Review: ‘Silver Spoon’ Vol. 1

Silver Spoon Vol. 1 Writer/artist: Hiromu Arakawa Yen Press; $15 Rated T for Teen Phenomenal success can present difficult challenges. For example, say you created a manga series that ran for nine years, filled 27 collected volumes and was adapted into a pair of television shows, two feature-length animated films, a live-action film, a handful […]

Silver Spoon vol 1 header

Silver Spoon Vol. 1
Writer/artist: Hiromu Arakawa
Yen Press; $15
Rated T for Teen

Phenomenal success can present difficult challenges. For example, say you created a manga series that ran for nine years, filled 27 collected volumes and was adapted into a pair of television shows, two feature-length animated films, a live-action film, a handful of prose novels, video games, and God knows how much merchandise. What do you follow that with?

Silver Spoon vol 1That was the challenge facing Hiromu Arakawa after the completion of her Fullmetal Alchemist manga, and she answered it by doing something completely different for her next comic: Silver Spoon, a pefectly grounded, alchemy-free dramedy set at Ooezo Agricultural High School in modern-day Japan. (In a nod to her previous series, the school’s phys ed teacher appears to be played by Fullmetal Alchemist‘s handlebar-mustachioed strongman, Major Armstrong.)

The lead character is Yuugo Hachiken, who doesn’t seem to belong at Ezo Ag at all. In fact, that seems to be why he’s there. A relentlessly driven student who failed the entrance exam to get into his top choice of a school, he decides to enroll at the agricultural school far, far from his urban home and his family, whom he is not exactly on good terms with. Arakawa plays Hachiken’s presence at the school as something of a mystery, and by the end of the first volume, his precise motivations and what is going on with his family are still being gradually teased out.

Given his past academic success and the fact that he is attending a mere vocational school, he has high hopes of becoming the school’s top student, but he quickly discovers that it takes a lot more than book smarts to master the coursework, which involves a lot of physical labor, dealing with animals, mandatory sports club participation, and a completely different way of life. And, of course, while he initially looks down on many of his new peers for the fact that they are mostly going to grow up to take over family farms, he finds himself envious of the fact that almost everyone around him has a dream and a direction in life, while he’s the only one at the vocational school without a vocation.

Those conflicts provide an emotional core, of course, but this is hardly a manga about teenage existential angst. Arakawa uses Hachiken’s outsider status to make him a POV character for readers, who can learn a bit about the care of farm animals and other agricultural issues along with him, and the source of fish-out-of-water comedy antics, as he is the lone city mouse in a huge campus filled with country mice.

It’s really quite a change from Fullmetal Alchemist in almost every conceivable way. That said, what the two works have in common is Arakawa’s superior character designs. The rendering style will likely be familiar to readers of her previous work, but the characters themselves are all individually conceived and drawn, and all of them pop with a palpable and distinct vitality. Among the faculty, the designs can be particularly broad, and the strongest visual gags can be the first appearances and then riffs on their unusual appearances, including the equestrian teacher who looks like the Buddha and the tiny, elf-like school principal.

As for the title, I initially assumed it referred to Hachiken’s probably privileged, well-off upbringing, but there are a few panels early on where the characters notice a silver spoon in a case mounted alongside a sign reading “Cafeteria.” Hachiken notes it, but is too distracted by his ravenous hunger to dwell on it at the time. I imagine that will be explained in future volumes, of which there should be many. This first volume contains the first eight chapters, and over 120 chapters have been published so far. Volume 2 was just released in April, and volume 3 is scheduled for a June release.

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