Review for Silver Spoon - Series 1
You’ve got to hand it to the Japanese. Sure, we’ve got ‘Emmerdale’ and ‘The Archers’ on the radio but who would ever have backed the idea to develop a teen slice-of-life manga with an agricultural theme? When our in-house anime expert, Jitendar Canth, recommended the anime spin-off series to me I have to confess that I accepted the challenge to view and review ‘Silver Spoon Series 1’ with some reservations. I needn’t have worried. It’s a brilliant series and lots of fun to watch.
Created by Hiromu Arakawa, the male pen-name of female manga artist, Arakawa Hiromi, the lady behind ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’, it’s a coming of age tale based pretty much on her own experiences growing up in rural Hokkaido. Apparently the 2013 manga (from which the 2018 anime is based) was an immediate hit in Japan and the series followed suit, being rightfully lauded as a cut above so many other animated series.
Yuugo Hachiken is an academically gifted student from a prestigious school who, against all expectations, decides to take a master’s recommendation and accept a place at an agricultural college rather than a place at a top academic University. He is hoping that it will lead him to a more fulfilled life than that of a successful salaryman in the city.
The Oezo Agricultural High School is in the middle of nowhere and is at odds with anything the young city-dweller has previously been used to. His fellow students are mostly country folk who have been brought up on the land, so he is very much an outsider from the start.
Series 1 gently tracks his assimilation into the college and its way of life and is a heart-warming tale of friendship, challenge and comedy. Life isn’t easy and initially, the High School is a rude awakening. Lots of early mornings, hard work and, well, livestock, with all the grimy, toil that rearing them can involve.
To begin with, it seems that poor Yuugo is completely out of his depth. However, with each episode he seems to not only learn more, slowly catching up with other students, but also to contribute something of his own. By the time we get half-way through the series, he has become the star of the school having discovered a Stone Oven in which he prepares pizzas with natural ingredients from around the college, much to everyone’s delight.
‘Food’ is very much a key theme of the series, particularly with regard to eating animals reared within the school, some of which poor Yuugo has become very attached to, even naming one of the piglets. As a long-term vegetarian, I was somewhat nervous as to the show’s approach to these delicate issues and despite not agreeing with Yuugo’s eventual conclusions (that the food is too delicious and, besides, it’s the circle of life), it was great to see that it dealt with these issues in the first place. Indeed, it deals with them with enormous sensitivity.
Much of the foreground noise in ‘Silver Spoon’ deals with an understanding and appreciation of how food gets on your plate, but the background buzz is definitely all about youngsters searching for meaning and identity as they approach adulthood. That also means lots of merry japes and some gentle romance too, as well as insights into relationships and the building of lasting friendships. This is Grade A heart-warming stuff.
It’s quirky too. The school’s headmaster cuts a comical figure as a vertically challenged midget of a man, and yet even he is seen with the golden glow of positivity. This is a series that’s all heart.
If you took away the agricultural context of the series, you’d be left with a very entertaining coming of age drama – maybe not as salacious as ‘Love Island’ but similarly themed with a bunch of youngsters thrown together in a remote place, with all the relationship dynamics that come with that.
For most viewers, like me, who are more urban than rural, the series is also an opportunity to witness a wart and all ‘back to nature’ journey through the eyes of one of our own. That means seeing the experience with equal measures of repulsion (baby pigs bred for bacon) and delight (the fun of a horse-ride, a tractor ride or the taste of fresh food free from any chemical additives).
There’s also fun to be had at the expense of ‘farmer nerds’ like ‘The Holstein Club’ who take their appreciation of cattle to new, anorak-style heights.
The characterisation throughout the series is really strong and the series has a natural rhythm, like life itself, of ups and downs. Whilst Hachiken is a seeker who doesn’t really know yet what he wants to do with his life, others have clear goals, sometimes pre-determined by circumstance – like a young friend who must learn how to take over his aging parents’ farm to help them climb out of debt. Or a friend who wants to be a vet but can’t deal with putting animals to sleep. This series has tears, laughter and everything in-between.
The first series comprises 11 fun (albeit short at just over 22 minutes a piece) episodes across 2 Blu-Ray discs and is available for short time (via distributors Anime Limited) in a special collectors edition which comes in a box-set housing art-cards and posters, none of which I have seen.
The image quality across all discs is predictably superb – bright, precise animation set against green rural, water-coloured backdrops for the most part. It looks as good as it makes you feel. When you know that the source is from the same well as ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ it’s no surprise. Audio is presented in original Japanese only with English subs, but worked fine for me with most the voices being believable enough for the characters. On-disc extra features are constrained to clean opening and end credits (why?) and a bunch of trailers.
Whilst I appreciate that on paper, the idea of an agriculture themes anime may not have immediate appeal to all. But this series really is a notch above the norm and were I not a vegetarian, I may well have been tempted to have given it 10/10. Roll on Series 2!