Story and Art by Hiromu Arakawa
Translation by Amanda Haley
Lettering by Abigail Blackman
Silver Spoon’s art sticks out thanks to Hiromu Arakawa’s impeccably malleable and cartoonish incredible character designs. Both male and female characters all have different body types and heights, and very easy to pick apart and differentiate. Arakawa’s a masterful artist, able to create a world where a diminutive cartoony-looking principal can coexist with another character with more realistic proportions and facial features, and whose appearance is based off the buddha. Other than one beefy gym teacher who sparkles and has a fabulous mustache akin to Alex Louis Armstrong, no character in Silver Spoon looks similar to any character from FMA, and that holds true for their characterizations and arcs too. Where FMA was focused on broader themes about morality and sin, Silver Spoon is a coming of age narrative about its protagonist realizing what he wants to do with his life and helping others do the same, while exploring how people with different interests and skillsets complement and help each other thrive in a community. Plus, a heaping helping of educational knowledge about farming and the agricultural industry!
Hachiken is a fascinatingly passive protagonist, bereft of a defined goal to drive his decisions and interactions early on in the story. Whereas the Elric Brothers from Arawaka’s previous series Fullmetal Alchemist had a clear mission they passionately pursued to its conclusion, Hachiken is aimlessly wandering through life, uncertain of where his destination lies. His classmates all have a reason to attend Oozeo, and want to be there, but Hachiken only arrives there because he was referred there, and wanted an escape from his previous high-pressure life. That puts him at odds with his new environment, where everyone seemingly knows what they’re doing and his peers have already decided what their future careers will be. For many of them, it’s never been a question, because they’ve been raised under the assumption that they’ll take over their family businesses. For others, they’ve had enough life experiences and been given enough opportunities to figure out their interests, at least in the context of the agricultural industry. Unlike a traditional public school, Ooezo is a trade school set up to help students refine specific skills to pursue specific dreams. This means Hachiken must reevaluate his priorities; stop focusing on short-term academic goals and start working towards a bigger picture long-term application of his skillset.
Hachiken comes from a high-pressure hyper-academic environment and has only honed his studying skills to achieve good grades, without any thought of how he will apply those skills in his future career. Hachiken has been so narrow-mindedly focused on studies that he doesn’t know what his interests are outside of them, and consequently, he doesn’t have any real ambitions beyond doing well in school. This is a source of his disillusionment with the traditional academic system, which equates success with good grades. However, simply knowing the answer to a question on a test isn’t the same as being able to use that knowledge in everyday situations, which creates the question of what use knowledge is without application. At Ooezo, specialized knowledge with practical use is valued more than general knowledge irrelevant to one’s career path. Simply knowing what to do isn’t enough – Hachiken must learn and execute practical hands-on farming knowledge, which produces immediate and visible results and has tangible applications in both a professional setting and in daily life. In addition, exploring other interests is required in the form of mandatory extracurriculars; in this way, Oozeo is preparing its students to consider other careers they’re passionate about so they can adapt to whatever life throws at them. Hachiken has been stuck in a system where there was only one unclear destination to work towards, but Oozeo provides him the opportunity to start exploring what his interests are beyond studies, and realize that there is more than one career path for him to take throughout his life.
In order to realize his dream, Hachiken must learn to be open-minded about everyone and everything. Rather than judging things based on their appearances or his preconceptions, he slowly learns to give new things a chance and realize the pleasures of experiencing something new. Food becomes more satisfying to him after a hard day’s work, and despite his reservations about eggs coming out a chicken’s anus (untrue), when he’s finally pushed into eating a fresh raw egg on rice he finds it really darn good. Hachiken slowly realizes that his assumptions keep him from truly understanding the world around him. This applies not just to activities, but people as well. He assumes Ooezo’s farming students have their lives set, and they don’t have any worries about their futures. Instead, he realizes that even though everyone is working hard in order to achieve their dreams, their success is far from guaranteed. In much the same way a racehorse that doesn’t achieve results may be put to death, Ooezo’s students know that one bad season can destroy an entire farm’s economy and their family’s livelihood. While the Ooezo students aren’t as obsessed with academic success as Hachiken, they’ve been similarly been put under a lot of pressure, and the precariousness of their futures weigh just as much on their mind.
Through learning about the tragic fate of racehorses who don’t excel, and inquiring about the challenges facing his classmates in their future careers, Hachiken begins to realize he’s not the only one struggling to find his way in the world. Yet seeing the people around him fight to succeed and realize their dreams, in spite of the risks, has an encouraging effect on him. Throughout the volume, Hachiken’s selflessness is demonstrated by how he will always help someone when they reach out to him. Most notably, even when Tokiwa flunks a test in spite of his tutoring, Hachiken doesn’t give up on him. Instead, he immediately makes time to help Tokiwa study properly so he can do better next time. Hachiken devalues himself because he doesn’t have a concrete dream he’s working towards, but he doesn’t realize that the ways in which he helps the people around him really make a meaningful difference. Arakawa is great at seeding small details that blossom into beautiful character arcs over time, and Hachiken’s budding development from a passive introvert into a passionate innovator will be a delight to watch flower over the coming volumes.