Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Hachiken Yuugo has had a stressful, unpleasant middle school life, and his teacher can tell that they city boy needs a break. He suggests that Hachiken apply to Oezo, an agricultural high school in the wilds of Hokkaido for a change of pace. Hachiken agrees, but soon finds himself in over his head – what are these evil neighing quadrupeds people want him to ride? Eggs come from where now? - but as time goes on he slowly finds himself not only acclimating, but finding something to enjoy about the agricultural life.
There are some rude shocks about farming life, surprises like your first brush against an electric fence or the realization that someday that cute little critter you're falling in love with will become someone's BLT. People who have not lived on a farm or been otherwise exposed to it may know these things intellectually, but there's something different about experiencing it first hand. This is Hachiken Yuugo's lot in life when he moves from Sapporo to a more rural part of Hokkaido to attend an agricultural high school. While we haven't flat out been told why he's done this, the implication is that his previous existence was high on stress and low on human interaction (in one scene we see him sitting alone in the dark, reading a text message from his mother telling him she won't be home), and his middle school teacher was concerned about him. The teacher therefore suggested that Hachiken apply to Oezo High, a school for future farmers and farm managers. Quickly we see that Hachiken is the proverbial fish out of water – not only do all of his new classmates have specific goals for their futures, but they also have an easy camaraderie which Hachiken is clearly uncomfortable with. For some of them, it's simply because they grew up in the same social circles, but for others it is that they have a shared background, one which Hachiken as the city slicker lacks. He interprets this as being because his new classmates all have dreams, while he lacks any idea of what he wants to do with his life, but to viewers it is easy to see that what he really doesn't have is the confidence to make friends.
Fortunately for Hachiken, he is surrounded by people willing to remedy this lack. Because this is based on a Hiromu Arakawa manga, there's a large cast of people who look vaguely like real-world versions of Fullmetal Alchemist characters, each with distinct interests and personalities. Hachiken quickly falls for equestrienne Mikage Aki, a sweet girl from a nearby farm who doesn't judge him for his lack of farming knowledge. It is really Tokiwa, however, who helps to break Hachiken out of his shell – he needs help with math and Hachiken provides tutoring. Suddenly he's Tokiwa's new buddy and he begins to find his place in the school.
A large part of the delight of Silver Spoon is the detail. Hachiken can serve as either the everyman for non-farmers to experience the story through or the butt of the usual jokes for those who are familiar with agricultural affairs to chuckle at. The opening theme alone handles two of the major yuks had at the expense of urban visitors to farms – stepping in cow plops and touching the electric fence – and Hachiken also experiences the horrors of where food comes from, the sensation of being on horseback for the first time, and recalcitrant farm animals who know you don't know what you're doing and take shameless advantage. Whether you laugh at Hachiken or sympathize with him simply depends on which lens you're viewing the story through, making it accessible to both groups.
Perhaps the best done aspect of the show is Hachiken's burgeoning understanding of the fact that meat eaters kill animals to live. Eggs were a hard concept for him (and an overdone joke in the show's first episode), but later on he witnesses a chicken being beheaded and having the meat offered to him, is asked to butcher a roadkill deer for consumption, and befriends a piglet he knows is destined for slaughter. For some people, this is just a fact of life, but for others it is a fact we would rather not think about. Hachiken grapples with it in most of the episodes, as well as the potential cruelty of horse-based sporting events, such as races or pulls, and as of episode six he doesn't have an answer, although he is coming closer to one. The most powerful of these moments thus far is when he has to butcher the deer, and without spoiling anything, the way he eventually deals with it is one of the better emotional moments of the show.
There is a nice balance of humor and the down-and-dirty facts of farming in these six episodes, with only episode five being strictly for laughs. For every emotional moment or impassioned cheese-making explanation, there are the crazy sempai of the Holstein Club or a bear or a calf attempting to nurse by head-bumping Hachiken's groin, with most of these episodes being genuinely funny. There is no shying away from the more gruesome aspects of rural life (just waiting for Hachiken to have to deliver a breech calf), and episode six's deer butchering scene is the most likely to upset sensitive viewers. Animation is fairly basic for the most part, with an occasional stiffness to walking in both people and animals, but the visuals in general look good, and the show certainly deserves credit for not making a joke of overweight character Tamako. No single voice feels like a stand-out, although everyone does a good job and some of Hachiken's more anguished vocalizations are done to a T by Ryohei Kimura. Both opening and ending themes have a nice slightly folksy feel to them that works with the show nicely, particularly the ending theme, Sukima Switch's “Hello Especially.”
Farming may not seem like the best subject for a show, but Silver Spoon makes it both informative and entertaining. Those of us who are farm people or live rurally may get a bit more out of Hachiken's pitch perfect presentation of “city boy,” but non-farmers as well should find Arakawa's humor amusing and may learn a thing or two as well. Balancing information and humor, Silver Spoon is never dull and if it isn't always pretty – well, that's just the way life is, and the characters would tell you that sometimes you just have to understand that.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Balances humor and information well, Tamako is not a stereotype. Easy to relate to, at least from this rural denizen's perspective, catchy theme songs. Graphic when it needs to be.
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