By Meghan Ellis.
Do you lie awake at night worrying about the ethics of agricultural practices in the 21st Century? If that doesn’t sound like you, watch Silver Spoon, a slice-of-life anime based on the manga by Hiromu Arakawa of Fullmetal Alchemist fame. Set in rural Hokkaido at Oezo Agricultural High School, you’d be hard pressed to watch the first episode without starting to think about where your food comes from, and how it gets to your plate. On the surface, the battery hens and rotary milkers of Silver Spoon may seem like a far cry from the dangerous world of alchemy and intrigue we know and love from FMA; but swap Ed and Al’s dire consequences for protagonist Hachiken’s difficult choices and it’s a surprisingly similar setting.
Where her other works explore morality through fantasy, Arakawa’s Silver Spoon manages to ask the same questions in the context of a 5am egg-washing practical, and it does so with the same gravitas. Not many stories could balance an episode centred on a chicken’s reproductive system with the struggles of upholding family expectations, but somehow, Silver Spoon does, and does it very well. And ever important to the slice-of-life genre, the show’s true genius is in its characters, who range from ridiculous to sympathetic, horse to headmaster, and everything in between.
If the show appeals to the Japanese public on a brilliant scale (the manga has won multiple awards and the anime clinched a coveted spot on Fuji TV’s NoitaminA block) then it’s surely the work of Hachiken and his classmates going about their rural high-school lives. Where those of the cast who’ve grown up in farming life are experts in their field, Hachiken is a perfect conduit for the undoubtedly urbanite audience; he’s more used to seeing his food on the supermarket shelf than in the fields, and he asks all the same questions you would if thrust into countryside life. Of particular interest to European viewers – as you may know, our agricultural practices are heavily focused on improving livestock quality of life and non-GM products – are the differences in ethics held by Japanese farmers. Part of the series’ excellent thought-provoking quality comes from Hachiken’s challenging of his classmates’ assumptions on the rightness or wrongness of livestock being unable to choose their own life and death: it’s very Arakawa in its exploration of equivalent exchange, although the discussion never strays too far into controversial territory.
Perhaps my favourite aspect of the show is that there’s an element of truth to the story that makes it feel real, as Arakawa herself grew up on a dairy farm in Hokkaido before relocating to Tokyo in her twenties. Many of the funniest, or most heart-warming moments of Silver Spoon feel straight out of a pastoral memoir, while some of the more bizarre scenes (such as roadkill deer and the very real threat of a bear) have a touch of bar-stool story to them. In an interview given to a French magazine in 2013, she claimed that nothing was truly invented from scratch for the setting: from the gun-toting pig-farming teacher, to the high-school pizza oven, and even the deeply weird Holstein fan club.
For those of you feeling a little unsure of their expected path, Silver Spoon’s wonderfully meandering take on life being what you make of it will definitely appeal. If you’re more into learning about the technical side of what it means to be a farmer (or even if you never realised you were into that before) Silver Spoon will make you pick up your pitchforks in a good way.
Silver Spoon will be released in the UK by Anime Limited.