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.

Silver Spoon, Vol. 7

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.

The middle of this volume has some cute, funny, and heartwarming moments, and thank God. I’m not sure how intentional it was, but if you enjoy having misery as the bread for your sandwich, then Silver Spoon 7 is absolutely for you. Now, to be fair, we knew the start was going to happen. Hachiken’s in the hospital, so of course his parents come to see him. Everything we’ve seen about his dad says this is not going to go well, and it doesn’t. Even the bacon, the one thing that Hachiken thought he’d made inroads on, was just his mother trying to be considerate of his feelings. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know what his dad means. He feels that Hachiken is wasting his intellect here, and is especially frustrated given the nature of his other son. But man, he’s such a bitter pill to swallow that I can’t feel any sympathy for him at all. And, unfortunately, the visit causes Hachiken to have a brief hissy fit at his mom as well.

This is important because, probably because he’s still upset about that, he donates his change to charity when he buys new glasses, and as a result has to walk back to the school… meaning he misses everything. Fortunately, he is blessed with classmates who a) really care about him, and b) will not take his shit, because he was all set to be a miserable “I don’t deserve to have any fun” type. Luckily, Mikage is there to remind him that the festival was a huge success because of his planning. And they wrote a book of memories he can read and then sob over. It’s really sweet. As for his date with Mikage… well, they try to have it. But it’s more going to a shrine. And of course it ends up being most everyone else as well. You can tell the cast is rooting for these two dorks (every other woman in Mikage’s class shows up to ensure she doesn’t get blocked at the last minute), but they’re still nowhere near a confession. That said, at least he can make fun of her accent, which he does. Repeatedly.

And then there are the baseball games. To an extent, this was also foreshadowed as well. We’ve seen that Mikage is a LOT more invested in Komaba’s team winning and going to the Nationals than the rest of the school, and Hachiken’s attempts to find out about it have gone badly for him. We’re still not quite sure why, but we can hazard a guess, because after they lose in the finals, he never returns to school. I have a sneaking suspicion this will be another lesson in how farming is hard and not everyone can succeed, but it’s a blow as Komaba, despite being so stoic, has been one of the more prominent characters to date, and you feel horrible for him. I suspect most of the next book will go into the aftermath and explain why he left school.

You probably don’t need me to tell you how good this series is by now, but I will anyway. Really good. I want more immediately.

Silver Spoon, Vol. 6

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’s going to be very hard to discuss this volume without talking about the final chapter that overshadows the rest of it, but I will do my best to save that for later. In the meantime, there is still festival prep, and horse races! The racing is a highlight of the book, mostly as, despite getting distracted by family, studies, and Mikage, Hachiken is finally learning how to ride. This is despite the fact that he almost falls off Chestnut 3/4 of the way through, creating a dramatic moment when everyone panics he’s going to fall and get trampled. But he survives, and ends up in fourth place! Which is interesting, because it’s really good for a newbie, but it still irritates him. He wants more. He’s getting competitive spirit. This is especially good news given that he’s fallen for Mikage, who gets third in her own race and actually agrees to go on a date with him during the festival (though she may not have realized that’s what it was).

It would be remiss of me not to mention Ayame, who is introduced in this volume and is FABULOUS, in all senses of the word. Trying her hardest to have wandered in from a Rose of Versailles manga, and consumed with an intense rivalry with Mikage (who merely sees her as a good childhood friend), Ayame is pure hilarity the moment she steps onto the page. She’s basically the “ohohohohohoho” laugh given human form. She rides slowly and perfectly through her race, not understanding or even really caring that she’d doing it wrong. And when Hachiken manages to get fourth in a race (and thus finish ahead of her), Ayame admits that she’s rivals with him as well. For all that I praise Silver Spoon for its depiction of agriculture and compelling characters, there’s also no doubt that Arakawa can make things incredibly funny.

…and then Hachiken collapses and is taken to hospital, right before the festival begins. Frankly, the astute reader should have guessed this was going to happen. He hasn’t been brought up on a farm, and he got goaded into taking charge of eighty different things. He was ridiculously exhausted, and now he’s paying. That doesn’t make this any less depressing, though. His look as he wakes up in the hospital is almost heartbreaking. And that cliffhanger, showing the arrival of his dad, promises that the next volume is not going to be starting with laughs either. Still, I like that we are shown the start of the festival anyway – the manga is not just Hachiken, and I’ll lay you even money that his incredibly detailed and easy to understand festival plan is going to be noticed by someone at some point (there’s even a shot of the notebook sitting there like Chekhov’s gun.)

So the festival looks to be a success, but will Hachiken get to see any of it? And will his dad demand he pull out of the school? Can his dad, in fact, find it in him to not be a complete dick this time? I cannot wait to find out, because Silver Spoon is still amazingly addicting.