Some things never change. And thank goodness for that.
OP: “Life” by Fujifabric
I’ll be honest, that premiere came just in the nick of time. There have been some good moments among the first episodes, but so far no new series has been as good as several of the carry-overs have been – we’ve mostly burned through the shows I had highest hopes for and haven’t really had that “wow” premiere that every season seems to deliver at least one of. If I squint really hard and lie to myself, I can almost believe this was a premiere for Gin no Saji – though when reality sets in I have to admit it was really just Episode 12.
Gin no Saji is, in part, a reminder of the little season that could. Summer 2013 did what Summer just never does – it became the best anime season of the year, producing three shows on my Top 10 list, and this would have been a fourth if it had been eligible. I haven’t seen a new show this Winter that would have cracked Summer’s top 5 and that’s a little worrisome, but in Silver Spoon that season is the gift that keeps on giving. There’s rarely been a less surprising series in anime, or one where’s you’re happier not to be surprised. Even in the first season anyone who knew the manga and the anime staff knew what to expect from the series – even with a new director, there was certainly no reason to have any doubts now.
Episode 12, or whatever you wish to call it, more or less picks up where Episode 11 left off. There’s no talk of the bombshell Hachiken dropped in the epilogue about “the nervous breakdown I had in middle school”, but that’s presumably a topic we’ll hear more about soon. The pre-open is a wonderful montage of the Ezonoo students working their butts off and enjoying the small pleasures in life, exhausted, a nice segue into en ep that more or less focuses on the slice-of-life side of the story as opposed to the recurring plot threads (the A-part begins with a very funny gag about a big, black bra and the adolescent imagination). But everything in Gin no Saji is thematically (and otherwise) consistent, and there are small happenings which tie in with those larger themes.
When I talked about the finale of the first cour I speculated that Komaba-kun’s arc might be a larger focus in the second cour, as it might be viewed as another facet of Arakawa-sensei’s personal journey. It appears as if that might be the case, as he’s quite a large focus of this week’s episode. There’s his pitching, of course – he continues to be a factor for the Ezonoo first-string, emerging as the team’s second pitcher – but there’s also his connection with Mikage-chan. It seems fairly obvious that the suggestion that they’ve become a couple is a red herring (we even get a sly commentary about a manga with a similar storyline to cast this notion in its proper fictional light) but the real point is that Komaba quite legitimately does share a connection with Mikage that Hachi-kun does not. This manifests itself in a secret between them – one that has Mikage in tears when Hachiken stumbles on the pair of them talking – and of which they tell Hachiken “it has nothing to do with you.”
Anyone’s who’s been told that – I presume that’s most of us – know’s it’s a pretty hurtful thing to hear, never mind coming from the one we’re in love with. It seems there’s something going on with either Mikage or Komaba’s family, perhaps a death (Mikage’s great-grandmother?) but Hachi-kun doesn’t know that. And this hurts on several levels, most obviously that he’s being shut out by Mikage, and that in doing so she’s admitting that her closeness to Komaba as his neighbor and osananajimi allows her to feel more comfortable revealing her own pain to him. But there’s also the matter of Hachiken’s personal growth, which everything in Gin no Saji always circles back to – especially as he’s just been named Vice-President of the Equestrian Club (a thankless job, it appears) on the grounds that he’s someone who people feel comfortable with, who can “build consensus”.
There’s a flip-side to that seemingly positive endorsement – Hachiken has also become known as “the guy who can’t say no”. And that’s not a label you want sticking to you, either in high school or – God help you – the workplace. Hachiken is a great main character because like so many great characters in coming-of-age stories, he’s an exceptional person who’s convinced he’s unexceptional. Finding out who he wants to be to others is a big part of Hachi-kun finding out who he wants to be, period. Look at his reaction when he reads his Mom’s mail telling him she’d forced his Dad to eat some of the bacon he’d sent home, and Dad said “it was good”. It’s not right that a kid like that should be so unused to any praise from his father that this would make him so happy – but fathers and sons are complicated. Stay tuned for more on this story as the season progresses.
There are a lot of places Silver Spoon might go this season, and it’s worth remembering that we’re only getting 11 episodes and the manga is ongoing. As such I wouldn’t expect any kind of definitive conclusion to Hachiken’s story, but I would expect more focus on the family issues and confronting the past and less on the slice-of-life elements. One of the nice elements of this series, though, is that all of its facets are intertwined so elegantly that transitions never feel awkward and even the slice-of-life moments bring progress to the larger plot. As always Gin no Saji seems very sure of itself – unlike its main character – and always manages to get where it needs to go without seeming like it’s in a hurry. It’s a great place to spend time every week, and I’m glad to have it back.
ED: “Oto no Naru Hō e” by Goose house