This was a moment we all knew was coming, but it certainly arrived sooner than I expected.
Some of these posts are easier to write than others, and this one isn’t especially easy to write. I had to take some time and think about just how I felt about the events of this episode, in fact, as I wasn’t at all sure at first. It’s not so much that it provoked a strong emotional reaction, but rather a complex one – and in fact that it wasn’t a stronger one is one of the most confusing things in the aftermath of the episode.
Even now, as I type, I’m somewhat conflicted about how Gin no Saji portrayed the final hours in the life of Butadon, and the aftermath. I think to a large extent what defines the episode for me is a lack of sentiment. Now matter how many times I’m struck by it in anime, the lack of sentiment in most Japanese fiction (not drama mind you, but sentiment, which is a very different thing) still surprises me. Heck, I live in Japan now and even surrounded by the culture, there’s still a disconnect – one that comes from growing up in America, of course. And I rather think how one responds to this episode might be largely based on how one views the role of sentiment in anime (and maybe life, too).
For me, I can honestly say that I’m not someone who views sentiment as a four-letter word. I think there’s a place for it in both life and art, and fiction can be sentimental without being melodramatic or maudlin. I think we have a tendency to fall all over ourselves praising series that show emotional restraint and mocking those that depict sentiment unashamedly, but some of the best anime ever had plenty of it when the moment called for it – Seirei no Moribito and even Hunter X Hunter spring to mind. More often than not I find anime tends to err on the side of coldness rather than warmth, at least for my tastes, leaving me feeling unsatisfied at a lack of emotional closure. It’s best of course when it indulges neither extreme but finds a perfect balance between them, though very few series can pull that off.
My initial reaction in the wake of watching this episode of Silver Spoon was along those lines – I didn’t feel it offered emotional closure that would do justice to the buildup the Porkbowl arc has received. I’ve softened a bit on that as I’ve thought about it, most probably because this is probably the conclusion that most perfectly matches the philosophy of the series. I was glad, perversely, to see that Hachiken didn’t try and find a way around Porkbowl’s fate, or succeed – while it would have been heartwarming it would have been a betrayal of the message of the arc, and the show. Arakawa-sensei clearly, whatever anyone else may feel about it, believes in the raising and slaughter of farm animals for meat. She doesn’t see it as wrong, even if she does allow that it can be painful. So when Hachiken made his offer to buy Butadon, my initial reaction (before the explanation) was first a spark of hope, then irritation. The truth of the matter – that he wanted to buy the meat, not the living animal – may not offer much emotional satisfaction, but it’s consistent with the message of the series.
I commented last week that “It can’t hurt for the people who make their living off the sacrifices of other living things to be reminded that there are indeed sacrifices being made – that these animals, given a choice, would choose to survive and propagate rather feed a hungry human and a farmer’s bank account. Perhaps in seeing Hachiken mourn at the death of an animal he cared for, they might pause and wonder if it’s such a good thing that they no longer do.” I think this was very much in-line with where Arakawa took the story, especially when Yoshino (who’s emerged as a very winning side character) got a first-hand look at what Hachiken was going through. She called him an “atama ga ii baka” – the second time that phrase turned up in anime this week – and commented that “The rest of us never really thought about killing and eating them, you know. It’s something we took for granted… Maybe it’s important to reconsider things you’ve always taken for granted.” This is the essence of Hachiken’s role at Ezonoo and in Silver Spoon, to be the foreign body, the outside thinker, and the proxy for the reader/viewer. Arakawa may support the notion of you eating bacon but she wants you to be aware of what it took to get it to your belly.
Of course, that might be viewed by some – certainly by vegetarians – as hypocritical, trying to have your pork bowl and eat it, too. I think Arakawa acknowledged this through Hachiken’s own words, in fact, when he said that he didn’t think Butadon would care one bit about how good he tasted after he died (and he’s right). This is an issue I’m still wrestling with, in fact – I think all the talk of how the smokehouse is like a funeral, and Hachiken buying Porkbowl’s meat rather than seeing it go to a stranger, having funerals for horses that died in a brutal sport… It’s all to assuage our guilty consciences, nothing to do with the sacrifices of the animals themselves. It’s about us, not them – and I think everything related to the pigs and cows and deer and bears even horses in Gin no Saji is really about us, not them. It’s Arakawa-sensei doing two things, mainly – trying to educate the world on the lives of the people who keep them from starving, and trying to work through her own feelings on being a part of a system that slaughters animals for profit.
So where does that leave us in the context of the story? I would say Butadon’s death was handled in a dignified, unsentimental and ultimately somewhat detached way. I appreciated the fact that we were spared no details on just what happened to Porkbowl, and the fact that Hachiken took the high road at all times. He watched the abattoir film despite being offered an out, he dressed the meat himself, and generally conducted himself as the strong and principled young man he’s grown into. There was even some humor in the episode, and damn good too – the pregnancy misunderstanding in the beginning was clever (yes, I really did want to punch Tokiwa). And I quite liked Sakuragi-sensei’s momentary reference to Hachiken and Yoshino as being “in heat”. But closure was something I didn’t take away from the episode – ultimately, the Butadon saga ends with me feeling somewhat let down. But I’m not sure there was any other way it could have ended without betraying the essence of the series, and maybe in and of itself a satisfying conclusion would have been wrong, because this was intentionally not a scenario that allowed the possibility of one. It’s certainly something to chew on – not as tasty as a plate of crispy bacon, maybe, but more substantial.