After lingering over in Japan for so long, Hiromu Arakawa, creator of Fullmetal Alchemist, finally had their latest series brought to North America this year. It’s time to check out Silver Spoon and see what it is all about. Is it good?
Frustrated with how his life has been going and wanting to break away from things, Yuugo Hachiken decides to enroll himself at Ooezo Agricultural High School, joining the Dairy Science Program. Being such a top student in his previous grades, Hachiken finds himself out of his depth in a school focused more around physical activity and with a deep focus on farms and animals. However, despite the intense hours and hard physical labor, he’s not going to quit that easily. Perhaps, in the end, Ooezo will be exactly what he needed in his life.
When it came to Silver Spoon, I was pretty excited that it finally got licensed back in 2017. I did like Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist in manga form and I do enjoy interesting setups for old concepts, like a fish-out-of-water story focusing heavily around agriculture and getting into its gritty details. I finally got a chance to read it, Silver Spoon has turned out to be one of the better grounded slice-of-life stories out there on the market. It boasts wonderful and interesting characters, an easy to understand look, a real world subject for newcomers that isn’t made dry or dull to read, and a great sense of humor that made me constantly smile and chuckle.
Describing Silver Spoon’s first volume simply, it’s a perfect introduction for almost all kinds of readers. People who love character-focused narratives or slice-of-life tales will greatly enjoy the stellar work here. People who like a high school drama will like the unique setting and vibrant characters. Those liking comedy will laugh plenty of times here as well. Even people who are interested or don’t know much about the subject matter will find plenty to learn about in a way that’s not overly complicated, but that never talks down to them. The only people who may not be interested are non-fans of the genre or those looking for a more narrative-focus experience. Like all slice-of-life, it’s about the characters and their personal journeys more than something bigger in life happening around them.
On that note, the characters are really good here. Everyone is established and thought out well enough for a first volume, making each person instantly distinct and unique. Most of them don’t have a lot of depth at this point mind you, but each one is developed enough to be distinguished from the rest. For instance there’s Keiji Tokiwa, who doesn’t have much, but you’ll remember him easily due to his terrible math skills. Then there’s people like Tamako Inada and Equestrian Club Advisor Nakajima, recognizable for their unique physiques and serious air about them. There are also characters like Shinnosuke Aikawa and Ichirou Komaba, who both have a bit more going on in their lives that says they’ll have a lot of development later down the line.
The only character who doesn’t really stand out much at this point that does get a lot of panel time is Aki Mikage, who seems to be the biggest female character in the series. She’s just portrayed as being nice and helpful, seeming to understand that Yuugo has a lot more going on in his life then most people might guess. There’s not much else there, but that could easily change as the series goes on.
The true standout of the cast is Yuugo Hachiken. The fish-out-of-water, Hachiken is a newcomer to the world of farms and agriculture, having lived in the city all his life and been more of a bookworm who spent most of his time studying. There’s the implication that there’s a lot going on in his life currently, choosing to leave everything behind and wanting to get away from his family, from the brief flashback of talking to his old homeroom teacher to ignoring a text from his mom. Given his lack of dreams or vision for the future, you can’t help but wonder what got him to this point and what he is really running from. It makes him a pretty human character in a way, one that I think younger audiences will relate to a lot.
But more than that, he’s also funny and enjoyable to read about. As previously stated, he’s completely out of his depth in this new environment, having no experience at all with farms, cattle, or any of the work that comes from them. Watching him react to and deal with every new challenge that comes his way, from waking up early to discovering where eggs come from, results in some great moments and also feels relatable in a way. After all, you could end up feeling or reacting similarly if you were in his shoes. A very interesting character who is relatable, funny, and grounded, Hachiken is fantastic main character for a series like this.
Beyond the characterization, this book also really succeeds in its humor and content. The whole story is a dive into the world of agriculture, introducing the subject matter in a way that’s very easy to understand and enjoy. It never bogs the reader down in the finer details of the subject, but it still paints a clear enough picture that anyone could understand. It is also very realistic and harsh when discussing certain matters, like the reality of putting down animals and getting attached to them. It’s never graphic (the closest moments are censored or shown off-panel), but it does make you understand perfectly well what things are like in these real jobs, as well as the difficulties people will experience with them.
Then there’s the humor, which is almost always spot-on. Arakawa knows perfectly well when to stick in a joke and pace it, making it play well with the characters and scene in question. There are tons of great gags, ranging from visual, subtle bits to long build-ups with great payoffs to the more overt facial reactions from the cast. The humor also really helps characterize people at times, showing or adding more to their personalities. I will say a good chunk of the humor does come from Hachiken’s shock and surprise to new situations he’s in, which could be tiring or repetitive to some people. It never got overdone for me personally, but it may vary for others.
Arakawa’s artwork is a treat to look at from beginning to end. While she does reuse some character designs or elements from the casts of her other series, everyone here stands out and looks very distinct from one another. She’s great at depicting characters’ body language and mood very well, just nailing and creating some of the best goofy facial expressions I’ve ever seen. The art does very well depicting the humor and making it land, like in an amusing bit where Hachiken almost gets his fingers bitten by a pig. The layouts are easy to read and follow along with; everything flows from panel to panel exceptionally well. There are some beautiful, artistic shots, from the horse race in the middle to a depiction of the rush that comes from sitting on a horse for the first time. The only weakness is that there are occasionally a lot of dead, empty white panels, making the locations the characters are at feel a tad lifeless. Otherwise, this is a great-looking book from start to finish.
Is It Good?
Silver Spoon Vol. 1 is a terrific first volume and great start for a slice-of-life series. It feels so inviting and welcoming to all kinds of readers, while having a memorable cast of characters, a strong understanding of its subject matter, and terrific humor. It’s a wonderful down-to-earth series that I’ll easily end up reading several times over in the future. Not only that, I wholeheartedly recommend this manga to just about anyone, including non-manga readers. It’s that easy to recommend and without a doubt worth your time.