Gin no Saji – 11 (Season Finale)

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There can be many reasons why a series is difficult to talk about, but sometimes it just boils down to the fact that it’s so good at speaking for itself.

Gin no Saji is a lot of things, but one of them, certainly, is a testament to one of the oldest, simplest and most important pieces of advice aspiring writers are given: “Write what you know”.  Arakawa Hiromu may be one of the biggest icons of shounen manga, but here she’s delivered something that’s a very different animal.  I’d argue that there are still strong shounen elements to Silver Spoon, but fundamentally this a melange of many things: a coming-of-age story, a slice-of-life, a memoir, a philosophical musing.  Put them all together and you get one of the best series of 2013, and a show that’s quite unusual in the history of anime.

The “finale” of the first season of a split-cour series is always a bit of an oddball when it comes to blogging, and as is most often the case I don’t really consider this a series review post because in no sense is Gin no Saji ending with this episode.  But while the story is left very much incomplete, when a studio chooses to adapt a manga in split-cour fashion there’s an implied expectation that the first final episode with have an air of finality to it – be it a cliffhanger, a milestone achieved, or a personal revelation.  In this case I think it amounts to more of an epilogue – a recollection and reflection on what’s happened in the first season.  There are certainly teases of what’s to come – we get our first glimpses of Hachiken’s parents, and a bombshell line of dialogue delivered quite casually in the postscript (I hope you kept watching those three minutes after the ED, because they were easily the most important part of the episode).  But ultimately, it’s very much a gentle transition rather than an ending.

The upshot of all that is that in terms of plot, not all that much happened here.  Hachiken finished smoking the remains of Butadon, and found himself quite the man in demand (a wayward croquette yet another indication that Mikage notices when other girls notice Hachiken).  The most important part of this thread was the exchange between Hachi-kun and Shingo, where the elder brother encouraged the younger to send some of his bacon home to their parents, in addition to what he plans to send to Mikage and Komaba’s families.  Not as a gesture of affection or an indication that they shouldn’t worry, but to “show them what he’s capable of”.  This is an interesting dynamic – it’s pretty clear these two have far more in common than Yuugo would care to admit, but at the moment Yuugo’s not capable of separating Shingo from his parents in his mind – they’re all “the family” and thus part of the problem.  We’ve only just skimmed the surface of what’s caused all this scar tissue in Hachiken – the nervous breakdown he so casually mentions at the close of the episode – and why he places so much of the blame on his family, but that will surely be a huge component of the second cour.

There’s also quite an interesting conversation between Hachiken and the Principal, as the former is performing his club duties.  Hachiken reveals that he was picked on a lot in middle school, and the depth of his self-worth problem.  The Principal has functioned mostly as a kind of wise observer figure rather than a true character, and this extends even to his direct interaction with Hachiken.  His advice is that it’s OK to run away from your problems, because humans aren’t like farm animals in that they at least have the opportunity to do so.  As usual Hachiken is more astute at assessing the troubles of others than himself; he understands that with the weight of family responsibility that they carry, many of his friends don’t have the option to run away either.  While they may have a surety of purpose he feels is lacking in himself, he has a freedom that they will never have.  The Principal’s assessment and advice are, as usual, preternaturally wise – that Hachiken has a special talent both for empathy and self-expression, rare in children his age, and he shouldn’t hesitate in letting those talents flower.  And in a nutshell, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

The meat of the episode is really Hachiken living out the role this premise has cast him in: watching the others around him and reflecting both on their lives, and what they mean for his own.  Komaba’s determination and passion for baseball is another life’s lesson – inspirational both for Hachiken and his classmates.  Komaba is pursuing a dream that’s different from most of the Ezonoo students – and it’s one that’s almost assuredly unattainable (the odds against a high-schooler eventually becoming a pro ballplayer are truly enormous).  While it hasn’t been pursued extensively in the first season, Komaba’s story is in many ways the outlier in Gin no Saji, and one that’s surely almost as relevant to the author as Hachiken’s – my suspicion is that it’s going to be a larger presence later in the series.

What closure is offered in the final episode is in the final few moments, but the irony is that in revisiting the main thread of the first cour the ultimate message is that nothing has really been resolved at all.  I think these last moments are rather brilliant, actually – thoughtful, thought-provoking, elegantly simple and to the point.  In the first place we have Hachiken resolving that he’s not going to name just his favorite of the new piglets, but name all of them.  Why?  In his own words (again, it’s hard to add much when a show speaks so eloquently for itself): “It’d be easier if I could just accept that this is how it has to be if we eat farm animals…  But I just can’t do it.  You can’t just accept it and get used to the fact, not once you’ve seen them.”  As Fuji-sensei says, he may “grapple with this for a long time and never come up with a satisfactory answer” – but it boils down to what I said a couple of weeks ago, that it’s not a good thing for everyone who’s engaged in the practice of raising animals for meat to take the process for granted.

It seems very clear that Arakawa-sensei herself has grappled with this issue for a long time – and that she’s probably never herself found that satisfactory answer.  Yohsino has become one of my favorite characters for her offbeat personality and thoughtful nature, and she frames it this way: “I can’t deny that the meat tastes good. Still – it’s an issue I’ll need to keep thinking about it I stay in this line of business.  If I keep it in mind while deciding what I want to do…”  She bemoans her own lack of eloquence in explaining herself  – again, Hachiken has that gift far more than most – but her feelings are crystal clear.  This is a truly fundamental question in terms of defining ourselves as people, and different people come up with different answers, as do different religions for that matter.  But isn’t this kind of self-discovery what adolescence is really about – the act of deciding just what kind of person we’re going to be?

I see Hachiken’s act of naming “Bacon” along with all his siblings as a kind of declaration of his own individual identity.  He’s come to Ezonoo, he’s had he’s eyes opened to a world he never knew existed, and he’s changed for it.  But he’s also still himself – he has his own values and principles that he’s not going to surrender in order to adapt to this situation or any other.  “It’s easy to find a horse that suits you…  But it’s also fun to adapt your riding style to the horse.”  Adolescence is the time where we grapple with the compromises we must make to become adults, and when we learn that not all of them are necessarily bad.  How do we adapt and yet retain the essence of ourselves?  This is Hachiken’s challenge just as it is for every young person stepping out of the shadow of their parents and trying to find their place in the world.  There could hardly be a more elemental theme in anime than that, and it’s the true essence of what makes a coming-of-age story so timeless and universal.

There’s just not much flash to Silver Spoon.  But there’s also no pretense – this is a series that knows exactly what it is, and never tries to be anything else.  It says something for Arakawa-sensei that at the highest levels of shounen commercial influence, she would choose to go inward and leave the trappings of the genre behind.  We see personal stories in anime once in a while (to some extent every writer’s work is a personal story) but this one goes beyond simply personal.  The level of sincerity at the heart of Gin no Saji is remarkable, because it’s clear that the author has felt all the feelings at the heart of this story herself.  It’s a reflection on the life she (and her siblings) grew up with in Hokkaido, and on the questions that life sparked in her mind.  In its way this series is shounen stripped down to its essence – it’s one boy’s journey and the struggles he faces, and in effect the entire story is a training arc.  But the struggles and the lessons are no more and no less than those of learning not just how to be an adult, but to be the adult we want to be.  It’s a compelling, entertaining and inspirational tale than asks fascinating questions about what it means to be a human being, and I very much look forward to seeing where the story goes from here.

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End Card:

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  1. S

    I find what Cheese Girl said eerily similar to what the professor in Uchouten said about his love for Tanukis. Though I would think one continues to eat them without a hint of hesitation, the other one struggles to find a balance in her standpoint.

  2. e

    You put the end card too <3.
    For a show that speaks for itself so eloquently already you still managed to process quite a lot of meat for thought.
    Frankly I can't find much to add to what you have covered. I'd simply say that both the series and this final episodes were an intensely satisfying experience, offering both amusement and chance for reflection – who knew the motifs seen back in the FMA childhood island survival training could have the chance to flourish so much? Sure Harakawa is consistent -. And that some of the particular circumstances depicted were similar to the ones I experienced in my childhood didn't hurt either. Cheese!girl I feel ya.
    I do hope the effects of the revelation bomb Hachiken dropped wil be much more on the forefront next season, and that we'll see more of Komano's dealing with his own dreams – nice foil to each other they are – .
    While waiting I'll bask in insight&moepigs glory.

  3. G

    I'm gonna miss this show (along with Rosen Maiden and Uchouten Kazoku) as some of the best of this anime season. Can't wait for the next cour.

  4. S

    Soo.. I never really fell in love with this. I mean, it's r e a l l y well executed, I like the characters, and the character development etc… But. The core story never really interested me that much. I guess I just come to terms with all of this a long time ago and never felt as conflicted about eating meat as the MC does. I support his decisions though.

    Anyway, it's only top 4 or 5 this season, and will have a hard time making it to top 10 of 2013, for me atleast.

  5. i

    I really have spent a long time thinking what to comment but I give up. As you say, it's really hard to make an analytical explanation about what was so good or right this week.

    One thing is certain is that we got Arakawa's answer in actual wording by the characters: there is no answer. We just have to keep wrangling with the problem for as long as we live because that's the only way we'll remember it and I suppose that's the answer, to remember how we when we walk into the front of Mcdonalds there's a long and important journey that ends at the backdoor.

    I really am looking forward to the next season and I do wish Noitamina shows weren't usually 11 episodes.

  6. i

    Or of a shorter length than most similar number of cour(s) shows in recent history. I am also only speaking about the good shows on Noitamina.

  7. S

    Don't worry about that though, I doubt the "meat" in McDonald's comes from anything resebling a cow. Or remotely organic, for that matters. It's probably some kind of hot-pressed synthetic polymer.

  8. i

    I've spent 4 months researching exactly that – hot pressed synthetic polymers. I'm pretty sure that is not what MC uses. But I get the joke.

  9. S

    Speaking of which, I spent 3 years researching polymers too (not hot pressed, though).

    I kinda hate them now.

  10. i

    I guess its a general consensus with polymers as I hate them too. Its so annoying to create ideal samples. My first real experience in Engineering that ideal can never be achieved.

  11. R

    I thinks the series lacks "momentum" in the end. The first episodes didn't need it, but in the end was all a little "flat". Maybe that is arakawa-sensei motive, but for me, It was a constant question about why i follow this. Definitely not my type of show.

  12. Z

    I'm of the opinion that Arakawa is better with this stuff than FMA. I was pretty impressed by Hatchiken's solution to his meat ethics conflict. I can agree with the lack of momentum, but overall I found this series a pleasant surprise. In the end I'm glad I followed this instead of something like SxS. Fuck that shit.

  13. E

    The ending was flat because this was never the ending. I wonder why did they make 11 episode when manga has 80+ chapters. That's surely enough to make 2 cour anime. Are they testing the water?
    It's a beautiful and unusual anime, anyway. It teaches you lesson in life while giving you entertainment. Are you satisfied with your current life? Have you tried your hardest already? Are you going to keep living what has been laid out for you? Are you daring to be different? I am going to prevent myself from picking the manga and wait for another season instead.

  14. M

    There will be another season. Silver Spoon is a split cour.

  15. R

    It is indeed quite a sincere show. It doesn't give the audience a bang. Instead, it's genuine in its writing, characters, and story, and it triggers me to think about the many different theme that you have mentioned in the episodic reviews. I am glad that we have high-schooler shows like this — none of the characters feel contrived — and I really enjoy watching Hachiken's self-defining and soul-searching journey for the past 11 weeks.

    There are many things that I like about this episode, but the theme about adapting yet preserving jumps out to me. I think that it is quite true to not only adolescents but to anyone everyday. We are social beings and live in communities — every day we adapt for serving the common good and to stay included, but we are still who we are that we all have our own self-identity. I thought about you, Enzo, and I thought about myself in my own situation. This is actually quite simple and profound at the same time. By the way, I love the end card — the little piggy looks so adorable! I heard that the later part of story in the manga has more character drama — love it, and I can't wait for the second cour to come.

  16. Z

    I thought the lead female Mikage was a rather bland character. Yoshino and Tamako have more personality. Cheese girl is best girl.

  17. B

    As someone who's already read the manga, all I can say is either read the manga or wait for the second season. It's explained quit clearly there.

  18. r

    Definitely one of the most endearing anime I've come across along with Uchouten Kazoku.
    You're right, the story has no pretense and we all just go with the flow.
    I don't have a favorite character yet but they all grew on me. Funny that when the Principal and Hachiken talks about the "running away" thing… I kinda remembered Taichi. 😉

    Thanks for blogging! I'll look forward the 2nd cour!

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