Gin no Saji Second Season – 08

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Nothing in fiction is quite so heartbreaking as that which is completely believable and realistic.

There are definitely times where I feel as if I’m doing a series a disservice by writing about it, because an episode does such a perfect job of speaking for itself.  And that’s something of a specialty of Gin no Saji, which is so lacking in artifice and pretense that it manages to be emotionally profound and emotionally transparent at the same time.  Even if the events of this episode were easy to predict, they packed a knockout punch just the same.

The first part of the episode did little to prepare us for what was to come.  The mystery of Nakajima-sensei’s absence is solved – it was indeed related to the cheese tragedy he suffered (that, too, was predicted here last week).  This is classic slice-of-life GnS – lots of interesting information about cheese making, repeated jokes at Tokiwa’s expense, some light-hearted bovine fanservice (my favorite moment came when Hachiken cried “My daughter!” when imagining the dairy calf he’s been asked to name being ogled and fondled by Tokiwa and the Holstein Club).  I was wondering why Nakajima-sensei was so concerned with what everyone had eaten over the last 24 hours – turns out Natto has bacteria so potent that even the breath of someone who’s eaten it can contaminate the cheese process (it’s also utterly revolting in every way).

This segment also brings us the first overt reference to the titular “Gin no Saji” in quite some time – a reflection on the fact that agricultural kids will never starve because they can produce the food they need to survive.  It’s a very different take on the term than we’re used to, and the timing is no coincidence leading as it does into Komaba’s story.  It’s Ayame – someone who represents the image of the silver spoon most people have in their heads – who breaks the news to Hachiken and the others (though not Mikage, of course) – Komaba’s farm is going bankrupt, and he’s not coming back to school.

This is a hard, cruel slice of agricultural life, and if you’re expecting the blow to be softened by sentiment and trope-powered plot twists, you’ll be disappointed.  This sort of thing really does happen all the time, and certainly in the harrowing financial world of the modern family farm.  In this case it’s a matter of bad timing – Komaba’s father borrowed extensively to expand the business just before he died, too soon to reap any benefits from the money spent.  The upshot is that Komaba feels he has no choice but to quit school – and baseball – and get a job to help repay the loan.  He has a mother and two little sisters to think about, and an important additional incentive besides.

As with everything in Gin no Saji, this development is important not just in itself but for what it means to Hachiken.  His natural instinct, always, it to help.  He’s the fixer – the guy who always steps in whenever something extra (a pizza oven, expertise in planning, a home for a stray dog or love for a doomed piglet) is needed.  But this isn’t something Hachiken can fix – this is just a hard, painful thing that simply is.  And accepting that cuts against everything Hachiken believes in, his very nature.  Even worse is that both Komaba and Mikage chose to keep this from him – and even now, both express concern for the impact it’ll have on him.  There’s something quintessentially Japanese in this scenario of everyone wanting to spare others the burden of sharing their pain, an element of what makes the mindset of this culture so admirable and irritating at the same time.  By expressing concern for Hachiken – absolutely genuine concern – when they should be worried about themselves, Komaba and Mikage are actually making him feel much worse.

There’s another element that makes this story even more painful, and it’s revealed when Hachiken foils Komaba’s plan to sneak into his room and gather his belongings while everyone is in class by faking sick (he suspected the truth) and catching Komaba in the act.  Komaba’s father got Mikage’s father to co-sign the massive loan he took, which means her family is going to be dragged into the financial mire if the loan can’t be paid back.  There are many valid reasons for what Komaba is doing, but that doesn’t make the fact that he’s saying goodbye to all of his dreams any less painful.  It’s equally heartbreaking watching Hachiken hopelessly struggle for answers and rage at the situation, and watching Komaba express nothing as he fatalistically accepts the end of his dreams.  “Yeah, I’ve lost them all…  Baseball, taking over the business, everything.”  And most painful of all is his final, calm “It can’t be helped.”

That’s real, genuine heartbreak there – not an ounce of push-button melodrama, just real-world injustice.  “It can’t be helped” – these words are anathema to Hachiken, but they too are part of the lessons he needs to learn at Ezonoo.  Mikage gently reminds him of the key to not getting hurt too badly when you fall off a horse – “Just let go” – but that, too cuts against his very nature.  This is continuing education in the truest sense – a reminder for Hachiken that whatever his problems, he needs to appreciate how much he has because most people aren’t nearly so lucky.  Coming-of-age drama just doesn’t get much better than this – brutal honesty, absolute believability, unvarnished truth.  It’s a beautiful, terrible sadness – and that is a necessary part of growing up.  It’s just that we almost never see it portrayed this simply and profoundly in anime.

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  1. K

    I actually expect Hachiken will think of a solution. So I don't agree that the final message of this story will be it can't be helped. But we will see.

  2. t

    I do expect Hachiken to think of something. but I can't say I expect a solution, definitely not a full resolution to this situation.
    Hachiken can't solve all the problems in the world or others' problems. somethings are just..yeah, can't be helped (not the best way I'd use), actually more like..somethings are just not in your control. and it's indeed a lesson Hachiken has to learn. you can't save or help or do everything. just like the festival.
    you can't do everything, somethings aren't in your control and you must draw some limits. whether it's the final message of the story?I don't think so. but it's indeed some of the important ones to Hachiken (and us too).

    that's why I expect Hachiken not to give up, but also not save the day, because it can't be helped since he can't just save the farm and clear all debts (that would be too bizarre and convenient right?)
    so what he can do?what am I expecting him to do? I am not really sure but he has the brain and the determination to work something out. of course it doesn't mean giving Komaba money (he will refuse) but something or some way that will help and be a ray of hope. in the pizza or festival, Hachiken proved he has the ability to gather everyone around him and do something. I expect something kinda the same.

    you know, it reminds me a certain development that there was in space brothers. I am not gonna spoil or something (I also can't LOL) but if you've been watching it then I hope you might know what development I am talking about and "comparing" (not really but it will help to understand what I said above). those slice-of-life series are indeed demonstrate all kinds of slices…right?

  3. e

    Once more the serious parts worked very well, also because Harakawa makes pretty easy to empathyze with the characters – and with both Yuugo's frustration and rage as well as well as his friends' behaviour – .
    Similarly to Kim above I'm waiting for the moment when Hachicchi might save the day – and the dreams of the people involved – . Because while IRL bad sh*t happens to good people all the time, it's also gloriously uplifting when those same people make it in the end. With a little help from my friends
    Loved the cheese section of course. Dairy wonders :Q__.

  4. S

    Perhaps one of the best and most emotional anime episode I’ve seen. I’m usually quite immune to anime drama (like the ones in Nagi no Asukara and Pilot Love Song ), but the tragedy in Silver Spoon hits me really hard. There is simply zero suspense of disbelief, it felt real, believable, relatable, nothing about it rang false or felt off.

    I thought it was heartbreaking to watch Komaba and Mikage try their hardest to keep their composure, but deeply hurting inside by the unfortunate events. These characters have such a great amount of realistic maturity which made it more painful, yet also emotionally gripping and fascinating to watch.
    It’s good to see that Hachiken tries to be a pillar of support for his friends with his idealism and good to know that he’s very aware of the complex situation and sees through their appearances. He probably can’t fix the damage, but lessening it would be the next most commendable option.

    I think a lot of shows which incorporate drama can learn something from the execution of this episode.

  5. R

    On a scale of 1 to 10 of things that are not OK for my heart, this was a solid 11.

    Failed ventures and bankruptcy are something I've studied and seen as a business major, so there was something almost hauntingly believable about the episode. I don't know about Japan, but the fate of small family farms in america (where they still actually exist) is basically to be bought out, to try to expand and find a niche market, or very often to fail.

    While on one hand I understand so completely well that this is NOT a situation and high schooler could realistically resolve, no matter how kind and intelligent he is, on the other hand its one of the bleakest feelings is the world, to watch people dear to you lose everything and be utterly powerless and I'm still prayings for a happy ending somewhere, even though from experience I know things like this almost never end like that.

  6. h

    Brilliant review once again! You hit the core of what made this episode so good.

    Some stray observations:

    – You don't like natto? Tokiwa was right though, natto rolls are pretty nice.
    – I loved the cheese-making part! It was really informative. The agricultural scenes in this series from the information imparted to the obstacles faced by farmers are so accurate.
    – "brutal honesty, absolute believability, unvarnished truth". What drove this home was the extremely realistic reactions of everyone around Komaba. Like you said, completely devoid of melodrama, just genuine dynamics between teenagers in the know about agriculture.
    – Hachiken's ever-meticulous thoughtfulness was also portrayed through his ability to differentiate each piglet, albeit it was a comedic scene. That's consistent writing right here.
    – I wonder if Hachiken letting go is necessarily a good step towards growing up. In some ways, acceptance is a form of maturity, but the fact that Hachiken doesn't give up on helping people is actually a good trait in his case, and his defining characteristic. I suppose before he finds the balance in ploughing through regardless of the obstacles, and being able to let go, he has to experience true heartbreak.
    – Sylpher put it perfectly by stating that most dramas can learn from the execution of this episode. And of course, it's done so effortlessly.

  7. Y

    So Natto hasn't grown on you after living in Japan for a while huh? It's the only thing that failed my "I'll try everything once" policy… I just can't take that smell! 😉

  8. Yes, I still hate natto. No shame in that – it's revolting.

    I guess I'm in the minority, but I hope Hachiken isn't able to fix things for Komaba. I think that would undercut the realism and dramatic weight of the series. I feel terrible for Komaba – and for Hachiken for wanting so badly to help and being so helpless – but I hope Arakawa holds her ground here.

  9. S

    I guess the best compromise between feel-good and realism would Hachiken giving a hand in a simple way – like acting as a contact with someone he knows to find Komaba a job. Not a full "problem solved!" moment, but still something that makes him look like he DID make a difference.

  10. Y

    I can't imagine the majority of people would want a cheesy "happy ending" besides maybe in the US? I think it would be really inconsistent with the rest of the show and I'd bet money it's not gonna happen!

    Although she did take the easy way out regarding morality/meat eating so… I wouldn't bet that much 😉

  11. I'm not so sure she took the easy way on the Porkbowl thing so much as said, "If there's one good answer here, I haven't found it yet. Good luck."

  12. Y

    I'd have to re-watch the episodes to check if I'm wrong but… To me it felt more like: "It's a tricky question, but hey… We can't help it and bacon is so tasty! So let's stop thinking about it and stuff ourselves."

    At the end of they day, there are only 2 possible answers: you eat Porkbowl or you don't. To me, it felt like she was framing the situation as if it were an inevitable fact of life, absolving all viewers of what really is a personal choice through her main character.

    But hey… I'm vegan and I don't think it's possible to justify speciesism, so I guess I couldn't be happy unless Hachiken went vegetarian. And we all know this show would never be on TV if that happened 😉

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