Silver Spoon, Vol. 5

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.

I am fortunate enough to say that I am not one of those people who is naturally good at organization and so ends up completely buried when everyone comes to them and asks them to help/supervise/do everything. However, I am the son of such a person, so I am very familiar with how it works. It seems like it will be OK to take on something, and then one thing leads to another, and you find yourself taking on five other things. This is the dilemma that Hachiken is dealing with here. He’s nice, and competent, and doesn’t know how to say no, and everyone is independently asking him for help and now realizing that he’s getting piled on. So far everything seems to be holding up, but judging by the narrative, we’re headed for a nasty fall soon. But we’re not there yet, so we can all also revel in the joys of preparing for a cultural festival, ag school style.

There’s a big highlight in this book, as Hachiken is still learning how to ride that horse that seems to have it in for him. He’s not used to animals, and doesn’t understand how to interact with them or see that they’re even more important than the rider is. He thinks of horses like you would a car. As such, there’s a number of great scenes in this volume showing how much love and trust Mikage and the other riders give to their animals, and it helps him to see what’s missing from how he treats Chestnut. This also ties in with his self-esteem, as we see him freaking otu as everyone but him is able to manage the jumps – he’s seeing this as falling behind in class, and it’s VERY UPSETTING. Fortunately, Mikage and the others are able to show him what he’s missing. (There’s some romantic tease, but at this point Silver spoon isn’t really about that.)

Mikage and Komaba are still dealing with their own issues, though fortunately things seem to be OK betwen them and Hachiken again. (That said, no one has figured out why it happened – lack of communication is still a major obstacle among the main cast. Komaba is pouring his struggles into baseball, which is terrific… provided the team continues to win. Mikage seems to simply be giving up and accepting she won’t achieve her dream, which is even ore depressing. Dreams are important, even for a group of kids whose goals – take over the family farm – seem to be set in stone from the moment they’re born. This is why Hachiken arriving at school is great for both him and the other kids, as it leads to new perspectives. And also pet dogs. Because, as you’d expect from the running theme of this volume, Hachiken can’t say no to ANYONE.

Will we get a successful festival next time? Will Hachiken end up stressing out about everything? Will he and Mikage ever really talk to each other and not at each other? Not sure, but I can’t wait to find out.

Silver Spoon, Vol. 4

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.

Through the beginning of Silver Spoon, we’ve seen Hachiken interact with the other agricultural college students, and gradually learn wheat they do and how tough a job it is. He has a reputation, as is stated in this book, for being “stupidly honest”, but doesn’t quite have the life skills that are needed yet to wear that well – he just comes across as stressed most of the time. Still, he is slowly making an impact, and we see that the graduating third years know that he can use those skills if given the chance when they choose him to be vice-president. What’s more, his own ideas are starting to influence the others – we get the resolution of the “pig meat” arc here, and it shows off the way that he forces others to think of new ways to try things and new options to explore, as well as proving Hachiken is never going to become stoic about the slaughter of animals.

Of course, while Hachiken is the main character, there are others to think of. And not everyone wears their heart on their sleeve the way he does. We already know that Mikage is coping with needed to take over her family’s farm even when she’d rather be working with horses, and now it looks as if Komaba is having issues as well. Since they’re both farm kids who grew up together, it’s natural they’d confide in each other. Since they’re both very good at pretending everything is fine in front of other people, it’s natural they’re both unwilling to confide in Hachiken. Still, they both need social skills development, as the blunt “it’s nothing to do with you” they give him over and over pretty much eats into his heart. Unlike Hachiken, who is still a bit lovestruck, I don’t think that this means Mikage and Komaba are dating, I think it just means they’re not good at showing weakness. Which is why, in the end, Mikage ISN’T picked to vice-president of the club.

There are a lot of things going on in this series, and it seems planned out in advance quite well. The chapters do a good job alternating between character drama that advances the plot, learning about farming and agriculture, and goofy fun comedy. The goofy comedy this time around involves all the guys escaping so they can go to “Area 51” to see the amazing spectacle that only comes there at night. Yes, that’s right, it’s… not UFOs. It is, of course, something that would excite everyone except Hachiken (and Tamako, for an extra added punchline). At this point, Silver Spoon seems like a series brimming with its author’s self-confidence. Next time around it looks as if we’re getting the Ag School equivalent of a Culture Festival. Let’s hope Hachiken remembers to have fun. (Who am I kidding, he’ll be a wreck.) Every volume of this is a joy.

Silver Spoon, Vol. 3

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.

Summer still takes up the first half of this book, but then it’s time to go back to school for the new semester. And Hachiken is still very much learning as he goes. He’s gotten used to the early hours and strength needed, and in fact (once again) has to be reminded to take it easy on occasion. But there’s still stuff he has to experience, like the taste of raw milk, as well as things he has to feel responsible for, like the loss of a lot of that raw milk due to a mistake he made. I use the phrase “overly serious” a lot when I’m talking about Hachiken, and while (as I said last time) he is a very realistic, well-rounded person, it is his most defining trait. In that sense, as you’d expect, he matches well with Mikage, who loves horses and wants a career in horses, but when you’re the farm’s sole heir that’s not really an option.

At the Mikage farm, we get more insight into cow births, and some wackiness involving the local prefecture’s cows getting mixed up with the farm’s. The main plot twist here, though, is the arrival of Hachiken’s brother. I love the fact that you can tell that Shingo and his brother are completely different and yet clearly were raised by the exact same family. They each deal with their father in different ways. Unfortunately for Hachiken (but fortunately for those who love Arakawa’s comedy), this means Shingo is a bit of a flake, having dropped out of Tokyo U once he got in to pursue his dreams of becoming a ramen chef. Except he’s terrible at cooking. Shingo’s presence basically serves to give us a bit more information about Hachiken’s home life without having to see him go back home, and it’s clear Shingo cares and worries about his brother in his own way.

When we get back to school, there’s an even better joke, as Tanako suffered from heat stroke over the summer and has come to school having lost all of her weight. The wonderful thing about the joke is that Tamako literally gives not one shit about this, and the first chance she gets she’s bulked right back up. Tamako knows her own gorgeousness. As for Hachiken, he’s still dealing with the piglet he named last time, who has now grown up to be a big pig – and is ready to be slaughtered. It’s impressive that everyone treats Hachiken’s angst about the pig seriously, and no one makes fun of it at all – they’ve all been there when they were younger. Hachiken’s solution, meanwhile, feels very much like something he would do. (There’s also another wacky subplot where the school things Hachiken has gotten Yoshino pregnant = which mostly serves to remind us that Tokiwa is the Mineta of this series.

I hate to keep banging the drum here (that’s a lie, I love to bang this particular drum), but every volume of Silver Spoon reminds me why we were begging for years for its license. Read this, you won’t regret it.