Gin no Saji, known as “Silver Spoon” in English, is the latest manga by Arakawa Hiromu, best known as the author behind the best-selling action series Fullmetal Alchemist. Well, this show is quite different from FMA, and is based on the author’s history of having been raised in a dairy farm. The anime adaptation, which just finished its first season, with the next season having already been announced to begin airing in January 2014.
The protagonist of the show is Hachicken Yugo, a freshman in high school who ran away from Tokyo to an agricultural school in the countryside. “Ran away?” I hear you ask? Well, Hachiken felt overwhelmed by the expectations he faced from his family, his peers, his students, and mostly himself. There are hints he was bullied some, but it seems the main issue was that he would only think of his grades, of his future, and the pressure got to him – not because he wasn’t doing well, not because he couldn’t compete with his brother who got admitted to Tokyo University without even trying.
No, his issue was that he didn’t know what he wanted, what his goal was, what his dream was.
(This is a Things I Like post, it’s not a review, but more a discussion of the show and of ideas that have risen in my mind as I’ve watched it. There will be some spoilers in this post.)
This show really focuses on Hachiken’s journey as he learns about dreams. Not his own, but others’, and his role in his newfound place, as he “grows” as a character. I have some issues with how the messages are transmitted to us, with how believable I find them to be, as seen through the anime. Now, it’s probably not entirely fair to analyze this aspect of the first season only, but since the message is clearly given within the show, I believe it is fair game – I judge it on the same level as the characters within the show. To put it bluntly, we are told how Hachiken is growing, but I don’t think we see it nearly enough.
Hachiken is seemingly the only non-farmer/farmer-related dream person in his class, at least in the beginning. Having grown in the city he has no clue how food gets on his table. He’s repulsed by the fact eggs come out of chickens’ sphincters and have to be cleaned, he fell in love with the cutest pig on screen since Babe aired in 1995 and even named him, but that pig is only raised up in order to be slaughtered (here are a few more cute pictures of Porl Bowl). All these situations force Hachiken to come to terms with killing animals, working physically, and in general thinking of things he never had cause to think of before. While it’s “growth” in a “width” sort of way, I don’t think he grew as in changed. It’s not that he had notions that were well considered and was forced to re-evaluate them, it’s just that his ideas were never respected, and after giving them minimal consideration he realized his knee-jerk reaction that is full of ignorance and repeated messages is wrong. That’s life, you come across new concepts and you form an opinions about them, that’s not changing the ideas you already have.
That wouldn’t bother me as much had the other characters didn’t keep talking about how Hachiken is changing, how he is growing. This is besides some amusing sequences where the teachers explain to us his role in the story, or at least in the setting – his fellow students are quite like him; they too are used to a specific world and hadn’t really reviewed their thoughts – they’re used to pigs, cows and chickens being raised, used, and then butchered. Hachiken questions everything that they take for granted, and in turn that forces them to reflect on their choices and lifestyle as well, by showing them that there are other options. It really reminds me of the (Structural) Functionalism framework in Sociology, except there outsiders exist to mark what is “accepted” by standing outside of it, rather than being welcomed lovingly and everyone just questioning everything in their wake.
Hachiken isn’t that different from his friends, that’s what I was getting at with the previous paragraph. Likewise when it comes to dreams, while some of the kids know exactly what they want to be, there are those who struggle – the boy who wants to be a veterinarian but can’t see an animal suffering; the boy who wants to take a load off of his mother but actually wants to become a professional baseball player, and intends to use money earned there to hire work for his mother; the girl who’s the only child to inherit the farm where we meet her whole family up to her great-grandmother, but she doesn’t want to be a farmer, and seems to care more for horses than anything else.
At one portion the message he’s spreading is quite TV-esque - ”So long it’s about following a dream, it’s all good” is basically what he’s saying, without considering the costs of dreams, or that dreams are nothing special compared to what you actually end up doing with your life. He over-values dreams simply because he lacks one. Lacking a dream is not a terrible thing, it means you are open to new experiences. One thing that is very enjoyable about watching Hachiken as a main character is his child’s delight at new experiences – he bakes a pizza, he gets to drink fresh milk for the first time, he gets to butcher a ran-over deer. All these experiences excite him, because he’s living in the moment. A dream is sort of a way to escape the moment and live in the future.
Hachiken’s older brother makes an appearance, he’s a genius who got into Tokyo University without even trying but had decided to defy their results-only interested father and travels the country, living the moment. Hachiken resents him, but it feels part of it is because he does what he wishes he could, and not because he’s good at it, but because he wants to.
Hachiken ran away from Tokyo and his prep-school because he didn’t know what he wanted to do, when the lesson he is given in the final episode of the season talks about the fact that it doesn’t matter what you do, but who you are(and that what you do is distinct from who you are). Hachiken escaped Tokyo to the agricultural school because he felt the effort he was putting in wasn’t taking him anywhere, and he didn’t know where he wanted to go to begin with. Hachiken ran away, but he was met with the same problem in his new school – he was still surrounded by people who seemingly know what they want to do, where they want to get to, and learned a valuable lesson – no matter how far you run, you always carry yourself along. You can’t outrun yourself, and eventually you must come to terms with yourself.
To me, Hachiken isn’t moving forward, yet. Each time he lets himself loose, or he sees someone having a dream, he brings up all the ways it could fail. Each time he is enjoying himself, he stops himself by comparing himself to others around him as lacking. Hachiken not only carries himself wherever he goes, but his father’s voice as well. This voice is displeased with his lack of future, with his lack of results, of going to be a farmer. Hachiken isn’t advancing because he recoils each time he has a chance to let his past loose, to forget the future, and enjoy the moment. But you know, all these experiences are priming him, and eventually it will all come loose, all at once, and Hachiken will be free. Free to start his pig farm and hug his pigs all day long.
Conclusion: This show is the surprising show of the season, I certainly didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I have, but I found myself smiling and saying “Oh, already?” when an episode ended. I give it a hearty 8.6/10 cute piglets. It had one episode which reminded me of the journey to The Guild in Angel Beats! which I didn’t like at all. This show in general has a good mixture of actually funny visual gags, warm human moments, a shy and stuttering non-romance which feels real and is enjoyable to watch.
This was a slice of life show that didn’t pander, that didn’t try too hard to be funny or comforting, to be cute or preachy. If anything, the topic matter, being discussion of hopes and dreams and fear of the future due to apparent lack thereof reminded me of the very sombre Welcome to the NHK, and the recent articles about Generation Y’s future.
I can’t wait for the next season.
(Bonus question: What dreams did you have when you were younger, and how did you deal with the future-fright many of us seem to go through?)