Silver Spoon, Vol. 8

By Hiromu Arakawa. Released in Japan as “Gin no Saji” by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Amanda Haley.

For years before this series got licensed, my joke was always “why is this popular work by the author of hit series Fullmetal Alchemist not licensed?” “IT’S A FARMING MANGA!”. And now that Silver Spoon *is* licensed and doing well (hopefully doing well – you are all buying it, right?), the joke is over but the point remains. Silver Spoon is indeed a coming of age story, and a sweet romance, but it is also, at heart, a farming manga. Arakawa is here to tell everyone exactly what it means to be a farmer in Japan. Sometimes that means taking pages and pages to learn how to make a certain kind of cheese. And sometimes it means taking a long, cold look at how difficult it can be to keep a farm going in modern Japan, as we find out what we suspected all along about Komaba – getting i9nto the Nationals was his last ditch shot, and now he has to drop out as his family’s farm is going bankrupt.

This affects Mikage as well. We’ve seen that she and Komaba have been commiserating about this (and politely telling Hachiken to butt out), and we find out why, as her family are guarantors for the Komaba debt, so this puts them in danger. Hachiken is once again told to butt out… but he refuses to, in one of the best scenes in the book. He can’t given anyone a solution, though he tries hard to find one, going over all the ideas that most of the adults have already thought of and discarded. (Crab!) But he can be moral support, and help Mikage, who is trying to keep up her fake cheer and failing. He can also be there for Komaba, watching as all their beloved cows get taken away to be sold. It’s a depressing scene, and is meant to be. This is something that happens sometimes when people try to keep a farm up0, and it’s never good.

That said, Hachiken’s moral supprt is far more useful in regards to Mikage, who is ready at this point to give up on her own dream just as Komaba has to give up on his. She doesn’t want to run a farm. She wants to work with horses. And, with Hachiken there as moral support, she tells her parents this. This is the other fantastic scene in the book, as it gives us everything we want from these characters. Hachiken’s impetuousness and resolve, Mikage finding it in her to stop repressing her own feelings, her family’s discussion of the big problems with this (her grades, mostly)… and of course there’s room for some humor as well, as the whole thing feels like they’re about to announce they’re engaged, which causes her father to flip out.

The volume ends with Hachiken starting to tutor Mikage, which once again shows off how good he is at teaching/studying, as he realizes that she’s hopeless about memorization unless it involves horses, so frames every Japanese history question in terms of cavalry and the like. It’s both funny AND brilliant, and I hope it pays off. In the meantime, I’d say this is the best volume of Silver Spoon yet, but that does a disservice to the great volumes before this. The whole series is fantastic.

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