Silver Spoon is nothing if not resolutely sure of its self-identity. This is the obvious product of a writer who’s not out to prove anything to anyone, but has full confidence that she has something to say that’s worth listening to, and the talent to say it in an entertaining way. In many ways this is almost the definition of a slice-of-life show (though it adds a new connotation to that label) in that it goes about depicting the daily lives of its cast without layering in much conventional plot, and quietly sheds light on some larger questions along the way.
That sense of not trying too hard is important to Gin no Saji’s success, because there’s been very little deception since the beginning. It’s been very clear what the show was all about and that’s been consistent – using the perspective of Hachiken as a vehicle for examining the life of the modern rural farmer, with all its challenges and rewards. The one element that’s changing over the course of the series is Hachiken himself, whose personal story leaks out drip by drip, and who finds himself being influenced by the life he sees around him. But he still asks the questions most in the audience would probably be asking, even if he doesn’t often find the answer.
It was Hachiken himself who probably summarized the perspective of the author best – maybe there is no “right” answer. Arakawa-sensei is clearly trying very hard to avoid passing judgment on what she depicts here, even when it comes to a large commercial farm like Tamako’s Giga Farms (though there are far, far worse examples of the breed in the real world). It’s the closest we’ve come in seven episodes to seeing agribusiness as the detached, unsentimental world it usually is. Her father (another legendary FMA veteran, Ookawa Touru) and mother (yet another legend, Saitou Chiwa) make Hachiken, Mikage and her Mom feel very welcome – but Tamako especially makes a point of making sure Hachiken sees the harsh side of Giga Farms. There’s the rotary milker, the cow who’s sent to the knacker rather than have its leg mended, the calf separated from his mother immediately after birth, only to face the fate of almost all male calves – castration, then a brief fattening up period followed by a one-way trip to the slaughterhouse.
Throughout all this, Hachiken remains himself. That is, he still sees the innocence in the eyes of the calf and grieves at its fate. He still holds the romantic notion that parent-child relations in the animal world retain old-fashioned values (reflecting his cynicism and internal conflict about his own life), though Mikage tells him that even at her family farm, the calves are immediately separated from the mothers. He’s still grossed out by watching the breech birth of said calf and snarls “Don’t try and force your dairy farm values on me!” when Tamako rips him for not being swept away in the beauty of the moment. Hachi-kun is still, in other words, very much the idealist – and thus far at least, managing to retain that idealism even in the face of a relentless dose of real-world cold water being splashed on his face by the world of rural Hokkaido (though the greatest challenge to that idealism is surely yet to come). Just as Arakawa doesn’t judge that world harshly for it’s seeming ruthlessness, she doesn’t judge Hachiken for his idealism – but one wonders if the point will come where on some of these questions, she’s going to have to choose a side.
What’s becoming clear about Hachiken is that he uses his instinct for sniffing out other people’s problems – and trying to help – as a way of escaping his own. He’s absolutely correct that Mikage is conflicted about taking over her family’s dairy business – her love is for horses. But at the same time, he continues to ignore his mother’s increasingly pleading e-mails and keep the nature of what drove him to Ezonoo – and in his own words, to “give up on his dreams in middle school” – close to the vest. He genuinely wants to help others, but not himself – and he doesn’t seem intent on allowing anyone else to help him, either. When Mikage compares him to a horse he’s first confused, then horrified that it’s an insult, and finally elated when he understands it’s a compliment – but it’s a back-handed compliment, which he’ll come to realize soon enough. Hachiken is coming to understand this strange way of life, and that’s the first major element in the story – the next, surely, is for him to use that understanding to help to understand himself.