Unsure of what to do with his life, and under no small pressure from his parents to be successful, Yugo Hachiken finds himself at Oezo Agricultural School on a recommendation from his teacher. There, he's on his way to one hell of a culture shock.
I'm not a farmer specifically, but much of my childhood has been spent growing up on a smaller farm -- the kind that was easier to drive back when I was a kid -- and while my current surroundings aren't specifically farmlands -- my homeplace is also fairly heavily industrial -- I am still more of a country person than I am a city person, and personally, I wouldn't have it any other way. Granted, what we see of farming in Silver Spoon is vastly more modernized than it used to be before I developed my hay fever and had to distance myself from it by necessity, so in that respect, my memories are a good deal more dated than the experiences our main lead has in this show, but still familiar enough that I could feel a certain bit of nostalgia from it.
And although Silver Spoon's main character does have that "fish out of water" thing to him at first -- a city boy, to be sure -- Hachiken isn't a tool for the show to make fun of anyone, or even preaching or setting a preference. The country people cast in Silver Spoon has its share of idiots and weirdoes, while Hachiken himself is portrayed as a fairly intelligent young man who's capable of learning, even if the ride itself is bumpy as... well, a horseback ride, maybe, except with more morbid awakenings?
It's that frankness that makes Silver Spoon such an amazing watch. Oh, it's clearly romanticizing farm life, I'm certainly not denying that. It's quite clear that whoever wrote the manga wants you to share in the experiences they had, whether that be in an acricultural college or a more regular farm life, and like all the best shows, it leans neither too heavily on romanticizing it nor waxing too cynical about it. Rather, Silver Spoon points out the kind of qualities you need in several of the branches inherent in farms, farm life and the caretaking thereof. That includes the "taking" part of "caretaking", because one of the biggest and most important lessons Silver Spoon wants you to learn is never taking anything for granted, especially not the lives that are taken so that you can eat.
That lesson quickly got to a head once just that was removed from a chicken in the second episode, which marks the kind of "violence" you will see in this show, a surprisingly blood-splattered one. Actual visual representations are only limited to two occasions, but those are certainly visceral enough to get the point across, and as most farmers know, you don't want blood remaining if you want to eat the meat. In addition to that, Silver Spoon is all too happy to point out how cruel and self-serving the animal world can be -- survival of the fittest and all that -- especially so when it comes to the tale of Pork Bowl, one of the recently born piglets whose caretaking is part of the school curriculum, and whose name is given by Hachiken in his peculiar attempt at self-awareness over its situation; it's being raised for its delicious, delicious meat.
But even the lives of man's best farmer friend, the horse, isn't really a secure thing. Mikage Aki, a girl who attends the school and also the Equestrian club, catches Hachiken's eye. She's particularly fond of horses, and her attachment to a certain member of the equine family also puts into perspective that even horses really have to earn their keep, lest they end up alongside the cows or the chickens on our dinner plate, except in the horses' case, that is all decided in a competition that is bound to coax out a laugh until you realize the seriousness of the situation. Still, she does sort of become the target of Hachiken's crush, though aside from being nice, there isn't really anything that separates her from the other girls in Oezo, save perhaps one. Then again, I am not Hachiken, and neither are any of you, so since that's not a relationship that's front and center for the show, it's not really important to understand his reasons.
I said "save perhaps one", and that comes in the character of Tamaka Inada; a woman of no small size, never mind her permanent Duke Togo facial expression. In fact, it's actually pretty rare to see blatantly overweight women in anime, particularly ones that are portrayed on a relatively positive note. "Relatively", because Tamaka is pretty ruthless and prone to take advantages of the naive, but she never outright bullies people or steals anything from anyone even though the opening animation might make you think so, and she's also quite knowledgeable about modern farming methods that she plans on using when she usurps her parents' farm. Yes, usurps. Her family can be rather... odd. Let's just leave it at that.
If the school in Silver Spoon has any idiots, Keiji Tokiwa probably fits the bill. Like many others in Silver Spoon, he is a part of a farmer family and is expected to inherit the farm from his parents. He's not only the one who benefits from Hachiken's school smarts, as Keiji is a bit of an idiot with a mortifyingly narrow attention span who considers getting a two-digit score on a test to be a great success, and who is good at exactly one thing -- anything revolving around huge farming machinery. While he can be amusing at times, he's also the closest the show gets to idiot humor, which isn't always my favorite kind, and not very well represented here. At least he's more of a general kind of idiot rather than the special garden variety that is the Holstein club, who are a bit obsessed with a certain milk-producing body part as the show trollingly tries to mislead you at first, and whose recruitment process seems to be a two-step plan: 1. *YOINK* and 2. Once secured, trying to gang-scare you into joining. There might be another three steps, 3-5, which are "success", "???" and "profit" too, but that might come later. Like in season 2. Possibly. Let's hope not.
Anyway, another part where Silver Spoon almost stands apart from a lot of other shows is how it doesn't really lean on having a huge life goal as the be-all and end-all of a life. Hachiken is lost -- he doesn't know what he wants to do with his life, and in a weird way, his attendance at Oezo is sort of his way to shirk that responsibility that somehow turned into a far bigger thing than he anticipated. Even his shallow reason for joining the equestrian club turned out to be more than he bargained for, and in a good way at that. But of course he doesn't see that himself, in no small thanks to his father. His classmates all have things they want to do, so a lost sheep like Hachiken can only turn to envy. But Silver Spoon is frank enough to say that having that goal isn't enough, and as is the case with Aki, following your dream will sometimes demand a sacrifice that stretches farther out than just yourself or your personal happiness. There are often no clear answers, which is the biggest and best lesson Silver Spoon has to offer, which in an ocean of know-it-alls can feel weirdly comforting, strange as it feels to just say that.
Farming can be a charming thing to experience, but it's also gross and smelly and most of all a huge responsibility. Farming can be a very pragmatic experience, or you can also create a bond with all the animals in your care, even if their end destination is your dinner plate. Silver Spoon is also very informative -- there's not many shows that would tell you that pigs on average have less of a body fat percentage than human beings, for instance, or how teaching a bovine calf to feed can seem a fairly brutal thing for people who don't realize how strong most animals are, particularly larger ones like cows or horses.
The visuals are clearly up to par in portraying all of this. Silver Spoon's character designs seems to settle in the middle between more generalized cartoonery and the more realistic depictions of human beings. The guys in particular seems to lean heavily towards more of a seinen demographic and the variety therein, although the girls are -- again, with that one exception -- almost universally attractive. Even Yoshino, who has that "unfortunate" combo of freckles and red hair is really cute in that girl next door-ish way. As for the animals, all of them feel very naturally animated, which lends itself well to their general behavior patterns lovingly recreated here, even down to the idiosyncracies that owners tend to place on their animals. Even when they're clearly given gag faces, like the horse Hachiken ends up riding during his club activities, it's all done as a homage rather than an intent to mock or denigrate. Or even the whole thing where the piglets are clearly being drawn to be as inhumanly adorable as possible. The animation is generally really well done, as is the overall designs. It helps that the show's comedy is very gag-laden with the animation crew up to the task of portraying all the craziness going on.
The music is a bit more nondescript in that I don't really remember it.... outside of the opening and ending themes, which are nice songs I didn't often feel the need to skip. There is sadly no English dub, but the Japanese voiceovers are all very well done and suitable to each and every character, so no complaints there.
The best thing about this show is that, no matter what happens later, I can put my faith in that Silver Spoon will continue to be top-tier entertainment. Instead of telling you what to do and browbeating you if you stray from that path, Silver Spoon seems to be more interested in seeing where it goes and allowing its cast to make the best of what is sometimes a very difficult position. It highly endorses personal happiness, but doesn't shy away from making it just as much of a personal responsibility; you are responsible for your own happiness, but that fact can not be used as an excuse to hurt others or even just inconvenience them repeatedly without consequence any more than they can do the same to you.
That, and it makes me feel like I'm home.
It's funny, it's serious, it's pragmatic without leaning on cynicism and it's got a few good lessons to impart. And it's got a second season that I need to catch now. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: No sex or sexuality here; in fact, even the rumor of such liaisons provokes outrage in THIS school (and supplies a hilarious scene.) But the violence makes this a no-no for small children, even if it IS really what happens to farm animals, and even if it IS sometimes optically censored.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, Japanese with English subs only.
Review Status: Full (11/11)
Silver Spoon © 2013 Hiromu Arakawa, Shogakukan/Ezono Festa Executive Committee
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