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Silver Spoon (2013)

Yuugo Hachiken does *not* want to be at home in Sapporo. For a whole host of reasons when it came to selecting his high-school he picks one as far from home as possible. This high school is Ooezo Agricultural High School and it is in the middle of the countryside. For a city or town-dweller this may as well be the middle of nowhere. As you can imagine it is a bit of a culture shock for Hachiken who is from the city and could be described as having more academic than practical skills. 

Thrown into the deep end right from the get-go he is challenged at every turn with every new experience and the decisions that he has to make that will very likely influence his future in every sense of it. How will a slightly shy, awkward teenager fit in to his new surroundings, peers with which he has little in common and teachers who are a bit unconventional? One this is for sure in that in a school where a Silver Spoon hangs over its entrance Hachiken will learn a lot about himself. 
Silver Spoon comes from the creative mind and pen of Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist) and its 118 chapters of manga (to date) are collected in a set of 14 printed volumes. Her design and penwork is distinctive and from the moment the show opens you *know* it's her work and there is an immediate sense of familiarity. I find her work as distinctive and as recognisable as Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Mari Yamazaki (Thermae Romae), Kaoru Mori (A Bride's Story and an adaptation of Emma) and of course Naoki Urasawa. Hiromu Arakawa's Silver Spoon takes in a wide cast who on the face of it are disparate, distinct visually and vaguely linked but by the end it all makes complete sense, where all character have a resolution to their stories. It also takes a central character and we get to see how they develop.

Here the central character is Yuugo Hachiken who, for reasons explained throughout the anime, has uprooted himself from his home of Sapporo and planted himself firmly in the countryside in a world that is very alien to him. Shinnosuke Aikawa wants to be a vet, Mayumi Yoshino wants her own cheese factory and the troublesome Keiji Tokiwa will be taking over the family chicken farm. It is fair to say that he has a degree of academic arrogance about him when he meets his classmates but immediately feels inadequate as he hears of their life goals. He doesn't know what he wants other than to not be at home.

Because this is an agricultural college there is a lot of practical hands-on work to get stuck into. Hachiken and his group of friends (shown above) have some very early starts. Ezono (as the college is known) is a working farm as well as the practical elements of Hachiken and his friends revolve around making sure everything on the farm gets done. One of his first experiences is collecting eggs which, as he thinks about where they come from causes some ... uneasiness with him. That is until he eats a fresh egg and gets over it.

This is a recurring element in the first season. As Hachiken learns about where his food comes from it creates a set of mixed emotions from revulsion, sadness and joy. Because he is not of this world his classmates take a lot of this for granted and are often perplexed by his reactions. And here is one of the strengths of the premise that Arakawa has set up it is because he is an outsider that he can question and forces the others to question their ways of life which in turn leads to a wider debate where everyone learns something - a fact pointed out by the diminutive high-school principal.

I should say at this point that this is not a show (or story) with an agenda about animal rights or farming. It merely presents the events as facts, some of which come from Hiromu Arakawa's own experiences from her family upbringing in a rural environment. It doesn't shy away from the realities of what happens when an animal is injured and at the same time shows how important they are to the farmers who care for them. 

As the first season progresses Hachiken gains a reputation as the guy who can't say no and gets involved in many different things from looking for aliens to a group pizza party. His hard work and determination to succeed wins him the confidence and trust of his peers and before he know it is smiling and laughing with them.

As Hachiken settles into his new life he, like the others, needs to join a club. One of his friends, Aki Mikage (who he has a bit of a crush on), is in the equestrian club and he gives it a go. Initially a bit timid he gets into it and becomes a competent rider and attends competitions. The second season really builds on this side of his character as he grows in confidence and tries to break down barriers that exist because he is an outsider, because he "wouldn't understand". The development and emotional arc in season 2 is fantastic and I found myself completely caught up in it. And of course his reasons for picking that school come out and Hachiken now has the skills, confidence and experience to confront it.

Whilst perhaps not quite as epic in scale as Fullmetal Alchemist the sheer range of characters - both human and animal, settings and activities create a wonderful environment within which to tell a story.
It is only now stepping away and looking back over the series that I can see and appreciate the range of settings, themes, breadth of animation undertaken and I realise that nothing was out of place. Silver Spoon traces a path between city and country, study and play, homes and school, horse-riding and baseball, pizza cooking and large scale machinery. Many of these things can be found in the same episode! The premise I present earlier of "town boy goes to agricultural college" just doesn't do it justice.
The Silver Spoon anime was directed by Tomohiko Itō (Michiko & Hatchin, Erased) and developed by A-1 Pictures (Sword Art Online, Fractale and Erased to name a few). The team has done a great job of adapting Hiromu Arakawa's ongoing manga to create a wonderful self-contained story. It takes in comedy, coming of age, the first steps of romance and a fish out of water and blends them into a marvellously entertaining show.

Now I am assuming that very few of the audience for Silver Spoon will be familiar with the world of agriculture and farming. I found myself getting swept up in the events, cheering along, willing Hachiken to make the required leap, wanting Mikage to realise what she wanted in life and finding the very final credit sequence tinged with sadness as you see all the characters we have met taking their next steps.

Irrespective of the setting of this show Silver Spoon contains a story everyone can relate to. Every character in the show is taking the next step on their journey through life, often a step into an unknown and we the viewer have been in that place too. Irrespective of our age, background or gender the events trigger memories of something similar. We all have people in our lives like Aki Mikage or Ichiro Komaba who are there for us when we need them and vice versa. I loved everything about this show - it was funny, touching and thought-provoking. Arakawa has done it again with this story and I look forward to what she does next. 

 FORMAT: SERIES AVAILABLE ON: BLU-RAY FROM: Anime Limited RATING: TV-PG [US] 12[UK]  RUNNING TIME : 22 episodes [series]

IN A NUTSHELL:  A lovely slice-of-life show that draws you in and keeps on delivering right to the very last frame.