Review for Silver Spoon - Series 1
I had an unconventional upbringing when it comes to food, or at least anyone born after 1980 and the dominance of the supermarkets would find it unconventional. Back then we would buy fruit, veg, and fresh fish from the street market, meat from dedicated butchers, bread from bakeries, milk would be delivered in glass bottles, and there would be a small supermarket for all those essential groceries left over, things like butter and cheese, biscuits and snacks and that new fangled frozen food. My mum used to get the cheaper meats from the butchers (she’s always been frugal), and I grew up eating goat and rabbit instead of lamb and chicken.
When we went on holiday to India, it was a world even more removed. We always stayed in a house that was next to the Agricultural University near Ludhiana; outside our front door were miles and miles of the sort of fields that Theresa May could canter through. There was also a milk plant not too distant, so every morning, a man on a bicycle with a couple of churns hanging off it would sell fresh milk at all the houses. From that milk, you’d make your own butter and yoghurt for the day, as well as keep enough for your tea. With electricity on for just a few hours a day, refrigeration wasn’t an option. You wouldn’t buy bread; you’d buy freshly milled flour and bake your own, and make chapattis. And every morning there would be another bicycle pulling a cart, selling freshly harvested fruit and veg from the university, and the food we ate on holiday tasted divine.
That ethos has stayed with me. I still buy more flour than baked bread, I still make my own yoghurt from milk, and eighty percent of my weekly shop by weight is fresh produce. Also, while I’m not horticulturally gifted, I have enough of a green thumb to grow my own tomatoes and runner beans, courgettes and pumpkins, all without pesticides and nothing more than compost, and which all taste better than store bought equivalents. For most anime fans, Silver Spoon was an education. For me it was an exercise in pure nostalgia.
The creator of Full Metal Alchemist, Hiromu Arakawa grew up on a dairy farm (her chosen avatar in the manga margin notes is a cow) and in Silver Spoon, she expressed that history and experience in a story about the world of agriculture, as told from the point of view of a city boy attending an agricultural school. It was adapted into an anime, and I fell in love with it from the first episode, and settled in for a long and most likely fruitless wait for a home video release. Niche anime don’t tend to do well, and what could be more niche than farming? In the US, Silver Spoon finally got a release from Aniplex US, and even then it was DVD only. So colour me shocked when All the Anime announced a Blu-ray release in the UK. Silver Spoon is an English territory HD exclusive here. Stuart McLean has already reviewed the show for its release, as I passed the check discs on. I wasn’t going to miss the retail version of this show.
Yuugo Hachiken’s academic aspirations failed to meet his family’s expectations, and suddenly aimless, he looked for a high school that was as far away from his home in Sapporo as possible. His teacher suggested the Ooezo Agricultural High School, Ezono for short. For one thing, it’s in Hokkaido, and another is that it’s a boarding school. That’s just what Hachiken is looking for, but he’s not ready for such a practical, hands on curriculum, having spent his life to that point in pure academia, looking only to pass exams. Waking up at five a.m. to look after livestock isn’t what he had in mind. As is often the case, it’s a girl, Aki Mikage that makes him stick around long enough to get settled. But this city boy is really out of place in a student body of second and third generation farmers. He may be hot in the academic subjects, but he has a lot to learn about agriculture, yet his unique perspective means he has a lot to offer.
The eleven episodes of the first season of Silver Spoon are presented across two Blu-rays from All the Anime.
1. Welcome to Ezono
2. Hachiken Rides a Horse
3. Hachiken Meets Pork-Bowl
4. Hachiken Bakes Pizza
5. Hachiken Breaks Out
6. Hachiken Stays with the Mikages
7. Hachiken Visits Giga Farm
8. Hachiken Makes a Huge Mistake
9. Hachiken Hesitates Over Pork Bowl
10. Hachiken Says Goodbye to Pork Bowl
11. Run Towards the Future, Hachiken
Silver Spoon gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. The image is clear and sharp, and wonderfully detailed. The animation is smooth, and the colours are rich and consistent. Quite naturally there is a stylistic similarity to Full Metal Alchemist and The Heroic Legend of Arslan when it comes to the character designs, but the sense of palpable realism when it comes to the world design really helps sell the story. The only nit to pick might be a smidge of digital banding in darker scenes, but otherwise there is no problem with compression or aliasing.
You get a PCM 2.0 Japanese stereo track with English subtitles locked during playback. The audio is fine, the dialogue comes across clearly, and what action there is makes the most of the stereo format. The theme songs are really catchy for this show, while the incidental music suits the story down to a tee. The subtitles are presented with a thin white font. There are no lyric translations for the theme songs. The subtitles aren’t perfect. There is the odd typo; episode 7 suffers from dialogue translation clashing with signs translations around the 4½ minute mark, while there is a missing word at 14:59. Otherwise, the subtitles are accurately timed.
Silver Spoon Part 1 comes in a hard slipcover with a removable blurb sheet. You get 2 discs in a digipack, as well as 5 art cards and a folded up mini-poster. This maximises the artwork from the show you get to appreciate, which is good as that is all that there really is when it comes to extra features.
The discs boot to animated menus.
Disc 1 has 3:46 of trailers for the show, none of them subtitled.
Disc 2 has the textless credits and a 30 second commercial for the show. Once again there are no subtitles here.
Silver Spoon is one of those rare shows that everyone should see. In today’s fast paced society, we’ve become used to convenience. We get our food in supermarkets, with even the fresh produce conveniently prepared, homogenized and sealed away behind layers of plastic film. It’s only with the advent of ‘wonky’ fruit and veg in one particular retailer that a little bit of nature’s spontaneity has been allowed back in our purchases. And as for finding the time to actually cook food from scratch, let alone know exactly where it comes from and how it is grown, or raised; who has that freedom anymore?
Silver Spoon is the show to watch, to learn where your food comes from, and from the first episode, with a pixellated image of a slaughtered chicken, you know that this show won’t be sparing too many of the audience or indeed the characters’ sensibilities. That it manages to tell a light-hearted, character focused story, with a good deal of good natured humour makes it all the more impressive.
The story follows Yuugo Hachiken, who for reasons of his own has left his home and family in Sapporo, to attend an agricultural college as part of the high school age intake. Based in the countryside in Hokkaido, it’s obviously been set up to cater for the children of the surrounding farms, giving them a formal and regimented and broader education, building on that which they will have learned from their families. Hachiken as the city boy is completely out of place, at first overwhelmed just by the odours, let alone the curriculum. But as the outsider looking into this strange world, he’s the proxy for the viewer, expressing just what we would feel in his situation.
There’s plenty of fun to be had with Hachiken’s introduction to this new world of physical labour and dawn starts. The school’s PE lessons begin and end with a run around the campus, which is 20 odd kilometres. Waking up at 4am to clean out chicken coops, get cows milked, pigs fed is a common routine, and like every school, Ezonoo has after school clubs, only this school’s clubs are all physical. Like most teenage boys, Hachiken quickly finds a girl to be sweet on, and because of Aki Mikage, he joins the Equestrian Club. It’s an instant education on caring for and respecting animals, and that’s something that sticks with Hachiken, and is really the impetus behind the show’s main story arc.
Hachiken makes the mistake early on of bonding with a piglet, the runt of the litter, even going as far as naming it. He’s sympathetic to the small animal, wants it to thrive in the face of the competition from its more aggressive siblings, but he also knows that this piglet is being raised for slaughter. At least he knows it intellectually. It’s something that he has to grapple with over the course of the series, try and reconcile the fact that humans slaughter animals to eat their meat, with the fact that these are living beings, beings that develop bonds with each other and with people, and have some semblance of personality, whether it is genuine or anthropomorphised. The fact that Hachiken questions what his classmates tend to take for granted in turn makes them re-evaluate how they approach farming, become more thoughtful in turn. In the end, Hachiken manages to find a spiritual way to understanding this manmade cycle of life.
There is also a look at how farming is changing, with a focus on three of the other students in the school. Tamako’s a girl with her head in the game. She’s all about the latest methods of factory farming; her family runs a cooperative dairy that processes hundreds of cows in an industrial way, and she’s already looking to take over. Aki Mikage’s more conflicted. Her family farm is smaller, a traditional dairy, but which also raises horses. She’s aware that she’s the heir, and her family has already planned her life out (they see Hachiken as potential husband material), and she hasn’t figured out how to tell them that while she loves horses and dreams of a career in that field, she’s not as enthused about the dairy. Her next door neighbour is Komaba, whose family dairy is a lot smaller. Following his father’s early death, his mother has been looking after a herd of aging cows, and their farm is always on the edge. His dream is to become a baseball star, and make enough money to take the burden off his mother’s shoulders, and make the farm viable again.
If Silver Spoon has a weakness, it’s that it focuses more on the livestock side of things than it does on cultivation. That’s understandable, as it’s easy to give an animal personality and character, to make them a part of the story, as in Hachiken’s unruly horse, and the cute piglet. You can’t do that with a sheaf of wheat. It’s also true that Japan isn’t the first nation you think of when it comes to vegetarianism. Unless you settle for the bland sameness of tofu and vegetables for every meal, you will find meat and fish with every dish. That’s reflected in the story and the setting.
I love this show. It has a great story, wonderful characters, a delightful sense of humour, and it’s a show that has meaning. Short of arranging school trips to abattoirs, this might be the friendliest way to teach where the meat on your plate actually comes from.