Gin no Saji / Silver Spoon (Vol. 1) by Arakawa Hiromu

Arakawa Hiromu is best known for having written Hagane no Renkinjutsushi/ Full Metal Alchemist. But, apparently, she grew up on a dairy farm in Hokkaido, and so now she is writing extensively about cows (and farm life) in a new manga Gin no Saji / Silver Spoon.

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However, having grown-up in dairy country and fled it for city life as fast as my legs could carry me, I’m not nearly as charmed by the horrors of baby piglets who will die from being runts of the litter. Yes, it’s real life, but, listen, I’m still not over the “Chimera” episode of Full Metal Alchemist. I don’t need an entire manga devoted to a thousand small cuts of the same variety.

SPOILERS

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I suppose I should cut Arakawa-sensei some slack. Most of the first volume isn’t focused on the “tough-love” of farm life, but on this dweeb, Yugo Hachiken, and his quest for the meaning of his life.

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The perennial question: What do you want to be?

Hachiken has no memory of having fun.  He’s spent his entire middle school career pushing himself with cram school and studying to get into the very best high school. He did well on the placement exam, but not well enough. His dreams (which had been his parent’s dreams, anyway, really) are dead in the water.

Now he just wants to be away. He wants a school–any school–with a live-away dorm.

A sympathetic teacher gives him a recommendation and Hachiken ends up in an agricultural high school.

What ensues is a classic fish out of water story.  Hachiken thinks it’ll be easy to graduate top of the class, but, of course, farming isn’t just book learning. No, Hachiken finds out that farming is waking up way too early, working really hard, and being willing to murder.

That last part is a much bigger theme that you might expect.

And, no, I’m not joking about it. One of the very first scenes is Hachiken and his wannabe  vet friend getting offered headless chickens after having volunteered help chase down some runaway chicks. There are several of these weirdly gruesome scenes in the first volume including a run-in with a practicing horse race veterinarian who literally tells Hachiken that the secret to being a good vet is a willingness to kill.

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Like, NO mention of compassion?

I grew up around farmers. This is totally realistic. Farmers have a weird sort of fatalism about life, in general–especially those that raise/keep any kind of animal. There’s a lot of plain talk about which pig will make the best bacon.  If an animal stops being useful, you eat them.

There’s some humor in here and a romance brewing, but I’m going to stop after this first volume.

It’s just not for me. I’d say it’s too much like what I grew up around, but I didn’t actually grow up on a farm–there were just a lot of farms and farmers around near my mid-sized Wisconsin town. I just… I dunno, I guess the very thing that Arakawa-sensei seems to relish about farm life, was the thing about it that I disliked the most.

Plus, I’m a little tired of the trope that Hachiken embodies. The aimless hero trying to find out what he was “meant to be.” I should probably trust Arakawa-sensei. She usually manages to write something unexpected.

This is the hot new thing at my library, at any rate. The list of awards it’s acquired is impressive. From Baka-Updates : “Won the 5th Manga Taishō Award’s Grand Prize and the 58th Shogakukan Manga Award (Shōnen category) in 2012. Won the first Japan Food Culture Contents Award in 2013. Nominated for the 19th annual Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2015.”

So, don’t take my word for it. If you’ve been craving a cow-milking slice of life, filled with too much information about where eggs come from, this may be the very manga you’ve been desperate for….

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YEP. FILED UNDER INFORMATION I NEVER NEEDED TO KNOW: Chicken eggs come out of the same place as the sh*t.

Thanks, Arakawa-sensei. YOU RUINED EGGS FOR ME.

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