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.

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.