Gin no Saji – 10

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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.

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  1. S

    Only thing I can think of is: this ain't no Babe. You know, these days I've been involved a lot with this kind of issues, not directly because of meat issues, but because there have been, and there are, huge conflicts in Italy around a new law concerning animal testing and experimenting. On one side, we have people who blindly follows emotions in an unreasonable way, effectively feeling empathy for animals as long as they're cute and cuddly, to the extremes where we have people who calls researchers "assassins" and says they should experiment on criminals, or maybe their own sons, rather than innocent animals, yet some of them eat meat, wear leather, or even use rat poison. On the other, there's a rationality that sometimes becomes cold, scornful, and arrogant. I support wholeheartedly the cause of science in this issue, but I hate to see it defended by people who simply mocks not just the most extreme elements of the other side, or the lies about animal testing being scientifically inaccurate, but the very notion that one might feel that it is ethically unjust to kill an animal for any reason. Personally, I came to the conclusion that ethics are something we built for our own species and survival, and though it makes sense that we feel empathy towards other creatures as we recognize our similarities, it would be pushing it too far to try and apply all our rights to them as well – just like it doesn't make sense to punish lions for killing gazelles, we are part carnivores and we can kill and eat animals without breaking what one could call the "natural order" in itself – as in many other things, it's the excess that causes damage, and for different and more complex reasons. But that's my conclusion, and I love that Arakawa-sensei here depicts it as something that is reached through dialectic and self awareness – the mutual interaction between two different points of view. People who just takes things for granted is not necessarily in the wrong – but has no way to understand whether they're in the right, either.

  2. A

    I think the way the end of the Butadon saga was handled was pretty much as perfect as it could be.
    Not too sentimental, or sappy, or overwrought.
    Sombre, and with an air of sadness, but not too much, just enough.

    As Butadon progressed from the runt of the litter to a fine pig too big for Hachiken to lift, Hachiken went from someone who was completely grossed out by where eggs came from to being someone who could prepare the meat of the pig he had raised and share it with his friends. He's come a long way.

  3. M

    I'll have to agree with this. I used the term "pitch perfect" to describe the episode. Which means to me, that this was the best way possible.

  4. B

    Having already read the manga so I already knew what's coming. But the final montage of Pork Bowl just before the commercial break, without dialogue and just a simple musical accomplishment still brings tears to my eyes. The end of part one of this show is next week, and we'll have to wait another 3 months for the winter season.

  5. R

    It's quite interesting that the main issue you had with this episode was a sense of detachment. I had the exact opposite impression. Hachiken may be a smart and kind young man, but whenever he's had to deal with personal struggles, of which it's mainly been those with his family, he's always responded in a calm, detaches, internalized way. I have no doubt he's troubled and grieving but it's all inside. I think the episode would have lost the impact it personally had on me if it had been more sentimental than this. Personally I felt it was sentimental, but definitely in its own, restrained and quiet way. The other children have grown up with this sort of thing. Even if Hachiken's arrival has forced them to rethink their roles and actions, I dou t it would suddenly completely cause a 180 in opinion. Combined with Hachiken's own rather low key emotional reactions, I felt the balance had to be more on the somber and quiet, and seemingly detached.

    Granted, this is just my take. I'm used to people internalizing emotions. It doesn't mean they aren't feeling it or that it's any less sentimental for the party involved, but certainly to onlookers it might seem that way.

  6. This is the Japanese way, and it fits with the theme of the series. I wouldn't say I had a "problem" with it because as I wrote, it was probably the truest route they could have chosen. I just kind of felt like I was waiting for a cathartic moment with Hachiken and it never came. It seemed like the climax of the arc had no climax to speak of. I understand why and I respect the decision, but ultimately it didn't connect with me in a big way.

  7. B

    The point of Pork Bowl is NOT accept your lot in your life. Hachiken failed to get into the high school that his father expected him to get into. He ran away to Enzo to make his own life anew. Similar to what his brother Shingo did, albeit in a slightly less dramatic fashion. There are other people in this story whose life choices are limited, and that will be addressed in season 2. Tomoko is a slightly different case, she WANT to take over Giga Farm and expand it far far beyond its current state.

  8. i

    "atama ga ii baka"

    I think I've been called that quite a few times myself, although unlike Hachiken I'm more on the side of baka.

    Coldness I think was the best way to end this arc. I mean when we can't stop something bad happening we try to distance ourselves emotionally from it, so I feel all the kids, not just Hachi, wanted to feel a bit far from something they too probably took for granted but watching Hachi realized something important about the life they lived and will live.

    Where exactly the story goes for the next 2 episodes is any non-manga readers' guess but I think it will return to Hachi's family.

    BTW did anyone else think Mikage's absence from the comedy at the start (bar one frozen stance) says anything about how she felt about those misunderstandings? Possibly it meant more than gossip to her?

  9. e

    @Ishruns: re:Mikage a)she does not strike me as the gossip type b) she does like Hachiken – her remarks of his 'uma' qualities and being considerate about him in genareal – c) her reaction while cleaning the blackboard was quite telling. Gossip she would ignore (or rather not contribute to), but the moment the teachers stepped in it might mean the gossip was srs bsnss and that must have both surprised and upset her enough for her composure to slip and actually drop… whatever that blackboard cleaning thing is called in English.

  10. Only 1 more episode, by the way.

  11. e

    For me this episode worked very well. The reflective parts when just before and after Pork Bowl's trip to the slaughterhouse, the sprinkles of humour, and again the actual slaughterhouse movie and the bit with Vet guy. Both the mood balance and timing were right for me. Just a bit more of any element and I'd probably felt the detatchment you speak of… or would have broken down crying instead ^_^" (also because in some ways I've been through Hachiken's crisis as a kid). As it was it elicited a tear out of me but also a small smile. Honour thy meat, treasure the ability to keenly feel the bitter and the sweet of its flavour.
    Hachiken has grown and provided food for thought – and not only – to his classmates and even the teachers. And on the tangible material side of things this has left me really hungry for some organic raised-with-loving-care pork :,D…

  12. d

    Oh come on. You CANNOT accuse this show of a lack of sentiment.

    Of a lack of typical American sentimentality? Of course. Thank goodness, too!

  13. m

    i could understand why you would feel a little let down, but to me, this packs all the sentimentality i could want. the act of eating butadon – to me, it felt like hachiken wants to be the one to appreciate him, rather than have some other buyer who may potentially waste it or take it for granted. and not eating butadon would be a hypocritical act, because hachiken eats meat and it wouldn't make sense for him to not eat butadon and ultimately give meat up. it's part of what we are after all, and not all people can go vegeterian anyway. it wouldn't make sense that way. so for me, more than detachment, i find it more painful to watch because of how hachiken tries to make best the situation while accepting the reality for what it is.

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