Did you know that Hiromu Arakawa, the creator of the beloved Fullmetal Alchemist manga, hails from a farming background? That’s right: Mrs. Arakawa was born and raised on a dairy farm, so it doesn’t take long to guess what inspired her ongoing Silver Spoon manga. Beginning in 2011, Silver Spoon certainly took its sweet time crossing the Atlantic — even A-1 Pictures’ anime adaption made it over four years ago courtesy of Aniplex — but finally, finally, Yen Press answered our prayers and localized Arakawa’s award-winning slice-of-life manga. Question is, does it live up to the expectations set up by Fullmetal Alchemist?
In a word, yes, but comparing the two would be silly; after all, both are entirely different genres, and so we must judge Silver Spoon on its own merits (that, and it’s kinda impossible on my part since I’ve *gasp!* barely read Fullmetal Alchemist in the first place, a mistake I plan to rectify with Viz’s Fullmetal Edition release this Spring). Our first volume introduces us to Yugo Hachiken, an aimless freshman who begins his first year of Ooezo Agricultural High School. Lacking any ambitions or dreams for the future, he assumes rising to the top of a rural dormitory will be a walk in the park, but quickly discovers that’s not the case: testing on agriculture requires experience and not just hitting the books, marathons take place upon the largest campus within Japan, and befriending livestock will only lead to heartbreak (as he learns with Porkbowl the unfortunate piglet).
It goes without saying Silver Spoon‘s a fish-out-of-water setting framed within a coming-of-life story, and its success stems from Hachiken’s struggles in understanding this new environment. Despite his motives, Hachiken isn’t necessarily arrogant or believes he’s above his new classmates; he’s just desperate for escape, and wrongly assumes he’s taking the easy way out. The brief glimpses we catch of his origins are telling — in one poignant page, a text from his mom is coldly dismissed — and his academic background makes him believe the students of Ooezo have it easy with farm life. As his newfound crush Aki Mikage states, he’s ultimately a good person — would an academic snob be the type of person who can’t say no to those in need? — but his misjudgments and errors arise from his lack of purpose.
The supporting cast also flourishes in how they interact with Hachiken, be they reflecting his fears or challenging his naivete. You have the aspiring vet who warns Hachiken that knowing how to make a dream come true doesn’t mean it’ll happen, the Equestrian Club advisor who instructs the Quid pro pro values of horses (and subtly threatens Hachiken in the process), or the dairy science teacher’s cautioning of not ending up like piglet runts who’re satisfied with disadvantageous (and likely fatal) routines. The most engaging is Komaba, Mikage’s level-headed childhood friend, whose sober commentary on the fate of livestock — hens being culled for not producing eggs or failing race horses ending up as meat — strikes a little too close to home for our protagonist to the point where they have a heated confrontation (could it be he thinks a similar destiny awaits if he doesn’t earn perfect scores?).
Of course, Arakawa’s penchant for visual comedy persists, and what better example than her character designs? Be it the egg-shaped Tamako, the Buddha-esque Equestrian Club advisor, and the adorably diminutive principal who can strike fear into the hearts of man, Silver Spoon sets a wonderful balance in its drama and comedy. The cast’s quirky antics may be Hachiken’s biggest obstacle in appreciating agriculture, mainly the cow-obsessed Holstein Club that kidnaps prospective first-years to join their cult. We also learn via chickens that, yes, there is indeed a difference between the anus and the cloaca, but I’ll leave that for you to discover.
Speaking of comedy, Arakawa further shows her comical chops in some bonus comics at the end, the best one involving a morbid “what if?” take on Hachiken’s calf rescue. Meanwhile, Yen-Press’s localization is on-point: with much of the cast being teens, the dialogue is appropriately modern while conserving the Japanese honorifics, and the original sound effects are preserved as is, accompanied by tiny, non-intrusive translations (both phonetic and contextual). Any unfamiliar terms to the English reader are provided with a helpful Translator’s Notes guide at the end, right down to explaining a reference regarding the discarded Colonel Sanders statue. About the only nitpick I’d have is the occasional awkward centering of text, but, well, it’s hardly noticeable in the grand scheme of things.
Hachiken’s entry into Ooezo High is anything but smooth, and yet, Silver Spoon‘s storytelling is exactly that. The characters are endearing in spite of their flaws, the comedic hijinks always produce a laugh, and Arakawa’s artwork is never not pleasant to look at. With a bimonthly release schedule, my only fear is Arakawa won’t lift her hiatus in time for the inevitable drought, but finally having the series localized and in my hands is enough to dispel any distant qualms.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
This review was based on a retail copy.