly spend a year with each of these families if given the opportunity!
Amaama to Inazuma chronicles the lives of Kouhei and Tsumugi with food as the starch of every episode and life lesson. Kouhei is a single father who makes a living as a high school teacher and struggles to maintain a balanced home life for his daughter. In the beginning, their meals consist of pre-made boxed lunches and restaurants. When Tsumugi starts eating less and drooling over other people’s homemade food, he realizes that she lacks a fundamental aspect of daily living. Food is not just a necessity for physical well being, but can also greatly affect mental health. Home-cooked food isn’t always perfect, but the thought and time put into it brings their own essential seasoning to the final product.
“I can taste the ingredients!” -Inuzuka Tsumugi
The opening episode starts with the perfect dish, a simple pot of white rice. Rice is a staple of Asian cooking and is traditionally served with almost every Japanese meal. And even though Tsumugi often eats rice with her store-bought bento, there is a noticeable difference in quality from the rice made by Kotori. Tsumugi’s reaction gives Kouhei the drive to provide more home-cooked meals for her whenever possible. Each episode after introduces a new dish and shares another aspect of parenting. And as happy as this anime makes me, Tsumugi is by no means a perpetually smiling kid. She has her down times. Sometimes you see the glint of rebellion in her eyes and know that a tantrum is about to happen. But the ways in which Kouhei handles these times continues to teach us that patience and communication are invaluable skills we need to constantly practice. The relationship of this father and daughter were a joy to see and feel a part of, and I can only hope that if someday I do change my mind and have kids, that I will be just as devoted as Kouhei is to Tsumugi.
Udon no Kuni no Kin’iro Kemari takes a nontraditional approach to parenthood, since its main characters are not actually related, nor are they both human. Tawara Souta returns from Tokyo to his small hometown famous for its udon (Kagawa prefecture). The main purpose for his visit is to wrap up the assets of his late father, who was the owner of an udon restaurant–this includes selling his childhood home and now-closed Tawara Restaurant. Souta brings with him a ton of roiling emotions about his relationship with his father and the family business. In his first inspection of the shop, he stumbles across a little boy curled up and sleeping in a large stockpot. No identification or documentation can be found on the child, and he cannot yet fully speak. Their story together begins once Souta finds out that the little boy is actually a transformed tanuki, as spoken of in his town’s myths. The seemingly coincidental meeting brings with it much a needed emotional connection for both Souta and “Poco.”
While udon was the means by which these two met, it does not actually feature much in the anime. Most of the attention is given to Souta and Poco’s interactions with one another and with family, friends, and coworkers. Through it all, Souta strives to keep Poco’s true identity a secret and figure out how to balance his city job with his growing desire to look after Poco in his hometown. I was surprised at how quickly I would forget about Poco being a tanuki. His attachment to Souta, growing vocabulary, and very human responses to the world around him makes it easy to overlook the likely possibility that he will not be a little boy forever. I have not yet finished the show since it is currently airing and I’ll be out of town when it completes, but I fervently hope that these two will find a happy ending, even if bittersweet.