Silver Spoon

Silver Spoon

SILVER SPOON

Watched via Crunchyroll

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, watching the anime adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa’s manga series Silver Spoon. I haven’t read the manga yet, but I’ve grown to expect a high level of mastery from the author in regards to plot development and pacing. Since her world-famous series Fullmetal Alchemist, she has now delved into the realms of high school dramas with this series on agricultural studies. I found this to be an unexpected jump in tone and pacing, but Hiromu Arakawa proves with this piece that she can work fluidly in a variety of genres.

The story starts off with Yugo Hachiken beginning his high school years at Ezonoo, an agricultural high school which offers standard academic studies while simultaneously providing trade school curriculum options for those planning to head into agriculture. Hachiken sticks out like a sore thumb at this school, being the only student in his class with no intentions whatsoever to pursue agriculture post-high school. While Hachiken is academically a strong student, he finds himself like a fish out of water in many of his courses which focus on crops and livestock. Rather than finding himself in the school of his dreams, he finds himself challenged in ways he never dreamed of before.

During his time at Ezonoo, Hachiken is forced to familiarize himself with the inter workings of farming. Each student must join a club, and he finds himself selecting the equestrian club in order to get closer to a female student. Expecting to just ride around on horses and look cool, Hachiken is surprised to find out he will predominantly be looking after the horses and cleaning up after them. Not only that, but each batch of students rotates chores around the school and must attend to various crops and livestock.

Hachiken literally comes face to face with many difficult issues that he never bothered to care about before, like is it ethical to raise and eat animals for meat. Each story arc provides Hachiken, and viewers, with a close and personal look into how farming works and the hard effort that goes into all of it. While it is very intriguing to watch, there is a bit too much sugar-coating and the scenarios seem too good to be true. What are the odds that a school is going to be ethical in every single aspect of its practices? Not likely at all.

I thought there was a good moral spectrum present at Ezonoo. For example, Tokiwa mentions that their setup for having chickens lay eggs is considered immoral in the West, and Hachiken’s struggles with Pork Bowl lead other students to question their eating habits some. Sure, it would be interesting to see someone become a vegetarian, but I don’t think it would happen this quickly.

PLOT: After failing to get into his first choice high school, Yugo Hachiken, terrified of disappointing his father and living with this failure, runs away to an agricultural high school in Hokkaido. His reasoning is that it will be easy to distinguish himself academically there, and he should have plenty of time to study so that he can get into a good college and redeem himself in his father’s eyes.

Surprisingly for Hachiken (but not for anyone who’s gone near a farm), it’s much more difficult at this high school, Ezonoo, than Hachiken first thought. While the academic subjects are easy for Hachiken, a lot of the classes deal with farm subjects that he knows nothing about, and the students are expected to help with practicums early in the morning to collect eggs and milk cows. Furthermore, each student has to join a club, and when Hachiken finally decides on the equestrian club, he’s stuck getting up at four every morning to care for the horses. There’s a lot of work and little sleep at Ezonoo, making it hard for Hachiken to study like he’d wanted.

Hachiken feels more like a fish out of water because he’s the only student he knows at Ezonoo without a dream. Everyone else wants to work hard towards agriculture-related goals, while Hachiken’s just there to run away from his problems. This is an issue that sticks in Hachiken’s craw, but I have faith that eventually (not in this season, though) he’ll come up with a dream that suits him just fine.

Though you might not expect it, Silver Spoon’s part educational manga and part coming-of-age manga in the best way. The viewer learns about agriculture along with Hachiken, but it never feels forced, and the lessons about where food comes from tended to make me think in a good way. Plus, this story’s about the actual growth of the main characters as opposed to their love lives. There are love interests and crushes on girls, but the story’s more worried about everyone’s dreams and Hachiken adjusting to this hard farming life he knows nothing about.

I’m so used to FMA that I can’t imagine how the rest of this series is going to manage getting wrapped up. The plot for FMA tied all the loose ends in. In this case I don’t know that that will be an issue at all, which makes me worry this series may end up feeling unresolved eventually.

I’m not worried about the plot threads all getting wrapped up, since the major one is Hachiken finding his purpose, which I’m sure he’ll figure out soon.

SETTING: Ezonoo campus carries out a weird sort of wish fulfillment. The design of the school seems to fit in perfectly with the nostalgia of going to your grandparents’ farm or watching the movie Heidi as a child. The animals are adorable, the food is great, the wilderness is calm and refreshing, and everyone is happy while nature just does its thing. Of course everything is done ethically and the most humanely as possible. Just because the students eat animals doesn’t mean they would ever do anything wrong to them. Trust me, I’m not a vegetarian, but there is something off about how simple this series looks at its treatment of raising animals.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that the author is exploring farming and providing strong examples of the pros of it. I know people who farm, and they do a great job of it, it just still seems to be selling the whole thing short when its treated as a gimmick or a simple matter. I think it is a great start that Hachiken is conflicted in how he feels in all the different scenarios around campus. It helps develop the setting more so that outside audiences can question the setting for themselves. I just wish that there had been more variety and more to question. Through Hachiken’s experiences we are spoon-fed a desired reaction, rather than opening up the topic to real conversation.

I think the show does a good job of broaching the subject of morally raising animals, especially considering this season’s only eleven episodes long. It might delve more into the moral issues later on, but there isn’t room here with so many characters and plot threads.

SETTING: As a setting, Ezonoo is like nothing I’ve seen before in anime, though it might be something like the college in Moyashimon, which I haven’t seen. Ezonoo’s a huuuuge school that focuses on agriculture, and it has rooms and equipment for just about everything you could think of. As I already mentioned, there’s an equestrian club, and the students regularly work with cows, chickens, and pigs, as well. There are facilities for making cheese, fields for raising crops, and greenhouses. Ezonoo is so specialized that I’m not sure a real high school like it could exist—it has some ridiculous technology for a high school! It’s really well thought out, though, which makes the fact that it’s a running school more believable.

For example, I love that Ezonoo has their students complete practicums to care for the animals and crops, because how else would the school still function? Most of the main characters are used to this work and don’t have a hard time with it, but Hachiken definitely has a hard time adjusting, especially when it comes to realizing where food comes from. Silver Spoon is excellent for making you realize the work and sacrifice that goes into making food we eat on a daily basis. I’m sure there will be a lot of copycat anime now that deal with agriculture, but I doubt any of them will so easily be able to make the viewer feel like they’re at a real farm, seeing what happens to the animals we eat.

CHARACTERS: For an idea on the characters from this series, imagine Honey and Clover’s cast, but filtered through the lens of Fullmetal Alchemist. In the beginning I was rather skeptical at how easily the characters all fit within the slice-of-life genre, but they all seem to work out. Granted, they are rather stereotyped, as you might expect from someone who typically writes shounen.

Each character has their own compelling backstory and a unique personality that explains their actions and resolve. Many of Hachiken’s classmates grew up on farms and either dream of starting their own business, or taking over the family business and updating it for modern consumerism. Several of the characters are generalized to the point of being boring. You have the typical classmates who are horrible at academics, and those who take their passions for agriculture to unnatural levels, like the members of the livestock clubs.

Amidst all of these individuals, Hachiken tends to stand out. It doesn’t help he has absolutely no background in food or livestock production. He is easily made squeamish and many episodes are devoted to his development as he grows comfortable with nature. You might even call this a healing anime, as it allows for the viewer to learn about nature, grow to appreciate it, and feel connected through Hachiken’s growth. While he initially enrolled as an easy way to beef up his GPA, Hachiken seems to be slowly moving down the path of agriculture himself.

The rest of the cast are just as enjoyable to watch as Hachiken. They may know their way around a barn, but that doesn’t mean they have everything figured out. Many have family politics to deal with and end up fighting for their dreams as much as the next guy. I can’t wait to watch the second season to get to know the rest of the cast better as I think they have much to offer.

CHARACTERS: Hachiken is the perfect protagonist for this kind of show, since he’s a newcomer to farming who thinks it’ll be easy. He quickly realizes it’ll be a lot of hard work, but he rises to the challenge and puts his all into getting better and finding his own niche at the school. I like this kind of attitude shift in him because it feels authentic, as he’s the kind of character to work hard, he’s just running away from his father. And on that front, I also sympathize quite easily with Hachiken. His father seems like a really terrifying man, and I can understand why he would want to run so hard from failing him.

The other main character, and Hachiken’s love interest, is Aki Mikage, a girl who loves horses and convinces Hachiken to join the equestrian club. She’s very cute and rather dense about her feelings for Hachiken, but she’s also a smart and determined girl who’s more interested in horses than anything else. That said, she’s still a three-dimensional character who worries about her friends and the family farm while struggling with her own dream of working with Ban’ei racing horses. I’m very glad that, instead of being made into a simple stereotype, Mikage’s a complex character who has her own strengths and weaknesses as a person.

This holds true for every other main character in Silver Spoon. Though many of them visually fit a certain type or have a silly element to them (one girl goes from obese to slender to obese again in a week), there’s always the feeling that everyone has their own personality and concerns. Most of them talk about the struggles they face with achieving their dreams or how they want to change their families’ farms. Each character feels believable and real, like actual people you would meet at an agricultural high school, even when their obsessions with cheese are played for laughs.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how these characters develop and change over time. The author always makes strong characters, and I can’t wait for them to start developing. If only this season had been longer.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Hiromu Arakawa’s character designs work very well for this series. They don’t stand out as much as they might in a shounen series, and feel more down to earth and real than a josei series. This helps make each character feel individualized, yet believable, unlike so many slice-of-life shows which feature highly dramatic and romantic individuals. Sure there are still the over-the-top characters which you might see in shounen, that are highly stylized, but they help add to the comedy and atmosphere of the school. Overall there is enough of a balance in individuals that they all end up working out as a group.

The animation for the series is very well done and the personalities really shine in the pacing and tone of each scene. I love how the staff has used comedy and abstraction to emphasize the turmoil Hachiken goes through in adapting to this strange and new life style. For example we are able to see Hachiken’s overactive imagination process the absurd and horrific things he now has to be a part of, like collecting eggs from the chicken coop.

The only downside I would really say to the animation is that it is all too happy-go-lucky. I would like to see how the series could play up its animation and storytelling to show the full spectrum of farming and what all one has to go through. As it stands right now, this series is almost like playing a game of Animal Crossing.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Silver Spoon’s animation is stronger than I’d expected for a series about an agricultural high school, which to me screams “niche audience.” However, Silver Spoon’s one of the best-selling manga in Japan, so I guess that explains the effort put into it. Anyway, this show always looked good to me, from the characters’ motion to the details in the farming facilities, though I can’t say I know enough about farming to rate their accuracy there. I’d love to know how the art stands up with correct details when it comes to the farming aspects, though I suspect it would do well, since Hiromu Arakawa, who does the manga, grew up on a dairy farm.

Since the manga’s by the manga-ka behind Fullmetal Alchemist, my favorite manga, the character designs all feel warm and welcoming to me. There are hints of characters from her previous shounen hit, but each character still looks distinct, even with a large cast. Some ridiculous tricks are brought out, like Tamako’s ability to lose weight at the drop of a hat, but largely the characters look realistic and like their own people instead of just being cardboard character types. Tellingly, even the animals have personalities that come through because of their designs, especially the horse Maron. I can’t wait to see what other animals show up in the second season of this, since the first season did such a good job of making them into real characters.

OVERALL: Above I pointed out a couple of areas where I felt Silver Spoon could see improvement. Despite these, I think this season works well enough the way it is now, that they really aren’t an issue. In the future I would like to see the second season perhaps delve further into these issues and provide less of a superficial look at agriculture. For the moment I think Silver Spoon manages to offer enough new content and ideas to charm initial viewers. The characters are interesting, as is the premise of Hachiken growing up in a high school devoted to trade. In fact, I think this series has a lot of potential for educating youth on agriculture and the possible benefits of trade and production based jobs.

Silver Spoon manages to revitalize the genre of high school life, while simultaneously providing viewers with a rare glance into an alternative culture. The story is interesting, the characters are compelling, and the animals are cute. This may seem like a rather niche series, but I think it is surprisingly universal.

OVERALL: I can’t say enough good things about Silver Spoon. I knew it would be good because the manga’s by Hiromu Arakawa, but I didn’t realize just how badly I wanted a realistic coming-of-age high school story like this until now. Most anime make high school into this crazy world that’s all about hormones and romance, while that’s not really the case at all. For Hachiken, high school’s more about maturing as a person and learning to appreciate aspects of his world he hadn’t thought about before. Is it really okay to raise an animal and then slaughter it to eat it? Do farmers work any less than businessmen, just because they have a lesser-paying job? While Hachiken’s grappling with these questions, he’s also causing his peers to think more about their lives which I appreciate, since they’re making Hachiken think about his lack of a dream. All in all, Silver Spoon is an educational show about farming life, but it’s also a truthful portrayal of what it’s like to grow up and figure out what you believe and who you want to be. So many anime are all about love or fighting, so Silver Spoon is a very welcome breath of fresh air that also makes me want to eat really good food.

FINAL SCORE: (8/10) FINAL SCORE: (9/10)

This week’s review has been pushed back a week (maybe two depending). This weekend Crystal and I were not able to work on the review because she came to visit me instead! :D

Not only that but this week is “dead week” of the semester. Along with preparing for a couple presentations and a committee review, I also will be busy grading my students’s final portfolios and setting up an open house for my students. Crystal on the other hand is busy finishing up her projects for graduation!

So as you can see, we’ve been really busy as of late. However we did not want you to go empty handed, so we are leaving you with this trailer.

This weekend we reminisced on our childhoods and our partial Russian heritage, predominately the food. So we also decided to explore all of the iconography that goes along with the babushka. We think it is important that you also know there is a such thing as a “babushka cat”.

Babushka Cat

 

Glady babushka cat, gladly.

Alright, well that’s that for now, and we’ll get the post up as soon as possible. Enjoy your week! And to everyone else going through school right now, best of luck with your projects, papers, presentations, reviews, and finals!

-W

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