On paper, you could hardly think of two series more different than Gin no Saji and Watamote, but they have a very important quality in common in addition to the fact that both are superb. Each provokes uncomfortable reactions from the viewer in their own way. With Watamote it’s as in-your-face as it can be, but it’s a subtler thing with Silver Spoon – as gentle and wistful as it appears to be, it’s clear that one of Arakawa-sensei’s goals for the series is to make the audience think about things they’d rather not think about.
There more or less seem to be two major tracks playing side-by-side here. On the one hand we have Hachiken’s personal journey, about which we receive tantalizing hints every week. And then there’s the use of that journey as a vehicle to teach the audience about the agricultural life through his eyes. I think it’s very important to remember that this second track is very much a personal, opinionated one – this is Arakawa-sensei expressing her views on eating meat, the sanctity of life, and rural values. In no means should it be taken as impartial, but then I don’t think it’s really intended to be – it’s not “my way or the highway” so much as “this is my way, think of it what you will”. But for an audience with limited exposure to these themes – certainly within the medium of manga and anime – I suspect her viewpoint could prove quite persuasive.
For me, this was an excellent episode from a dramatic standpoint but a tough one to watch – and again, I think it was intended to be. I don’t know if there’s a qualitative difference between raising animals for food – or hunting them – and hitting them with a car and butchering them. But while it may be my sheltered sensibility (it’s no coincidence that Hachiken used that word when expressing his reluctance to butcher Bambi) the one moment of the ep that felt really awkward for me was the last, when everyone was so happy after having killed the bear. As a lapsed vegetarian I can bring myself around to what’s happening with Porkbowl, with some difficulty, but that felt wrong on an elemental level. I’m sure Mikage’s grandfather (Sasaki Mutsumi) would say what’s wrong would be to see the animal’s life wasted without making some use of it (and yes, folks do eat bear meat too) and that may not be wrong. But it still strikes a false note with me.
That’s where the uncomfortable factor comes in, because I can sense my own hypocrisy being revealed with that reaction. Just as I sense it every time I eat a hamburger or a bowl on tonkotsu ramen while professing to dislike the consumption of animals and commercial farming practices. This notion of values comes into play in other forms in the ep as well, such as when Hachiken sees that Komaba’s tiny twin sisters (seven? eight?) Nino and Misora (Goto Mai) are already engaged in hard labor at their dairy farm. Is he wrong to think that children that young shouldn’t have to be put to work? Are the Komabas wrong to think that every healthy hand is needed to get by, especially after the death of Komaba’s father (which Mikage suggests was due to overwork)? The message, if nothing else, is that rural agricultural life is a different world, and one where the rules of modern urban society don’t fit very well. So far, at least, I don’t think Arakawa is guilty of romanticizing what’s in fact a brutally difficult lifestyle, but it’s clear she sees an honesty and purity in it that she doesn’t see in industrialized daily life.
As for Hachi-kun’s personal saga, that’s clearly the slower-moving train so far. What can be said is that he’s on the run – he’s avoiding contacting his family at any cost – never mind visiting home, he doesn’t even want to call to let his Mom know he won’t be coming home for summer break but instead working part-time at Mikage’s farm. I feel for her, even not knowing the back story, because it’s clear she’s worried for her son and equally clear he’s putting her through a very hard time. We still don’t know in detail what’s happened to cause Hachiken to be so resolute in cutting his ties, but it’s no stretch to say that he’s never going to find any peace until he confronts his past – and his family – rather than running away. Whichever path he ultimately chooses – embracing agriculture as his goal in life or adapting its lessons to something else – he can’t proceed until he’s made terms with whatever caused his self-imposed exile to the countryside.