Silver Spoon, Vol. 13

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

There’s always a careful balancing act that an author has to keep up when writing a character whose failures are hilarious. On the one hand, you can’t overegg the pudding – you need to contrast this hilarity with moments where they actually succeed. If done right, this can be extremely heartwarming. The first half of the manga deals with the equestrian competition, with Hachiken actually competing this time, and his “slow, steady and have fun” approach actually does pretty well, especially as it allows Mikage to dazzle. And of course the beauty of it is that it sets things up for the much larger stage where Hachiken again competes… and fails so badly that it turns into 20 pages of “lol”. You feel bad for him, but thinking as an author, the reason for this is obvious: Hachiken when he’s suffering is very, very funny. What’s more, there’s been less and less of that as he’s matured, so it’s nice to see he can still be a national laughingstock when appropriate.

Speaking of which, Hachiken, in his despair after doing so badly, wonders if Mikage won’t love him as he’s bad at horse racing. This is a callback to earlier in the book, when Mikage smiles as she recalls him saying he’ll ask her out after she passes her exams… then realizes that might mean if she fails, he won’t ask her out! Does he hate “stupid” girls? Now that the two of them have made it clear how they feel about each other, all that’s left is to actually get together. But it’s not as simple as that – they have goals to achieve first, Mikage’s father is watching Hachiken like a hawk, and his own father just seems to get in the way of any romantic resolution. What’s more, as the above jokes indicate, the two of them are still too insecure for a strong romantic relationship to happen. Mikage doesn’t need to pass her exams to date Hachiken – but it certainly would help her see herself as a success.

Elsewhere in the book, it’s pigs and pizza once again. I like the idea that the head of the school is willing to go the extra mile for these kids provided they can actually justify it as learning things and being educational. As a result – more pizza ovens! Which leads to a good competition where they try out various kinds of three-cheese pizza to see which one proves the most popular. Likewise, even in the midst of despair at his equestrian performance, he’s still able to do some pig research while in a different area of Japan (sadly, he finds that the pigs raised there would not do well in the northern climes of his school.) And, for once, there’s not even any long series of chapters devoted to butchering and slaughtering animals, so even the squeamish can enjoy this one.

We’re nearing the finish line for Silver Spoon, and I expect the next volume to mostly be about Mikage passing (or not) her exams. Will that also lead to romance? God, I hope so. I feel like Sakae – Just do it already!

Silver Spoon, Vol. 12

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

You can tell that the new year is starting in Silver Spoon because there’s a new freshman, and she’s interested in horses. This despite being in the dairy program. Again, it’s great to see that even at an agricultural school like Ezo, you don’t have to necessarily be slotted into the drawer that your family farm and/or business puts you in. It also once again shows the value of trying even after failure (she tried to get in on the science track, failed, and tried again on the ‘general’ track), which is good, as Hachiken is also dealing with some repeated failures in his life as well. On the positive side, his father is reading his business proposals and taking them seriously. On the negative side, they’re still not good enough, and he’s still not investing any money in them. That could change as we see the start of something that seems obvious but was never thought of much before: Hachiken needs to earn money and invest in his own business.

Of course, sometimes taking that once-in-a-lifetime chance can also lead to failure in the end – there’s a two-week student program in France that’s offered to Hachiken but he passes it on to cheese-loving Yoshino, who jumps at it… and then finds that for the two weeks, she’s at a high school specializing in fish. And yet, even with this obvious punchline, she manages to eat lots of French cheese and has a better idea about the direction she wants to go in. Any experience is good experience if it can show you a better way forward. That also applies to Komaba, who9 still has everyone telling him not to simply give up and abandon all his dreams, including his own family, and Mikage – indeed, the scene between him and Mikage is possibly the best in the volume.

As for Hachiken, he’s sticking with what he knows best – which is to say, pigs. Pigs and pizza. The section of the book dealing with pasturing pigs, free-range style, is fascinating, as with most of the “here is how you do agriculture” stuff in this series. He’s also found a way to solve the problem of Ookawa’s ongoing awfulness – hire him as company president, as when he’s working he’s far more reliable. It’s a character development that makes sense and is hilarious. As for romance, well, it’s pretty much on the back burner until Mikage manages to get into college – though that’s not stopping others (Sakae) from trying to get them to “go all the way”. And there’s also a suggestion that more equestrian action may be in his future – this despite the fact that he’s not picked for the preliminaries. They’re saving him! Again, seeing Hachiken from Vol. 1 and comparing him to this Hachiken is like night and day.

I’m not sure what to add. Another very good volume in a stellar series. Read it.

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 talked 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 from 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.