Volume 10 of Gin no Saji the manga is at 610K sales and counting, and the anime continues to hum along quietly, minding its own business and doing what it does so well without calling much attention to itself. I’ve come to think of this series as a kind of episodic slice-of-life, a show that’s plot-driven from week to week but squarely in the slice-to-life camp in terms of the recurring themes. That doesn’t mean there aren’t recurring plot points – there certainly are, and we saw them this week – but it does mean that most of the conflict-resolution narrative we see in any given episode usually resolves itself by that episode’s end, and exists mainly to shed insight on the series’ larger themes of identity and growing up.
It’s interesting to speculate on where this season will finish up, because those themes aren’t exactly the kind with clear-cut resolutions and in any event, the manga is still going strong. This isn’t a show that’s overwhelmingly successful by the standards we usually use to judge an anime commercially, but that’s probably neither a surprise or a requirement for it to be considered a success – the manga is such a powerhouse that the anime is really here to promote the brand. There are really two separate questions here – where will A-1 choose to end the anime this season, and where will Arakawa-sensei choose to end the manga (presumably at a fairly distant time)?
What Gin no Saji is doing – perhaps even more so far this season than in the first – is taking us along on the journey of a kid who still has no idea who he is, and showing us how each new experience fills in a little bit of the picture for him. It does so without being preachy or professorial about it but make no mistake, these are life’s lessons we’re seeing play out – Hachiken’s life lessons. Last episode wasn’t really about finding a puppy in a trash heap and figuring out how to train it, and this week isn’t really about making an overdramatic horse jump over a training-wheels Swedish oxer – they were about what learning about those animals teaches Hachi-kun about himself.
Whenever Gin no Saji opens the window into Hachiken’s past it’s always a bit of a big deal, because he works so hard to keep that past locked deep inside him where no one can see it. We know already that this is an absurdly competitive boy – he hates to lose, and something related to academic failure caused a “nervous breakdown” (his words) in middle school. When it comes time for all the first-years (except Mikage, who’s already jouzu) in the Equestrian Club to try jumping, they all overcome their fears and manage on the first try – all except Hachiken, and Maron. Worse still, after a few abortive attempts a couple of the other rookies try jumping on Maron – and they sail over the oxer, raving about how easy a horse Maron is to ride.
Clearly, this is one of Hachi-kun’s buttons, big-time. We get actual flashbacks here – middle school uniforms, students laughing about how easy a test was, chibi-Hachiken silent in the shadows. He doesn’t yet understand enough about either horses or himself to temper his first instinct, which is to push harder and grind harder until he succeeds. This actually leads to what I consider his first real fight with Mikage, who’s aghast at his lack of consideration for Maron’s well-being. It’s interesting that Nakajima-sensei – who clearly realizes what’s happening here – chooses to silently let Hachiken struggle through this. Even Mikage insists she can’t communicate the nature of the problem in words, because he just won’t “get it” – but she does invite him to an equestrian competition in her home town, hoping that he’ll get a greater sense of the problem by watching the diverse field of riders – and horses – go through their paces.
Sure, there’s a lesson about equestrian sports here – the horse is doing most of the work, and the horse and rider have to cover for each other and trust each other. But it’s a not so subtle commentary on Hachiken’s refusal to let anyone inside (including his family), which life at Ezonoo is chipping away at glacially, one sliver at a time. I believe we also got a tacit blessing from Mikage’s father for their relationship – though being the snapping turtle he is, he has to issue it in the form of a challenge, and of course that part of the story too is moving with glacial deliberation. We also get yet another attempt by Tokiwa to spice things up with a bogus rumor about Hachiken and Mikage’s non-existent (at least together) sex life, though this one is nipped in the bud by judicious use of local farmstand produce.