Posted on August 15, 2013 AT 06:00am
Growing up in the North Shore of Massachusetts I found myself surrounded by the past and current trends of farming, thanks in part to the Essex Agricultural High School in Danvers. Our highways had special underground tunnels for livestock to travel without fear of being run over, and our areas were filled with rich farm lands where animals, apple trees, and many other crops were grown fresh during the proper seasons. (Some areas still do, though not as much as there was between the 1950s-1990s.) A few years ago I was taken by surprise by the brilliant noitaminA series Moyashimon, which focused on an agricultural college with its main protagonist being able to see microbes as adorable beings.
A few weeks ago another series has appeared on noitaminA that can be easily paired with Moyashimon: Silver Spoon, created by Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist, Hero Tales). This time, however, there is no plot twist to be found. The main protagonist doesn’t have a special gift that no one else in the world has, farm animals don’t talk to humans, and there’s no sign of fixing or building of equipment or buildings via the law of equivalent exchange. It is just an anime about going to an agricultural high school.
The show’s main focus belongs to Hachiken, a city boy who failed the entrance exams of every high school he tried to get into. Thinking he’s of the clever sort Hachiken decides to enroll Oezo Agricultural High School, assuming that the classes there would be easy enough for him to focus on college exams. (He also wants to give himself space from his strict father.) On Day One, however, he finds out that going to a farming high school is nowhere near easy; in fact it’s continents apart.
Let me give you a brief run on what happens to the poor bastard on his first day at the high school: he first wakes up at 5 a.m. Hackiken then helps his fellow classmates with rounding up chickens, and then watches someone cut off the head of one of the chickens before fainting from said sight. He’s then put on egg duty, where he learns that eggs come from a chicken’s anus. This fact grosses Hachiken out so much that he refuses to eat anything egg-related (which, at this school, is basically everything). He then works his butt off some more, and near the brink of tapping out is encouraged by female classmate Aki (and love interest) to soldier on. Hachiken gets over the whole “eggs-from-chicken-butt” realization, and finally puts something in his stomach. (Remember: this all happens in episode one!)
With the help of the new friends he has made at Oezo Hachkien tries to find some real purpose to his current life. He befriends a small piglet named Pork Bun, and in this tiny swine he sees a little bit of himself: a weakling in a world that throws more at him than he can handle. After having to find a club to join Hachiken joins the Equestrian club (and yes, the love interest has something to do with it), and soon finds something that he can really enjoy doing at the high school.
On paper Silver Spoon sounds like an average slice-of-life series, one that sounds more fit to be a live-action drama than an anime. (There is a movie coming out in 2014 from Toho Pictures, though.) However we all know Arakawa is a great storyteller, and this series is drawn from her experiences of working at her family’s dairy farm. Writing what you know is usually what people do first, not halfway into their careers. That said with the hard work she has done in the likes of Fullmetal Alchemist she has become a much better spinner of tales, and can take her past experiences and add some fun little elements to it.
Not only is Silver Spoon wonderfully written, it is seriously funny. How Hachiken reacts to the new world around him, not to mention the tasks he’s put up to, is hysterical. He goes into this high school thinking he’ll be the smartest out of everyone, and why he may be book-smart he still makes an idiot farmer, one not even worthy of cleaning out horse poop from the stables. The friends he makes provide a good chunk of laughs, too, whether it’s Beppu’s crazy eating habits or the nutty udder-enthusiasts club.
There are some things in this series that can be considered unbelievable, though. How do people from a first-world country spend their entire lives not being able to taste a single slice of pizza? They do come up with some excuses, mind you, but really? Not even on a vacation trip or something? This specific episode does have many funny elements, however, and shows what sort of strength a school community can have when they work together to make something magical happen.
Animated by A-1 Pictures Silver Spoon captures the look and worlds of Arakawa’s work with great beauty and cartoonish glee, the same way Bones did Fullmetal Alchemist and Studio Flag produced Hero Tales. You watch this anime, and you know right away it’s based off her work. Shusei Murai’s score fits with the setting, with a mostly folksy vibe that can jump into something symphonic during the right moments. The theme “kiss you” by miwa is goofy J-POP fare, out of place in a series like this but somehow fitting for the silliness that happens in the opening sequence. Sukima Switch’s “Hello Especially,” on the other hand, is the type of song made for a series like this (a tune that’s sort of like a Willie Nelson track sung in Japanese).
Lastly there is the voice cast, with everyone fitting well with their respective roles. Ryohei Kimura takes Hachkien’s overly-seriousness and impromptu downtrodden situations with much grace, while Marie Miyake’s Aki plays her down as a caring and understanding ally in our main protagonist’s day-to-day tasks. The supporting cast of Nobuyuki Kobushi (Beppu), Masayuki Shouji (Keiji), Ayahi Takagaki (Tamako), and Tooru Sakurai (Ichiro) all have their shining moments, giving a much stronger support to the main characters than most other slice-of-life anime series do.
Usually I can only recommend something like Silver Spoon to people who are interested in such topics, as the same can be said with Moyashimon. However what makes Silver Spoon more mainstream is because of the wonderful writing that has come out of Arakawa’s imagination and life experiences. It’s largely entertaining, humorous, and won’t go over the heads of those who’ve never really watched an anime before.
I mentioned Essex Aggie in the beginning, and much of it has changed over the past couple decades. Many of the necessary farming sites and classes have been replaced with newer buildings and subjects that focus on more “popular” skills, such as dog grooming, landscaping, and veterinary assistance. Because of this the majority of students going for farming will be forced to learn everything only in the classroom, with no real hands-on experiences to give them a real idea of what to expect. What made this high school what it was is vanishing, and it saddens me to see this happen.
Perhaps a show like Silver Spoon can convince the higher-ups there (and any of the other agricultural schools that’ve seen these changes) of why these on-site teaching elements are needed for the farming industry to survive, even with the regulations put in that are mandatory these days to make them run smoothly. After all if you want to be in this business, you’ll need to know the dangers, the risks, and the proper education to do it right.
Voice actors/actresses: 9/10
Final Grade: 9/10
Silver Spoon can be viewed on Crunchyroll.
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