Marie MiyakenoitaminAKengo TakanashiSilver Spoon
Silver Spoon (season 1)
Also known as: Gin no Saji (season 1)
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2013
Director: Tomohiko Ito
Original creator: Hiromu Arakawa
Actor: Marie Miyake, Ryohei Kimura, Ayahi Takagaki, Katsuyuki Konishi, Kengo Takanashi, Masayuki Shouji, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Nobuyuki Kobushi, Shiori Izawa, Tooru Sakurai
Keywords: Silver Spoon, anime, noitaminA
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 11 episodes
Website category: Anime 2013
Review date: 6 September 2015
It's nice. It puts a smile on your face. It's not spectacular, but it's likeable.
Yuugo Hachiken is a city boy at an agricultural school in Hokkaido. He chose to be there. He's got problems at home. At first he assumes that it'll be simple, since the syllabus is academically light and most of his classmates are farmers. Then, just in the first episode, he has to catch a calf, become a party to chicken decapitation and get over the unhygienic-sounding truth about where eggs come from.
That's the show in a nutshell, really. We follow Hachiken for a year. He works hard at farm school. He becomes quite a good farmer, although he can suffer from his tendency to intellectualise things. This can make him unnecessarily sensitive to, say, the fate of farm animals. He befriends and names a piglet. Everyone else thinks this is a terrible idea and insists that at least he choose a name that won't let him hide from reality. He calls it "Pork Bowl".
There's no story arc. What gives the season a shape is Hachiken's character growth, especially in his relationship with Pork Bowl (both as a pig and as pork products). The series has no villains, or even antagonists. Some of Hachiken's schoolmates are a bit weird, but they're all good people and working together towards the same goal. Episodes might involve Hachiken discovering ban'ei racing, having to cut up a deer or recklessly promising to make pizza for half the school. However it's just as likely that any given episode might simply be exploring the characters while teaching us interesting or surprising things about farming life. They get excited about tractors. They quote Winston Churchill. They kill anything mercilessly, but they might hold a funeral for a horse. It's also usually a life of poverty and half of them come from farms that would go under if the children didn't follow their parents and work on the land.
The manga's author, Hiromu Arakawa, is writing about what she knows, by the way. She was born and raised on a dairy farm in Hokkaido.
The characters are quirky and fun, with character designs and even names that aren't afraid to be silly when Arakawa feels like it. (Tamako is egg-shaped and her name is nearly the Japanese for "egg", although she's hot when she slims down. She just prefers being big.) Hachiken's unusually interesting for a Nice Guy Protagonist. He and his brother are both rebelling against their bullying control freak of a father, who's half-succeeded at making them the people he wanted them to be. Thus they're both super-intelligent and/or can study like demons (Hachiken being by far the school's best student), with an odd combination of arrogance and deep-rooted self-deprecation. Hachiken is the most compassionate and selfless guy in the school, works himself to the bone, gives free private tuition to his classmates and has an overdeveloped sense of guilt and responsibility. However he worries about being a waste of space and a second-class human being because he hasn't chosen any life goals.
I like the way the show avoids info-dumping on this. Hachiken never has a Big Talk about his father with anyone. His issues just quietly and gradually become clear.
The show also does interesting things with the trope of the Oblivious To Love Hero. In anime, that's normally an excuse for harem nonsense. Here, it's different. Everyone's oblivious! They understand the theory, but who's got time for romance when you're getting up at 4am every day to muck out horses? Hachiken has a female friend, Aki Mikage, with whom he's particularly close, but neither of them even seems interested in making a move. The comedy comes when other characters start assuming that they're a couple and in some cases practically getting out the wedding bells.
I liked both the opening and closing themes, by the way.
It's a deft, intelligent show. It has a light tone. It's funny. It's full of interesting details and angles on its subject matter, managing to be educational in all kinds of ways. However at the same time, it's staring hard and unblinkingly at the ways in which farm life can seem cruel, including a deer butchering and a video of everything that goes on in a slaughterhouse. (Fortunately we only see glimpses. Hachiken makes himself sit through it all.) That's the heart of this show. It's exploring questions with no easy answers, through the person of a protagonist who's determined to think everything through properly.
This franchise is clearly never going to be a mega-hit on the scale of Arakawa's more famous manga, Fullmetal Alchemist. However the manga has won awards and the anime is gentle and thoughtful. Modest, but well worth a look.