I’m running out of superlatives to lavish on Gin no Saji after the latest episode. This three-episode run is, quite simply, about as good as any series telling this sort of story could possibly be – effectively note-perfect. I confess I took this show for granted to a certain extent – never stopped loving it, but when it was at its most episodic it was easy to forget just how hard it is to make it look so easy. There’s no danger of that now though, now that the story has transitioned into much weightier material and done so with such brilliance.
Gin no Saji is really an object lesson in why characters should drive plots, and not the other way around. There’s simply no way to generate this kind of buy-in unless you come to know the characters in their everyday lives, and can watch the progression of their lives follow its natural course like a river – with switchbacks, slow and languid stretches, and turbulent rapids. In a medium where high-school settings are often used strictly as an excuse for inane comedy and inept romance, Silver Spoon shows us why teenagers make such powerful subjects for storytelling. There’s nothing like people in transition to drive a dynamic plot, and no stage in life is more transitional than adolescence. This is a coming-of-age story in the truest sense of the word, and it rings truer than life in the way only really good fiction can.
I like the fact that this episode didn’t jump right back into the situation where we left it last week – with Aki having just confessed her desire not to take over the ranch from her parents – but rather let us see the aftermath of that moment first. One of the first things we see, in fact, is Aki asking Komaba if he wants to take over the Mikage ranch – an act heavy with implications. Perhaps Aki is doing this as a way to assuage her own conscience, to try and soften the blow she’s delivered to her parents. Komaba refuses on the grounds that it would be wrong for him to waltz in and take over just like that, and besides – he wants his own ranch. But is there also a part of him that realizes Aki is asking the question for her own benefit, and not that of either the business or himself?
In point of fact, we soon see that Aki now plans to go to university to pursue her dream – which is a problem because she’s already said this season that her grades weren’t very good. This of course is a perfect setup for Hachiken to intervene – it’s his area of specialty, he can’t say no generally, and he’s in love with Aki. What’s happened between Hachiken and Aki has progressed so naturally that there’s no suspension of disbelief required to accept seeing them together now. She may still be resisting the idea of formally “dating” him (much to the disgust of their friends of both genders) but they’ve developed a bond of trust and support that seems to make that development inevitable. It might be argued that most of the support has come from Hachiken’s side (and there’s a very funny joke inspired by her willingness to reciprocate) but I think that’s a function of where each of them is in their lives at the moment. When the time comes, Aki will be there for Hachi-kun.
So off we go, with Yuugo tutoring Aki – whose grades are bad, though not as bad as Tokiwa’s. Hachiken is resolutely competent and knowledgeable, pushing her towards Japanese History as her best best to pass the entrance exam, and overcoming her resistance by the clever tactic of teaching her history via great events in horsemanship (starting with the doomed Taira Clan). We can see how serious Hachi is about this when he actually refuses a request from a sempai to be on a committee establishing pizza-baking as a school tradition – a student who came in with the assumption that Hachiken was a “yes-man”. This is actually a watershed moment for his character, a time when he actually said no – and to a senior no less. It leads to a hilarious response from the sempai and a funny-sad appearance by Pork Bowl (I love how the humor is seamlessly layered in with the drama in this series) and it planted the seed in my mind that would bear fruit later in the episode (though earlier in real-time).
As I mentioned last week, even as the focus has been on Komaba and Aki, in the long game these developments are most important for how they cause Yuugo’s character to develop. We see it in his refusal of the teacher; we see it in his willingness to swallow his pride and ask his brother (who as you recall got into Todai, the most prestigious university in Japan) for ideas on helping Aki get into college. And when Shingo tells him all his notebooks are “somewhere at home”, we see Hachiken facing one of his greatest demons – going home to find those notebooks, and facing his parents. You could argue that Hachiken is doing these things because he’s a teenager in love, but in the end I think it hardly matters – he’s doing things that are hard for him because he’s trying to be a better man. Who cares why as long as he’s doing it for that purpose?
It’s as Hacihken sits on the train platform waiting for the express (three hours) back to Sapporo, at 6:40 AM and with a box of O-miyage (
though not the men’s bath yogurt from Tokiwa correction – Tokiwa snuck it into the box) from his friends on his lap, that he thinks back to what took place at the Mikage house after we left it. And this is perfectly framed, in my opinion, because it shows us the connection between what Hachiken is doing for Aki and his own life choices. The conversation – the ratio of love and hurt to anger is too high to call it an argument – is so believable, so honest, so genuine. There’s shock, especially from the mother and grandmother. The father is clearly less shocked (it turns out he overheard Aki confess her conflicted feelings to Hachiken over the summer), and more willing to listen. When Mom moans about how sudden all this is, Hachiken steps up and says that it’s not sudden – Aki has been saying this for a long time, even if not with words. “Can you notice her more?” he asks softly, and a more heartfelt request on behalf of a friend could hardly be imagined.
Aki’s father berates Hachi for speaking when he’d been told not to, but he’s clearly far more intent when he tells his daughter that it’s “not fair” to let someone else speak for her – she should be the one to tell her family how she feels. She asks her Uncle if she can work at the Ban’ei racing stables with him, and his reaction is exactly the right one – he’s concerned that basing her future on an industry barely surviving is a bad bet. His challenge – he’ll give her a job but only if she gets a degree. The family is well aware of her academic limitations, and mince no words to that effect (“It’s pretty much a given that she’ll fail” says Grandma) – mulling over the possible options for a farm school girl with mediocre grades.
When Hachiken offers to “take responsibility” the family predictably misunderstands (though with quite different results), but in truth he means he’ll get Aki into college, one way or the other. She protests – what about worrying for his own future? His response is classic Hachiken – he doesn’t even know what he wants to do, so it’s fine. But here’s where that seed from earlier bears fruit for me, because it seems that Hachiken is most passionate about helping other people. It seems to me that he’d make a fantastic teacher – and there are much worse dreams to have than that one. But even if his dreams eventually take him in another direction, it’s obvious that in helping Aki – and all the people he’s helped – Hachiken is learning a great deal about himself.
My word, that – all of it – is just so true. It’s so real, so honest, so plain and unpretentious. It should be cliche, a story about farm people being so grounded in simple and honest values and struggles – but it’s not, it’s just brilliant. This show, as I’ve said before, is like the antidote to all the too-clever irony and degrading sexual humor and posturing pseudo-intellectualism that’s so prevalent in anime (and not just anime). It’s (ironically, for a farm series) a fresh, clean breeze that blows in and clears the stench of all of that from the room. This will never be the series that sells the most Blu-rays or garners the most discussion, but it may just be the one that does the most to enlighten and ennoble the human experience.