One of the more intelligently written and sincere works of the past few years makes its way to home video here. Shame that it did not get the presentation it deserved.
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
There is only a single audio option, a 2-channel uncompressed Linear PCM 48 kHz 1.5 Mbps Japanese track. The uncompressed audio does not make too much difference, since the show is mainly dialogue, giving plenty of work for the center speaker and not much at all for the rear ones. While some ambient sounds and the opening and ending music tracks do get decoded to provide a fuller sound, most of the audio never leaves center stage. There were no noticeable dropouts or distortions during playback.
Originally airing in 2013, the show is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for anamorphic playback. As far as DVD-video being played on a high definition television, this is only okay at best. In some of the opening episodes and especially in the opening and ending animations, there were times when the video looked “soft.” While many US releases are considered to be marred by edge sharpening and other manipulation (which often do have bad effects), some Japanese releases on DVD in the past have suffered from the opposite problem of being too soft, resulting in a slight blurring of fine detail both when viewed up close and from a distance. We seem to have some traces of that come up here, though it is variable: some episodes are relatively pristine for upscaled video. One thing is clear: a high definition release (which occurred in Japan) would likely have removed any and all such problems, but…we don’t get one. In addition to the occasional blurring, there are also compression artifacts present in many places, with noise popping up, especially in some backgrounds (shots of the sky seem to suffer more than most) and with areas that have less fine detail to them. For all of the extra potential space from being divided into three discs and bearing only a single audio track, there is no real gain in video quality over DVD releases from other US distributors, even those who cram 6 or more episodes on a single disc.
The packaging, for a release that comes at such a premium price, is rather disappointing. A rather plain three-disc case the width of a standard DVD keepcase, employing a central flippy hinge to hold the first two discs, with the third held on the back of the case. The front image is of Yugo Hachiken, the protagonist, being pulled away by a runaway calf. The back cover shows part of the Oezo Agricultural High School’s farm campus with the diminutive figure of the Principal, all sitting above the catalog copy and technical grids. The cover art has a reverse side, but one could hardly categorize this as a reversible cover, since it is just a plain background image of a forest, beneath which the staff and cast credits (on the left-hand side) and the episode titles (on the right-hand side) are printed. The discs themselves feature artwork of the farm animals, a cow, some piglets, and a couple of chickens, respectively. For the price, most other domestic distributors would have provided multiple cases housed in a chipboard artbox and perhaps some kind of physical or on disc extras. While this is better from the space-saving perspective, it’s hardly worthy of collector’s edition pricing.
Following Japanese standard operating procedure, the menu only appears after you have watched all of the episodes on the disc (as with Japanese domestic releases, the discs default to playing the first episode; you can, of course, hit the Menu button during playback to get to the menu). The menus for each disc feature a single large image from the show, with the choices (what few there are on discs 2 and 3) ranged along the bottom, with a background music loop for the main selection screen only. The music stops when you make a selection and go to a subset of choices. One nice thing here, which has disappeared a bit from many usual US releases, is a Chapter menu where one can choose to start a show from a specific chapter break in the episode. Load times are very quick and the menu does what it needs to do.
Very little in the way of extras. The first disc has all of the extras, which include the textless versions of the opening and ending animations, some trailers and the Japanese television commercials for the Japanese home video release. The second and third discs have no extras.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the ongoing manga by Hiromu Arakawa (perhaps best known to anime fans as the creator of Fullmetal Alchemist), which started in 2011 and has reached eleven volumes now, Silver Spoon has had a two-season anime adaptation (so far) with the animation produced by A-1 Pictures. The first season, presented here in this release, was directed by Tomohiko Ito (Sword Art Online), with series composition and scripts overseen by Taku Kishimoto (who did the same for Bunny Drop and is currently in charge of writing for Haikyu!!). For fans of Ms. Arakawa’s previous blockbuster work, this…is something of a change, one deliberately sought by the author. While some of the character designs do have a touch of familiarity (it should come as no surprise that manga authors will have their favored appearances for certain stock types of characters), the setting and tone of this work could not be more different, with only a tangential link in that both are, in their way, coming of age stories.
Yugo Hachiken is a fish out of water: the second son of a salaryman from Sapporo, instead of following his elder brother’s footsteps into an elite high school in the city and then onwards to a prestigious university (his elder brother managed to win a place at Toudai), Hachiken (hardly anyone refers to him by his given name Yugo) has decided to run away to a high school that specializes in training future farmers, the Oezo Agricultural High School, also in Hokkaido. The school was recommended to him by a teacher at his middle school when Hachiken asked for somewhere that would be far away from his family, with whom he appears to have a strained relationship, especially with his father. At Ezono, as the school is often called in shorthand, Hachiken at first sticks out quite considerably, but over time he finds friends and a place for himself as the freshman class’s best overall student (though he can’t seem to place first in any specific subject, owing to the skewed knowledge of his farming-family peers, who are experts in one or another subject but not in all of them), and as a member of the Equestrian Club, which he was drawn to because of a female classmate, Aki Mikage.
Where the divide between Hachiken and his classmates is sharpest, however, is in their attitudes towards animals. Like many a city dweller, Hachiken thinks of animals mainly in two categories: pets which you keep close to you and treat as if they are family members and wild animals which you rarely see and should leave alone. Farm livestock, the animals which he mainly deals with in school as he is enrolled in the Dairy Science course of studies, is neither of these. They are not pets nor are they wild animals. They are animals which humans interact with daily, treat humanely to a certain degree and then…kill for their meat. The other students, almost all children from farming families used to the seeming contradiction between raising and caring for an animal and then coldly sending it off to be butchered for food, do not think twice about the situation, but Hachiken becomes deeply conflicted.
Ms. Arakawa offers no easy answers or soothing mantras for the audience. Hachiken simply cannot resolve his personal discomfort at bringing life into the world only to take it to turn into food, squaring it against the fact that meat…is really tasty. When he boldly proclaims that he’ll become a vegetarian at one point, all that’s needed to destroy his resolve is a little barbecued beef. It’s this kind of shying away from simplistic solutions that gives the work the complexity that makes you, the audience, think about the moral dilemma as well. The work is not an animal rights tract, as it is clearly shown again and again that people enjoy eating meat. In fact, Hachiken himself had never even given the slightest thought to the subject until he came to Ezono and met his first farm animal.
If there is a fault that could be laid at Ms. Arakawa’s door, it is perhaps that Hachiken is perhaps portrayed as being too idealistic at times. If it wasn’t for the basic nature of the show, which is more than anything else a screwball comedy that relies heavily on quick sight gags and slapstick visual jokes, it’s entirely possible that Hachiken could come off as too shrill. Fortunately, he never reaches the zone of self-righteousness, which many too-idealistic characters enter if their creators lack the ability to convey subtlety and nuance in their writing. Ms. Arakawa has the ability to be subtle and clever and skillfully guides Hachiken away from that sadly too-well-worn path that many other characters go down. Hachiken does not present himself as “the one who has the answers.” He’s just another questioner, who has no better idea of what is right and what isn’t than those who have less uncertainty around the issue. He’s also something of a busybody, but again, the author manages to pull him back from becoming annoying in his interventions in other people’s affairs.
The clash between his naivete and idealism and the realities of farming animals for food comes to a head in the major plot arc for the end of the season: Hachiken decides to name one of the cute piglets that are being raised to be turned into bacon and other delicious pork products in just a few months’ time. Pork Bowl (he was advised against giving the animal a “pet’s” name, so that the eventual separation would be less emotionally draining) is the runt of the litter of piglets, so Hachiken works beyond his normal farm duties to try to fatten him up. While everyone else advises him not to get close to the animals, he can’t help himself from treating Pork Bowl like a pet at times, going so far as to offer to buy him with the money he made over summer break in a part-time job. While it sounds like his idealism has gotten the better of him and made for an unrealistic ending, that is not what the future holds. A much more mature and complex resolution, which shows that Hachiken has grown a little, even if he still has unresolved emotions about the whole situation, is presented to us.
Overall, the writing is the real strong suit to the show. With that little caveat about Hachiken perhaps being a touch too idealistic, the characters all present a good level of realism to their actions, motivations, and emotions even if they are also stock stereotypes in an anime comedy. It is fairly easy to come to like these characters and care about their struggles. The show also does not shy away from the tougher issues, not just the ethics of eating meat but also the problems faced by the farming sector as a whole, since the old-fashioned methods of human labor are increasingly unprofitable in the face of industrialized farming. One should not, however, mistake this for being a hard-headed and factual investigation into farming today, as many parts do clearly romanticize life on the farm while at the same time poking at the ignorance of city and suburban folk by reveling in the occasional bit of shock value that can be had from showing the origins of foods most of us take for granted.
The animation is fairly good, but can vary a bit. There are times when it seemed like the animals received much more detailed designs and care in their artwork than the human characters. The music is a mixed lot as well. The opening theme “Kiss you” by miwa is a cute and sweet number, while ending theme “Hello Especially” by Sukima Switch is a very relaxed tune with a slightly rural twang to it. The background music is on the whole unremarkable.
This is a show I highly recommend, though it is hard to recommend this specific release as we are clearly being shortchanged by not getting a high definition presentation. I thoroughly understand the decisions made by Aniplex in this regard, but feel that this is a shame, that a real quality show got passed over for blu-ray while shows that may indeed be quite popular, but far lower in merit, are getting a high definition release. At the least, a barebones offering such as this should be offered at a slightly more reasonable price, but I have no expectations whatsoever in that regard from them. A pity.
Good shows make you happy that you watched them. Great shows make you happy that they were made. Silver Spoon is a candidate for the latter category. While on the surface a largely silly fish-out-of-water comedy about a city slicker who gets a rude awakening when exposed to the realities of farm life, once you get beneath that surface you can see a very mature and humane treatment of vexing issues, such as the ethics of eating meat and the damage that the modern market-driven world is doing to the traditional life of farmers using old-fashioned methods. There are no easy answers given and the show leads you more to think further on the issues yourself. Hachiken’s journey of self-discovery is not just that of an individual with isolated problems, but one that raises questions for us all. Is it right to raise living creatures only for slaughter and our dinner plates? We’ll have to leave that one for the philosophers. For now, there’s a delicious pork bowl waiting to be eaten.
Japanese 2.0 audio, 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 KDL-32S5100 32-Inch 1080p LCD HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Sony Bravia DAV-HDX589W 5.1-Channel Theater System connected via digital optical cable.