I've been watching a lot of bad anime lately, for some weird masochistic reason. I tried starting a few series, but didn't really get into them. Then I found out about an anime airing this season called Silver Spoon. "Oh," I said to myself, "It's all about agriculture." As a farm boy, that interested me. It was a familiar concept, yet it'd be a bit unique since it was about agriculture in Japan, rather than America. Then I found out it was written by the same woman who wrote Fullmetal Alchemist (Hiromu Arakiwa), and my expectations for it shot through the roof. So far, they haven't really disappointed.
In terms of genre, Silver Spoon is about as far from Fullmetal Alchemist as possible. It's a slice-of-life story about Yugo Hachiken, a guy who, in an attempt to get away from his parents (the exact reasons are unclear at the point I'm at), attends a school far away from his home. This school happens to have an agricultural focus, meaning that this is basically a fish-out-of-water tale about a city slicker among country bumpkins. This gives Arikawa, a farm girl herself, the ability to go into detail about how exactly farms work.
Hachiken has a lot of really sensible attitudes to a lot of the things farmers take for granted. He has a near breakdown when he finds out that chicken eggs come out of the anus. He starts to grow attached to the runt of a litter of pigs, despite knowing it will probably end up as food (which is why he's advised to name the pig "pork bowl"). He misestimates the importance of daily chores. His reactions to the stranger aspects of farm life are where a lot of humor (and drama!) comes from, but also allow exposition on how exactly that life works.
Arikawa, unsurprisingly, does wonderfully with the portrayal of farmers and farm life. All the farms themselves are different, varying in size and structure, but most all the farmers hold similar values in life. It goes into the details of small family farms and super-sized ones.
The characters themselves are great. Some are a bit nonstandard, like the Buddha-like advisor of the equestrian club or the diminutive principal of the academy. And, of course, Arikawa does hold that, in her own words "Men should be beefy! Women should be vavoom!" Interestingly, the stockiest female character is actually one of my favorites, since she's so on top of everything. Hachiken himself is a good character, as he's constantly developing. And, of course, there's his love interest. Their relationship seems to be developing organically, and Aki is an interesting character on her own. The focus seems to be less on "can Hachiken land this girl," and more on "will Hachiken become the sort of guy she would see as worth marrying?" There's been a strong emphasis on how important family is to farmers, and I like seeing a relationship that puts so much emphasis on the future.
Finally, the story has a lot of great themes. The title comes from (and this is from memory) a proverb/legend/tradition that babies are given a silver spoon, so that they will never go hungry. To me, it seems like it's some sort of metaphor for self-sufficiency. Times will be tough for some of these characters' families. But they'll at least have what they need to get by. Another theme is the importance of dreams (in which sense it's kind of like One Piece if everyone was a farmer instead of a pirate). And finally, there's a running theme about the paradox of both loving animals and raising them to be eaten. Speaking from experience, it's really hard to explain or understand. You kind of have to grow up with that mindset, but Silver Spoon attempts to explain it.
Basically, for someone who grew up on the farm, Silver Spoon is an incredibly nostalgic and charming anime. It seems like it's got a pretty niche audience, and I'm not sure how many people would love it. But hey, if it's sounds like something you'd like, please check it out!