Silver Spoon the anime has been nothing if not consistent. That isn’t necessarily a good thing – it all depends on what level of quality you’re consistently delivering – but fortunately this show has been rock-solid every week. We haven’t had elegiac highs but likewise haven’t had so much as mediocrity, never mind any true lows – I’m hard-pressed to remember a show with less erratic performance than this one. It seems fitting considering the salt-of-the-earth nature of the subject matter than the series should be reliable, unpretentious and consistently fresh week after week.
Like the layers of an onion, the protective skin Hachiken has built around himself is slowly being peeled back with each episode. It’s happening for him as he slowly loses his practiced detachment and ambivalence, and it’s happening for the viewer as details of what made him that way percolate to the surface. This was probably the biggest single leap forward yet in the arrival of Hachi-kun’s older brother Shingo (Konishi Katsuyuki). Shingo arrives in grand style – showing up on his motorcycle just as Hachi and the Mikages are trying to separate a herd of stray cows from their own, and promptly (quite literally) corralling them – and then proceeds to (quite literally) fall flat on his face when he slips on cow dung and lays the bike down.
I have a suspicion that grand entrance is symbolic of Shingo as a character – time will tell, but what was clear here is that his reality is very different from what Hachiken believes it to be. The fact that Shingo got into Todai (Tokyo University) in itself says he’s special – it’s considered the finest college in Japan. But if that weren’t enough, we see via flashback that at least in part it’s definitely Shingo’s legacy that Hachi-kun is trying to live down. But in point of fact Shingo has quit school – when his father asks him why on the phone, Shingo tellingly replies “To piss you off.” The mother seems more worried about Hachiken than anything, but the father pointedly says that both his sons are worthless. There’s a lot of extra baggage with this family, that much is clear, but at least Shingo refuses to tell his parents where his brother is. And having quit Todai to make ramen – and terrible ramen at that – his own perceived failings should take some of the pressure of Hachiken for a while.
In point of fact, Hachiken seems quite at home in Aki’s family – her mother and grandparents are talking openly right in front of him about his marrying into it, though her Dad is still playing the jealous father role to the hilt (especially when Hachiken finds himself musing on the difference between fully-developed udders and developing ones). Hachiken is obviously smart and talented, and when he sets his mind to something adept at picking it up quickly. 4 AM wake-up calls and backbreaking labor are nothing new to him anymore, and he picks up the routine and procedures of dairy farm life expeditiously. And for all his self-doubt and perceived lack of goals, Hachiken is possessed of a self-awareness few boys his age have – he understands his trip-wires and his limitations, even if he doesn’t always know how to overcome them.
I always take it as a sign of good writing when an anime can make a seemingly mundane real-life situation as tense as any life-or-death space drama or epic fantasy (the school scenes in Hourou Musuko are a great example). The title of the episode gives away that something big is coming, and it turns out to be Hachiken forgetting to reconnect a hose to the raw milk tank after getting a taste of just how umai raw milk can be, resulting in the loss of about 40000¥ (400$) worth of milk. Of course Hachi-kun is horrified and ashamed, but the Mikages – even Dad – don’t hold it against him. The contrast between the accepting farm family and the uptight cityfolk might be a bit heavy-handed here, but it plays as realistic – the Mikages have seen Hachiken busting his tail for them for three weeks, exceeding the expectations they’d set for him, and in their value system an honest mistake where no one was hurt (which the mother quite compassionately tried to blame on Dad and Grandpa) doesn’t nullify the good will engendered by all that hard work.
I was reminded a bit of today’s Servant X Service episode here, believe it or not. When Hachiken tried to refuse his pay to atone for his mistake, he was effectively disrespecting his employer just as Lucy disrespects those who think highly of her when she disparages herself. Even Great-Grandma (107 years old) finally breaks her silence to tell him to take the money, and professes to Aki later that Hachi-kun is a smart enough boy to spend that money wisely, not frivolously (“You can judge a man by how he spends his money.”) It’s altogether a lesson in humility and loyalty for Hachiken – and I’d be remiss in non mentioning that it’s also a lesson in how good fresh-picked sweet corn tastes. If you’ve never had it, you can’t imagine how much better it is than supermarket corn – whether it be simply boiled in salted water or fire-grilled with a soy glaze as Dad and Grandpa did (which is how they serve corn at matsuri during the summer). Really fresh corn is so good you can literally eat it raw – and not for the first time, Silver Spoon has left me with my stomach growling and a new item on my next day’s shopping list…