Story & Art by Hiromu Arakawa
Translated by Amanda Haley
Lettered by Abigail Blackman
“Guys who go to great lengths for others? People will follow ‘em to the end of the world.”
Silver Spoon’s 12th volume brings everything it’s built up back around for 180+ pages of progress and payoff. When I say everything, I really mean everything. Hachiken’s concern for the welfare of farming animals and his experiences raising Pork-Bowl and baking pizza all inform the pasture-raised pig farming business he decides to create. Of course, he couldn’t get a business off the ground himself, and that’s where the series’ emphasis on the importance of connections comes in. He finds an objectivity-minded business partner to counterbalance his feelings-driven perspective in Ookawa, he makes use of the Mikage’s empty fields, and builds a pig-pen from the remains of their horse stable. He also enlists the help of several friends including Tokiwa, Aikawa, Tamako, and Inada to research the best ways to raise free-range animals, make a solid business plan to attract investors, and come up with tons of other ideas to help his project along. In the process of creating his business, Hachiken employs the skills of all of his friends in a collaborative effort that not only benefits him, but provides them valuable learning experiences as well.
The three most satisfying pages in this volume are a completely wordless montage of Hachiken coming up with a business proposal, convincing the Ban’ei Tokachi horse stables to sell his pizza, making phone calls to friends to procure ingredients, and doing research on food safety, all while still earning money from part-time work and doing his club activities. The montage ending with the human sled race is particularly poignant, as it depicts Hachiken pulling a heavy sled alongside many other people, their combined effort able to keep pace with the strength of a workhorse. These pages encapsulate the series’ communal themes in a purely visual sequence, illustrating the incredible feats that can be achieved by people working together.
Hachiken’s development into a self-confident leader, the climax of his character arc, is presented in subtle but poignant moments scattered throughout the volume. He’s much more emotionally aware now, able to pick up on the Equestrian club’s new recruit’s insecurities and reassure her to be more confident in herself. This exchange is particularly touching because Hachiken notes how similar her circumstances were to his when he was first starting out, and him being able to give her the confidence she needs really drives home that he’s come a long way from the self-doubting introvert he used to be. Hachiken continues to selflessly be considerate of his friends’ needs, and much like how they’ve helped him, he takes advantage of opportunities to return the favor. When he’s offered the study-abroad trip to France, he instead defers it to Yoshino, knowing she’d benefit the most from the experience as a cheesemaker. He helps both his brother and Ayame out at once by providing the former a student to teach and the latter a tutor. He realizes Ookawa works best when he has a job to do so he makes him the president of his company to give him direction in life, a choice that benefits both parties as Ookawa gets the ball rolling on all the paperwork and essentials they need to run a business, some of which Hachiken wouldn’t be able to do himself as a minor and student. Every decision Hachiken makes in this volume is deeply considered, making the best use of people’s talents, interests and skills to achieve his dream of a cooperative farming community where everyone is on equal footing. In the process, he’s able to achieve results that benefit himself, the people he’s working with, and even the animals he’s raising. Everyone is valued, and no one is left behind.
The single, most satisfying moment celebrating Hachiken’s growth involves the running conflict he’s had with his strict, overbearing father. Hachiken had a strained relationship with his dad, whose high expectations he’s never been able to satisfy and who’s been the most critical of the decisions he’s made for himself. However, Hachiken wants his dad’s support, and not just financially. He wants his dad to invest in him, not give him a loan, but with investment the partnership between both parties continues as the business grows and the investor is paid dividends. It’s more incentivising from a business standpoint, from a personal view, it also feels like Hachiken’s attempt to rebuild a cooperative relationship with his father.
Throughout this volume, Hachiken sends him proposals for his business to convince him to invest in it, which he summarily rejects. However, we’re shown that his father is taking Hachiken’s proposals seriously. He stays up late after getting home from a long day at work to read through them, respecting the effort his son’s put in and treating it as important. Towards the end of the volume, Hachiken’s father notices that Hachiken has he hasn’t sent any proposals in a while, almost as if he was missing them. When told by Hachiken’s mom that Hachiken has been increasing his savings on his own, his dad, who up until this point has always been depicted with a sharp scowl, smiles. This man, who has never once expressed happiness or good humor in the series prior, smiles upon hearing the news of his son’s self-sufficiency. Without even having to send over another proposal, the hard work Hachiken put in towards his dreams has finally won over his dad. So much is said with that smile; it’s a small, understated moment that effectively pays off Hachiken’s entire character arc. It’s the thematic climax of the story, the moment everything built towards, and the rest of the story is basically icing on the cake and obligatory denouement from here.
While Hachiken’s development is emphasized most, Hiromu Arakawa doesn’t forget any of the characters in her story, which is what’s so great about the mini “tales” included in this final arc. We see how so many other characters are working towards achieving their dreams in ways involving and separate from Hachiken, and their strides are as equally rewarding as his. Komaba’s development is particularly striking, and touches upon another essential theme of the series; everyone has something they can do, and you’ll never know if you can’t do something until you try. Komaba’s lamented his circumstances, believing that his family farm going out of business means he’ll never be able to play baseball or run his own farm again. He’s taken the responsibility of supporting his family on his shoulders and resigned to give up his dreams. However, both his family and friends give him much needed wake up calls to show that he doesn’t have to do that. His sisters and mother have been working hard to support the family themselves, and his sisters outright tell Komaba that he doesn’t need to worry about working to put them through college, because they’ll get scholarships and finance their education themselves, and then they’ll be the ones supporting him. No one wants or is telling Komaba to give up, and it’s up to him to realize that there’s still opportunities out there for him.
Mikage tells Komaba a thoughtful story about her climbing mountains to see what’s on the other side, only to be disappointed to find another mountain. Even so, the point is that even if she didn’t find what she wanted, she tried, which is something Komaba hasn’t been doing. Whether or not it pans out, Komaba realizes that unless he explores those opportunities for himself, he will never know if they were there all along, waiting for him to discover. Poignantly, Komada sets off on his journey of self-discovery as he listens to his old school baseball team make their way to Koshien, symbolically reflecting the achievability of dreams once thought impossible through the determination and grit of those who never give up. It’s a beautiful, brilliant character arc that perfectly compliments Hachiken’s own self-actualization. However, the most inspiring moment showing a character embarking on a new path in life might be when Miss Fuji announces she’ll be retiring from teaching to become a professional hunter, inspired by her students’ hard work to pursue her childhood dream. It’s a poignantly reflective moment that’s perfectly at home in this coming-of-age story, demonstrating that you’re never too old to pursue your passions, and that life is about exploring new experiences and opportunities, and there’s always room to grow.
As always, Arakawa is an amazingly talented artist able to communicate so much personality through her loose gestures and solid linework. Her experiences growing up in a farming family and dedication to detail is evident in her beautiful landscapes, buildings, and environments that bring so much of the Ezo countryside to life. Her comedic timing is the most spot-on elements of her comics storytelling, however. For all the weighty character development and themes she explores, she deftly compliments it all with uproarious humor, and this volume may have some of the series’ funniest material yet. There’s an amazing sequence early on where a bunch of clubs compete to introduce each other, and we see them slowly start brawling it out over a sequence a panels. She adeptly knows how to pace a joke just so the beat pitch-perfectly punctuates the punchline, like the simple space on the same page between Hachiken’s father announcing he’ll read Hachiken’s proposal to him calling Hachiken to reject it. She really takes advantage of the form of comics to sell her humor, and she’s in her element here now more than ever.
Three volumes remain, but Silver Spoon’s twelfth volume may as well be the thematic climax of the entire series. Every experience, every connection, and everything Hachiken has learned culminates in this oh-so satisfying display of how much he’s grown. We’ve transitioned into the series’ final arc, the Tale of Four Seasons, which is subdivided further into “tales” within chapters that represent turning points for characters like Yoshino, Ayame, and Komaba. Time accelerates faster in this volume as each character works towards their future careers and dreams, coming in and out of other people’s lives and helping each other along the way. All the groundwork they’ve laid in the past two years of their lives have finally started bearing fruit, and now all that’s left is to achieve the goals they’ve been working towards. I leave this volume confident that these characters will all find their way, and that they have bright futures waiting ahead. Silver Spoon remains an affecting story about the power of people overcoming great obstacles; an encouraging reminder to keep persevering, trusting yourself and the connections you make to help guide you on the path to your dreams.