Silver Spoon Volumes 3-4
As suited for a series about farm life, Hiromu Arakawa is structuring these stories around the seasons, and they’re quite lengthy and substantial. The 19-part “Tale of Summer” began in volume 2, continues through volume 3, and concludes in volume 4 (which also starts up the “Tale of Autumn”).
Summer is the season where Hachiken first engages in nothing but farm work, with a temporary job at his friend Mikage’s family farm during school vacation. He learns how important attention to detail can be, but he also learns how wonderful food straight from the fields or knife is. It helps that Arakawa makes everything either cute or yummy-looking. And that the farmers, as Hachiken ponders, “when they get something good to eat, they drop all their work and end up throwing a little party”. They not only enjoy delicious food, they enjoy sharing it with others.
What I enjoy about this series is how familiar the situations are — Hachiken sees a calf born or has a visit from his brother — but how fresh the twists are that Arakawa puts on them. Hachiken envies his classmates for having their own dreams; he doesn’t, so in the meantime, he replaces that drive with hard work. He’s also learning that no dream maybe isn’t as bad as following the wrong dream.
Particularly insightful is the history of the older brother and what it shows about Hachiken’s family. We knew he wound up at an agricultural school because his level of academic achievement wasn’t good enough to please his demanding father, but finding out that his brother made it into the big-name school, only to quit, backs up Hachiken. He wasn’t the only one reacting to the pressure and wanting to show up dad. That the brother is inspired by trying to make the best possible ramen is another twist on the importance of food and flavor; that he may not have the capability to live out his dream, a funny and clever point of realism.
Hachiken also has to battle his city boy impulses of naming cute animals. The piglet he tagged “Pork Bowl” is now a full-grown pig, ready to be slaughtered for food. Although they helped raise him, he’s not a pet, and Hachiken has to come to terms with it. As typical, he comes up with an unexpected way to handle his feelings for the pig.
Which brings us to volume 4, where Hachiken learns a variety of different things you can do with pork. The focus here is on homemade bacon, which comes together so well that everyone is bartering for it. That provides a nice practical underline to the more philosophical questions of how humans relate to animals raised for food.
Hachiken is also recognized for his trustworthiness and honesty. It’s not always a good thing, as he gets tagged for not being able to say no, but compared to many of these kids who’ve grown up on farms, his vision is fresh. That quality has led him into many of the wonderful (and wonderful to read) experiences he’s had so far.