Silver Spoon, Vol. 11

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.

As promised, we get the Valentine’s Day arc in this volume. That said, it pretty much relies on the sort of thing that I walked about in the last review: everyone is sort of pissed off watching the happy not-yet-a-couple while they themselves are single. Indeed, we even get a breakup here fro0m one of the minor characters, and it’s pointed out that “eldest son of a farmer” is not a big plus for women looking for a man. In fact, it’s the opposite. That said, there is hope on the horizon. Hachiken successfully conveys that he wants chocolate from Mikage. Despite enormous obstacles, she manages to give it to him. And even with an immediate mood-killer, it’s not destroyed like Hachiken’s phone was in the last book. The same applies to Mikage’s grades – they aren’t great, but they’re now good enough that she can see about getting a recommendation for her college. Steady progress is important – in fact, that’s the key to this whole volume.

Everyone is moving up a grade – and in many cases, that means moving out of the dorms. Hachiken decides that he wants a place of his own, and manages to barter with his parents to get it. Less successful is his attempt to explain to his dad that he wants to start a business and would like funding. He has the ideas and the fortitude – and his father is impressed that he actually stands up for himself – but he has no real plan beyond “stuff happens”, so is coldly rejected. Fortunately, he has the sense to ask Tamako for help, as she’s the economic genius of the bunch. Hachiken’s dad is not made magically nicer here, but we do start to see why he was so frustrated at Hachiken passively doing what others wanted before, and it’s Hachiken (and Mikage!) standing up to him that means that the door is not permanently shut. That said, Hachiken’s dad is still sort of a scary ass.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not all that fond of “lovable idiot” characters like tokiwa and Ookawa. We get a lot of Ookawa in this book, as he’s finally forced to graduate (literally, they have to physically make him take the diploma) and face up to unemployment. There isn’t a job of “ruin Hachiken’s life”, sadly, which is a shame as he’s perfectly qualified for it. We also get a long, serious and heartwarming explanation of the Silver Spoon in the title from the headmaster, though again Arakawa can’t resist undercutting things by having the teacher point out it’s his “standard speech”. It still works, and by the end of the volume you get the sense that Hachiken is on the right path, using the resources of abandoned and half-finished projects that the school still has lying around for his own.

This seems to end the “Winter” arc, and the next arc, “Four Seasons”, is the final one (assuming the manga ever comes off of hiatus again). It remains essential reading for anyone who loves a great story and characters.

Silver Spoon, Vol. 10

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.

It has to be said, the love story in Silver Spoon can sometimes be frustrating. Not so much on the Hachiken/Mikage end, as I’m perfectly content with these two to slowly make their way into a relationship. It’s more the reaction of the rest of the students. There are not any noticeable “beta couples” in this series, which is not primarily a romantic comedy in any case, so what you end up having is a bunch of teenage farm kids watching their friends be adorable AND oblivious at the same time. They want to be happy deep down, I’m sure. But in reality… they’re pissed. And you get the sense the author is as well. So for every cute, heartwarming moment, such as Mikage’s New Year’s text, you get the inevitable crushing of it – literally, in this case, as Hachiken’s phone is destroyed via horse and via the obnoxious Ookawa. Fortunately, the rest of the book devotes itself to Ookawa’s downfall (honestly, the series as a whole also does this).

One of Silver Spoon’s general themes is that this may be shonen manga but things are not always magically going to work out. Mikage is studying now, but her grades aren’t suddenly terrific. The kids make sausage (which takes up a third of the book – again, Silver Spoon is a farming manga) but a lot of it is misshapen and weird. And then there’s Komaba, who lurks around the edges of this volume. He’s not back at school, but he is doing about eight jobs a day in order to earn money to pay back debt. As a result, he runs into Hachiken over the holidays, and then is lured into showing up at the Winter Festival. Sometimes we can’t achieve our dreams, and reality ensues. That’s certainly what happened to Komaba, and it sucks. But when you don’t achieve your dreams, that does not really mean you give up and resolve to never have fun or see your old friends again ever. This lesson he still needs to learn.

Speaking of lessons, Hachiken and Mikage might want to look over at his brother, who met a Russian girl and married her almost immediately. As always, the brothers end up being completely different. We meet said wife, Alexandra, towards the end of the book. That said, their relationship is glossed over and we get a whole bunch of Russia jokes instead. A lot of these are well-researched and amusing, but it does sort of remind me of the old 80s sitcoms where Yakov Smirnoff was the guest star. The “Silver Spoon” joke in particular is hilarious but also tremendously cliched. Still, it’s nice to see that she likes Hachiken, and I’m glad we get to see an actual functional couple, even if Hachiken’s brother still can’t cook to save his life. (Or Ookawa’s life. RIP, death by borscht.)

The next volume promises to lean a bit harder on the romance, as it’s Valentine’s day. Will we get a kiss? Don’t count on it. But do expect more of these lovable and frustrating farming goofballs.

Silver Spoon, Vol. 9

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.

What I said about farming last time goes double for this volume, as there’s a pile of new information here about pigs, horses and everything in between. The pigs are getting ready to be butchered, and this time the entire school pools its money together to buy three of them. Despite having raised them from little piglets, this time around Hachiken is going to see Bacon’s journey all the way through to… well, bacon. As such, we get a very detailed observation of a pig butchering, so a word of warning for those of you who are squeamish. It is quite interesting, though, and long exposure to the procedure shows all the kids bouncing ideas off each other at a very fast pace (for future selling, etc.) – something that the teachers credit Hachiken for, as his ignorance in farm matters but raging curiosity leads the other kids to think of things they may not have otherwise.

We’ve been watching Hachiken grow over the course of this series, and this volume is excellent at showing the reader how far he’s come and showing him how far he still needs to go. In order to help Mikage study, he breaks down and asks his brother for help, and finds out his study guide notes are his for the taking – provided he goes back home to get them, as he left them in his old room. (In the interim, Shingo has somehow gotten married to a Russian woman, on the spur of the moment, showing again how different he and Hachiken are.) Hachiken’s return at first impresses us – his old middle school classmates note his new abilities and relaxed countenance, even as they get fake angry when they hear there are girls he speaks to. Sadly, going home means another fight with his father, one where Hachiken for once does not back down and defends what he sees as his Dad berating his classmates. It’s a great scene, and leads to his mother journeying up to the school herself to see what Hachiken is doing there.

He’s also tutoring Mikage, and tutoring is all it is, much to the frustration of her friends and the joy of his. (The frustrating of teenage hormones is a constant refrain in this manga, usually used to make things more lighthearted.) Mikage is trying, but there’s no miracle cure – no matter how much Hachiken breaks it down into horse anecdotes, this is going to be hard for her. (I laughed when the group suggested he become a teacher, and Mikage correctly pointed out he would die trying to help each student at maximum power.) There’s no turning back now, though, especially since her parents are selling some of the horses to help pay for her to go to college. The need for money is a constant theme of this series, which is also why it’s so jarring when Hachiken asks his father about any debt they may have, and finds that he is far better off than everyone else – they’ve even saved for his college. His is not a farming family. (Hachiken is also savvy enough to realize that he needs a real accountant for their growing business translations, and turning to Tamako was very smart of him.)

Can Mikage get into college? Can she afford to? Can she and Hachiken admit their feelings to each other without their parents or male classmates killing him? Can Shingo survive telling his parents he has a new Russian bride? Can Valentine’s Day be the celebration that Christmas absolutely wasn’t? These questions and many others will be answered in the next volume of Silver Spoon.