What They Say:
The only reason why Yugo Hachiken decided to attend the Oezo Agricultural High School (a.k.a Ezono) was simply because the school had a dormitory. Entering Ezono was a way for Yugo to run away from the stifling academic pressures in the city, however, it didn’t take long for him to realize that life is not that simple.
Yugo is soon forced to face more hurdles in his new environment surrounded by all the farm animals and the magnificent Mother Nature. He also begins feeling a different kind of pressure as he deals with his classmates who, unlike him, all have a clear view of what they want for their futures.
Even so, as Yugo overcomes one challenge after another at Ezono and deepens his bonds with his classmates, he begins to grow stronger both physically and mentally. This is a coming-of-age story filled with sweat, tears, and literally a lot of dirt!
Contains episodes 1-11
The audio presentation for this release is pretty strong overall even if the material itself is weak as we get the original Japanese language track only in stereo but encoded using the uncompressed PCM format. This means its pretty much the best it can be and it sounds good, even if it is mostly just dialogue with a few comical touches here and there that goes bigger. The dialogue is pretty well placed when necessary but mostly it’s a full feeling mix that comes across well while the opening and closing sequences adds a bit more warmth and fullness to it all. The incidental sounds are nice and it all has a more full feeling than a lot of other lower encoded mixes of a similar nature. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2013, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The eleven episodes that makes up this series is spread across three discs in a three/four/four format that gives everything enough space to work with. Animated by A-1 Pictures, the show has a great look to it here even at the generally middle range bit rate it uses as it’s full of bright colors with a largely solid feeling to it. You can see that there’s a lot of good detail to it that would stand out more in high definition, but it’s a decent looking standard definition that captures the look of the show well. It’s biggest strength is in the good looking character designs and the overall naturally bright approach to the backgrounds and the animals that gives it a lot of pop.
The packaging for this release is pretty decent and it does use imagery that you really don’t see in general with anime releases. The front cover gives us a cute image of Hachiken being pulled along by the baby calf that’s moving right along, which shows his whole fish out of water aspect in the farm setting that we get here with the bright colors and all the greenery. The back cover is the wraparound piece that has more of the school grounds showing there, reinforcing the agricultural aspect, and we get a cute show of the adorable principal that runs the place as well. The premise is well covered along the bottom half here with it covering the idea of what Hachiken is there for and we get a solid breakdown of the content and basic technical aspects as well. The technical grid has some of it as well. The cover has some mild background artwork on the reverse side with the right side featuring a breakdown of episodes by number and title. No show related inserts are included.
The menu design for this release goes with a simple approach that certainly fits in with the various pieces of artwork used for the original run across the three volumes. The first menu is my favorite of them though as it basically takes the front cover artwork of the release and plays it out in full, which is bright and more vibrant here than on the case artwork itself. Getting it across a larger screen shows some of the noise and issues that comes with a standard definition release, but it still has a decent look about it. The navigation goes for a natural wood kind of piece that fits in with the theme of the show as it provides the basic selections while also allowing subtitles to be turned off and on from the top level. Submenus are minimal overall but are easily accessible and they work without problem.
The release comes with a few extras to it but not all that much beyond the basics. The clean versions of the opening and closing sequences make their way here, which is always welcome, and we get the original Japanese commercial spots as well as a few trailers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Hiromu Arakawa, which began in 2011 in Weekly Shonen Sunday and has over eleven volumes as of this writing, Silver Spoon is a two season anime series animated by A-1 Pictures. This collection brings the first season that came out in 2013 and it’s definitely that kind of non-standard but familiar series that you would expect from a polished storyteller. Arakawa is, of course, known for her work on Fullmetal Alchemist that ran for ten years. After the completion of that series, she wanted to move away from the fantasy-ish genre and into something more normal, which she felt was more of a challenge. Silver Spoon certainly fits into that category, and with her coming from Hokkaido and rural areas like this, you can see her drawing from the world around her but applying a different kind of approach based on all the work she’s done before.
The series revolves around Yugo Hachiken, a new first year high school student that has ended up at the Oezo Agricultural High School. Hachiken ended up there after dealing with all sorts of struggles at home in Sapporo where he has had such issues with figuring out his future because of the way his parents have raised him. There’s some deep seated resentment issues going on here because of their strictness and approach that he really wants nothing to do with them. So while he doesn’t know what he wants to do with his future, he knows he doesn’t want to stay in Sapporo where they are. So he ended up, through the suggestion of a teacher at his middle school, at the Oezo school since he can stay in the dormitory there throughout the year and it can provide the kind of challenges that he needs to figure himself out. It’s an out of the box kind of thinking, particularly for a smart Japanese kind that’s without direction, because it’s a far more physical and nature oriented education alongside all the other aspects they learn. While Hachiken figures he can focus on his college entrance exams, it proves to be the farthest thing from the truth because these kids get worked hard across every quadrant.
With Hachiken as our focus, we get to see his initial struggles in understanding how the school works, the kind of intense natures that some of the students have because most coming from farming households/family businesses and the general nature of how they’re very physically focused. While there are plenty of chores to be done just in being a student that starts early in the day – it is essentially a farm business, they also have to participate in some sort of athletic-ish club. Komaba is all about baseball and has goals of being in the nationals to go pro so that he can take the money there and pour it into the family business. Mikage is all about the equestrian club since she deals with horses back at home so there’s a lot of riding going on there. Hachiken gets a bit of a crush on Mikage since she’s the typical nice girl that’s appealing and he ends up joining that club in order to get closer to her. He gets closer to mucking the stalls more than anything else for awhile though…
The supporting cast is decent and there’s two tiers of them which helps to keep it feel like a decent school with some real characters in it, even if they are archetypes. But they present different reasons why people go to Agricultural schools like this and that helps explain things to Hachiken – and the viewer – as to why these things go on. There’s an interesting sort of disconnect that gets presented as we see Hachiken exposed to the realities of farming, from breach birthed cows, beheaded chickens and other things that “normal” people consider unsavory. The exploration of deeper things such as how efficiently run some places are run and the inhumane aspects to some are covered as well. Hachiken takes it in, has his issues with and does what he can to grapple with it and in some ways he provides a little bit of a counter to these kids who have never been challenged with it. They skirt alongside the edges of ethical debates and touch on them, though they lean more toward the not surprising idea that “the way we do it is the right way” and that’s about it. But just presenting the debate – in a show that’s exposed to your young city dweller types and people all over the world through the simulcasts – is a useful endeavor for opening some minds and eyes.
There’s a lot of material in these eleven episodes that works down that path, a lot of it focusing on the pig that Hachiken names Pork Bowl and his uncomfortable relationship with something so cute becoming his food, but it also plays to a lot of other familiar school angles. It does it without some of the usual tropes in a way since it’s a very different school, but we have the kids sneaking out, the dormitory experience itself, some of the sports angles and the teaching aspects as well. I liked that the teacher that nudged Hachiken there does check up on him halfway through and sits with the principal and talks to him about it where they realize that not only has it been good for Hachiken but it’s also been good for the other kids to to bring someone like him here. It’s not a one sided experience but it’s also a bit of a nuanced experience.
The best is just watching Hachiken experience all of this as his worldview is changed slowly but surely but also getting more insights into his family life back home, which is what he was running away from to begin with. The good side is that we get his internal dialogue and minor flashback bits so that helps to provide some context. The downside is that they also do part of it through bringing his brother into play, who is a complicated piece himself that is played more for laughs while dropping some important emotional nudges Hachiken’s way as he weaves in and out of his life. This makes for some good stuff to be revealed, but it just feels forced and his brother ends up more of a caricature than a character. It’s also good that we get a few scenes with Hachiken’s parents by themselves back home and that helps to provide a little more context, but you can’t help but to feel that it’s likely one sided.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this series since we’ve seen the general idea in a few live action properties over the years. The fish out of water storyline is one that works well but within the anime world we’ve not had anything that goes this particular path before. The end result, through the detail and efforts of the original work and the skilled adaptation by A-1 Pictures and the team here, is one that really hits the right notes. It’s charming, engaging, fun, heartwarming and saddening – sometimes all at the same time. Hachiken is admittedly a standard character, we get the romance from afar started up and there’s plenty of standard school material colored through the different type of school that we have. But all of that combined with the other arc involving Pork Bowl and what that means as part of Hachiken’s growth helps to make it something far more engaging.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Textless Openings, Textless Ending, Commercial, Trailers
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: July 15th, 2014
Running Time: 275 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.