Hi there, folks. I’m Yatahaze, one of three people that will be running this blog, and I’m lucky enough to be able to post its first article. All of us are new to WordPress, so to get our bearings, we’ll be starting off with a review of an anime from last year, and I chose A-1 Pictures’ beautiful slice-of-life show Silver Spoon. After the other two guys post theirs, you can expect some weekly reviews of airing anime, occasionally more in-depth episodic reviews, and reviews of whole series from years past, as well as maybe some other miscellaneous stuff we may come up with. We hope you have at least as much fun reading what we have to say as we do writing. It’s for great justice, you know.
Anyways, Silver Spoon is adapted from an award-winning manga series by Hiromu Arakawa (of Fullmetal Alchemist fame) and aired 11 episodes each in the summer 2013 and winter 2014 seasons on Fuji TV’s famous noitaminA slot. It follows the day to day life of Yuugo Hachiken, a student from Sapporo who enrolled into the fictional rural Ooezo Agricultural High School to escape the harsh educational expectations of his father and a sullen middle school life, initially thinking the school would be a place he could slack off while taking easier high school courses in preparation for college. When he arrives, however, he’s greeted to the physically demanding world of preparation for a career in agriculture, totally out of his element, and despondent from the fact that everybody else seems to already have their eyes set on a dream to work towards and capture while he flops around aimlessly like a fish out of water.
Silver Spoon may not explicitly focus on agribusiness 24/7, but its depiction of farm life is accurate from what I can tell. Taking into account that most of the audience wouldn’t know how all the farming procedures take place, Arakawa and director Tomohiko Itou use Yuugo as the “new kid” with no prior experience in the farm world for viewers to identify with. What naturally occurs in most shows is an unfiltered unrelenting infodump to get the main character and audience up to speed as quickly as possible, but it’s handled quite smoothly with Silver Spoon – as Yuugo learns, so do we, but he’s never beaten over the head with exaggerations of countryside living. Yuugo does experience some culture clash – it’s more common in Silver Spoon’s setting to gut a deer or bear than it is to order a pizza – but it’s never so jarring that it feels implausible. A majority of the first season is spent breaking down the ill-conceived assumption that farming is a simpleton’s task, and it explores the disconnect so many people in industrialized countries have towards animals and where their food originates. There are no clear answers either; all the rural kids grew up not thinking twice about eating what comes from their livestock but Yuugo sends both himself and a few of them into a moral tailspin, countered by giving in and realizing that meat – fresh meat in particular – tastes really fucking good.
Yuugo (voiced by Ryohei Kimura whose notable recent work includes Kids on the Slope’s Kaoru Nishimi and Eden of the East’s Akira Takizawa among many others) isn’t exactly a one-of-a-kind main character – the seemingly selfless and kind but inwardly angsty and gloomy lead has been done many a time before, but seeing his growth over the course of the series sets him apart from the rest of his ilk. It’s very easy to see the lack of direction Yuugo has towards the series’ start, when he faces a lot of decisions with hesitance and a subtle air of self-righteousness. Even after he starts making friends and the class sees him as someone who’s trustworthy and easy to talk to, it’s clear Yuugo can’t seem to pull himself free from the weight of growing up. His previous school’s counselor who urged him to move to Ooezo even comments that in middle school, Yuugo seemed to be “held hostage by the thought that he had to make something of himself, so much so that he had no idea what kind of person he wanted to be.” His classmate and baseball-playing friend Ichirou Komaba catches on as early as the third episode that for all Yuugo’s talk about not accepting anything but the best in academics, he acts very sympathetic towards the underdog in nearly everything else. The contradictions of his behavior and ideology understandably stem from his stubborn refusal to face his father’s no-leisure, no-nonsense way of life and his lack of experience with anything but that philosophy. Yuugo worries if he’s good enough all the time because his dad told him his whole life that he wasn’t. His anxiety is something foreign and petty to the farm business where kids have an obligation to worry about their parent’s financial struggles because having a close family is so ingrained into the culture. Yuugo tries all series long to help other people, but not everybody wants or needs the help he thinks he can give them, and when they tell him this, he sinks back into depression. This contrasts greatly with Yuugo’s carefree older brother Shingo who dropped out of Tokyo University (think Japan’s Harvard) solely to spite their father’s wishes. Shingo unexpectedly drops by now and then for a visit, usually to remind Yuugo that he can’t run away from his problems forever.
That said, to run from something means to run towards something, and Silver Spoon uses its backdrop and ridiculously wide range of on-campus offerings (seriously, the laid back adult supervision and dorm-living makes it almost resemble a college atmosphere more than a high school one) to delve into the moral issues of animal treatment and set up an extended parallel for the systematic upbringing of youth through their teenage years, both socially and through education. The second season expands on Yuugo’s family situation, his acknowledgement that he eventually has to stand up to his father if he truly believes that’s the right thing to do, his crush for primary female lead and fellow Equestrian Club member Aki Mikage, and the economic situations of all his friends and their families. Make no mistake; the supporting cast in Silver Spoon isn’t reduced to clichéd sidekicks either. Every person – whether they be Hachiken’s classmates, the Ooezo faculty, or the families of our protagonists – has their own realistic goals and struggles, and it’s incredible how well Silver Spoon balances it all to reveal pieces of their lives and personalities over the course of its 22-episode run instead of limiting their scope to a trite “new side-character of the week” format.
It’s not just themes or characters that help Silver Spoon set the bar high for slice-of-life shows either. The episodes can be easily watched in a marathon or episodically, and the effect remains the same. The animation crew keeps facial reactions simple and predictable but they never grow tiresome. The comedy is over-dramatized, but never dragged out. The timing and delivery of its punches – both comical and dramatic – are pulled off with elegance. The art isn’t over-saturated and though it maintains a fair standard throughout, as time goes by – both daily and seasonally – you can feel it subtly influence the mood. Foggy early mornings, bright afternoons, luscious evenings, or starlit nights, you name it, Silver Spoon nails it. The mountain scenery is downright pretty – the sense of place is easy to soak in, and that sense of place is really important. Come the series’ middle, Yuugo genuinely begins to feel like a part of Ooezo, and Ooezo in turn becomes a part of him. That’s what Silver Spoon is all about at heart. Finding a place to belong. Somewhere free from a condescending eye. Somewhere mistakes are tolerated. Somewhere you’re allowed to grow. The world isn’t all smiles, but it also doesn’t have to be miserable. We are all shaped by our environment, and while sometimes that can be a heavy burden, it also makes us who we are, and opportunities to branch beyond that environment and explore something different is the key to growth. It doesn’t mean you can’t return home, as Yuugo reluctantly accepts by series end, but it also doesn’t mean you have to confine yourself to a place of stagnation or frustration when there are opportunities in abundance elsewhere.
Perhaps the best praise I can give Silver Spoon is how universal its message is despite the very specific details of its setting. The characters feel human and their situations believable. If you’ve struggled to find your meaning in life during adolescence, Silver Spoon will almost surely resonate with you, and I can see it becoming a cult classic in the near future. It really does deserve it.
Yatahaze’s rating: 9.5/10