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Gin no Saji Second Season – 06

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「御影、奮闘す」 (Mikage, Funtou su)
“Mikage Gives It Her All”

There are all sorts of lessons in this episode – for characters, writers and producers alike.

This was a big episode for Gin no Saji in many ways, and it came with a lot of expectations as a result. I would argue that they were largely met, mainly because the series did as it usually does – it didn’t try too hard and let the material speak for itself. When they teach you knife skills in the kitchen, one of the first lessons is that when you’re chopping, you should let the weight of the knife do all the work – your hand is just there to guide it. If only more writers of manga and anime could understand that notion as well as Arakawa-sensi does. Of course, as anyone with cooking experience could tell you that notion works a lot better when you have a knife with some heft to it. If you’re using a light, cheap stamped knife you have to do too much work and the end results suffer (plus it’s dangerous). Likewise with anime, if your material has substance you don’t have to try too hard – which of course means the opposite is true, the sad evidence of which is the legions of mediocre shows with mediocre character dynamics that populate every schedule. Happily there are exceptions every season, and Gin no Saji is certainly one of them.

But back to those expectations, starting with the fact that last week’s ep left is with the kind of dramatic event that this series almost never relies on for narrative punch. As well, this week promised the first direct interaction between Hachiken and his parents, obviously a milestone event of the first importance. Like life itself, Gin no Saji is mostly about the details, the routines – but it’s punctuated with watershed moments. And as with life, how those watershed moments are handled is of critical importance. For a show like this (Uchuu Kyoudai is another good example) there aren’t many opportunities to present conventional drama, and that makes each one even more vital. And like that show, this one tends to get the big moments right.

As expected, the drama here really isn’t in Hachiken’s condition – it’s pretty obvious that he’s collapsed due to exhaustion – but the impact of that event. Hachi is in the hospital on an I.V., and his friends are back at school – because the show, after all, must go on. Sakuragi-sensei is the first to visit, but Hachi-kun’s father the first to do so when he’s awake. We know that he’s a difficult man, and we know that Hachi blames him for many of his problems. But apart from a very short phone conversation this is the first time in the series they’ve talked.

Father-son interaction can be a heartbreaking thing. It’s painfully obvious (and this is such a common thing) that despite blaming his father for most of his problems, Hachiken is driven by the urge to please him. That’s why he’s so devastated to learn that his mother lied about his father praising the bacon he’d sent (such a small thing, seemingly – sigh…). Hachiken-san lays into Sakuragi-sensei pretty hard for allowing this crisis to happen, and he and his son have a revealing conversation about why the boy has ended up at Ezonoo. Of course Dad is right – Hachiken has found it easier to make friends here because he doesn’t consider these kids a threat academically. Hell, that’s why he chose the school in the first place. But he’s wrong in using the fact that none of those friends have come to visit as evidence that they don’t care about his son.

It’s easy to hate Hachiken-san, especially in a series that has only a gaping hole where the antagonist(s) would normally be. So is he an antagonist in the truest sense? Certainly, he’s an unpleasant man. He’s clearly emotionally cold and remote, clearly judgemental. It seems very likely that Hachi has inherited some of his competitive streak from his father, knows it, and resents it. But it’s not clear that he wants anything but what he sees as best for his son. He did allow the boy to attend Ezonoo, though he surely disliked the idea. He has every right to be upset with the school for allowing so much to be dumped on Hachi-kun that he’d be driven to physical collapse despite the superhuman physical resilience of youth. Hachiken-san has driven two sons away both physically and emotionally, so it seems safe to say he’s not an especially good father. But I don’t think we can call him a villain based on what we’ve seen so far – just a stubborn and short-sighted man (and well, probably a jerk). But he’s a part of Hachi for better or worse – children don’t shrug off the weight of their parents that easily.

Hachiken-san isn’t the only parent making his first on-screen meeting with Yuugo of course – his mother Misako is, as well. These two seem largely trapped in the traditional Showa-era box of Japanese parents – she clearly feels uneasy about her husband’s distant and hard persona, but mostly tries to cover up for it as best she can. On the superficial level Yuugo’s resentment against his mother (we’ve seen how thoughtless he could be towards her while he was staying with Mikage’s family) is harder to explain away – she’s clearly kind and supportive towards him. My sense is that Hachi-kun dislikes the way Misako-san lets her husband dominate the family, and that’s why he’s so upset that she lied about the bacon approval – a small thing, but a symptom of what he sees as a larger problem of her glossing over the ugliness and trying to pretend nothing is wrong when it clearly is.

Back at Ezonoo, the festival is going off largely as planned – thanks in part to the detailed notes Hachi left behind. Ookawa-kun is disqualified when his horse makes two refusals in a row, but we learn that he still needs to make the horse jump the gate so that his confidence isn’t shattered for next time (no subtleties there). Mikage asks Ayame to help out, which she does in her own way. Mikage leads the draft horse in the Ben’ei race against teams of humans – the prize for winning being poor Nakajima-sensei’s precious cheese (we even get to see Todoroki-sensei pull the sled, a sad reminder of the passing of Utsumi Kenji – and of how many great seiyuu we’ve lost in the last year). But the real drama comes with the return of Hachi-kun, on the second day of the festival. He stops to get his glasses fixed – donation all of the change from the ¥20000 his mother has given him to the Touhoku earthquake fund – and dallies all the way back so that he won’t arrive till the festival is over.

None of this last bit is especially surprising or subtle, but it’s very effective because this is a payoff that’s been well-earned by the story. Hachi’s club sempai quite literally gives him a well-deserved butt-kicking when he announces he’s going to skip the after-party because he “doesn’t deserve to go”. Of course we know he’s done more than anyone, but he knows it himself – he just needs to be reminded. When he finds Mikage alone on the clubroom, despite the residual awkwardness over where they left things she manages to make him realize how immature he’s being (she also gives him – and us – a good laugh when she accidentally slips into her small-town dialect in her excitement at describing the day’s events).

Mikage also shares the guest book the club used the empty pages of his notebook for, complete with a range of observations from (alarmingly) critical to grateful – and this moment is quite emotionally powerful both for Hachi and us, because it’s a reminder of the fact that he’s truly made an impact here, and just how important that idea was to him. Like the reject potatoes that end up being the most delicious (again – no subtleties with this metaphor) it isn’t always the flashiest or prettiest who make the biggest impact. There’s room in the world for all kinds of potatoes, and effort matters more than anything else. It’s a simple and heartfelt lesson, and one perfectly suited to the modest series that doesn’t have to try too hard in order to say something important.

February 14, 2014 at 11:18 pm
24 comments »
  • February 14, 2014 at 11:27 pmIzzard

  • February 14, 2014 at 11:41 pmTrippwire

    This was probably one of the best, most powerful episodes we’ll see all season. I teared up right along side Hachiken-kun. Though I can’t say the same for the metaphors, on the whole GnS speaks softly (plot-wise) while carrying a big stick—a BIG ol’ stick of emotion. Thank you for the wonderful, insightful review, Enzo!

    • February 15, 2014 at 12:11 amGuardian Enzo

      You’re welcome, Tripp.

    • February 15, 2014 at 11:26 amsealouse

      This show is so good at drawing out emotion. I really wasn’t expecting to tear up from a show like this.

  • February 15, 2014 at 12:30 amJHN

    This was it, the wham episode. Just when you thought you settled into the pleasant and peaceful nature of the show, this episode suddenly comes along to give you a smack to the face with a giant megaton hammer of emotion. Which is exactly why it’s so effective.

    Yet even with this roller coaster of feelings, this episode left me strangely feeling at ease and well, peaceful like every other episode did. It’s obvious (if it wasn’t already) that Arakawa-sensei really knows how to write a scene and the adaption team knows how to translate it to anime.

    Really glad I gave this a try when season 1 started.

    • February 15, 2014 at 9:38 amBigFire

      If you think that’s the WHAM episode for this season, you ain’t see nothing yet.

  • February 15, 2014 at 12:54 amechykr

    Hachiken’s dad gives off that “strict Asian dad” vibe, too proud to allow his kids any endeavors besides the “correct path” (i.e. good university, top corporation exec/civil service), and too stuck-up to admit he may be wrong that Hachiken may indeed have found his path in Ezo Agricultre High.

    While his dad is sort of a prick, I’m deciding to give him the benefit of the doubt, as I’m still not sure whether Hachiken’s mom really lied about dad’s opinion on Hachiken’s bacon. It could be that he made a grunt when munching his son’s bacon, which gets loosely interpreted by mom as a sign of approval. And when son confronts him about it, gets too proud to admit it.

    That Equestrian Club sempai sure knows how to read the mood, literally kicking Hachiken’s butt towards Aki’s direction.

    • February 15, 2014 at 9:39 amBigFire

      Paraphase The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Mr. Hatchiken isn’t wrong, he’s just being a jerk.

    • July 1, 2014 at 5:57 amdeliberately speaking

      I’m really into it, thanks for this great stuff!

  • February 15, 2014 at 12:58 amthedarktower

    it was an excellent episode of silver spoon. underlying that this series isn’t all about food or comedy. it has a lot of heart and meaning behind, and all that time Arakawa just planted the seed and nurtured it. until it blooms. and man, it wasn’t easy this time. but it was sure great performance. a great combination of a lot of feelings floating from everywhere, and yeah, it worked perfectly.

    finally, we are meeting Hachiken’s father in person. it is tough for our hero when he show up all of a sudden. ever since Hachiken started high-school he deals with many problems related to his past, even this season when he didn’t succeed jumping the hurdle for the first time, all the past mirrored back at him.
    anyway, Hachi’s father isn’t wrong here. if you were a parent when your children collapsed because of festival, you would’ve blame the school for their lousy treatment. not to mention it was over a festival. and I think he does care for his son, after all he came from such distance (I guess) because his son was hospitalized.
    sure, he is a tough man and his ways probably aren’t consistent with his son. but you can’t deny, he does care for his son but in his own way. that’s how it is with parents. sometimes it’s for best and sometimes it’s not.

    there is also Hachi’s mother. Hachiken has all right to be angry. his mother lied to him over something small, but even the smallest things can make a huge change. and she shouldn’t have done so even if it’s for the sake of Hachiken. he is in high-school, not a kid anymore. and Hachiken has every right to be angry over her.
    we can feel how tough it is for him with his family issues. in fact,A-1 omitted an interaction when Hachi’s brother came to hospital (after he heard in the festival that Yogo collapsed) and there was another tough meeting between Hachi’s brother and the father. I don’t know why A-1 omitted that. there is nothing to hurry, yet they are doing so (and it’s not the first time).

    Hachiken have it hard when his family doesn’t understand him or his emotions. he tried to stand up against his father and he tried to stand for the teacher but all in vein. and the interaction with his mother. I totally understand him for being frustrated. and it’s the easiest solution to give money and solve the problems. and Hachi is so angry from the inside about this attitude, he has every right to be angry.
    Hachiken missed the last part of the festival. he kinda mistaken them for not visiting him..he should’ve think about that they simply couldn’t leave school because of the festival.

    even though it was a tough episode for our hero, silver spoon managed to pull out lovely moments of the festival – LOL the cheese(poor sensei) and how Todoroki-sensei (like Armstrong from FMA) won the race, even Ayama-chan wasn’t so bad. and the potato. god the potato – it bears so much meaning that even the smallest things that didn’t grow up as we wanted them, they aren’t dump. (it seems delicious..yum). same as with everyone came to help due to Hachiken’s absent. that’s what it was all about, all this time.
    in the end, Hachiken managed to become his usual self, smile and have fun, despite what his father said.

    one of silver spoon great episodes. bringing lots of stuff in one episode – tough &emotional along side with fun and making one smile. and it seems there is something to learn for everyone. this is SoL.

  • February 15, 2014 at 2:16 amRed HeartGold ZX

    Nice episode. Nice review. Also loved that part where Hachiken-kun almost threw the money his mother gave him but remembered that money is hard-earned just like how he did back in Summer. Oh, the tiny scenes having plenty of meaning, just like the potatoes in the EP.

    Also, Nourin and Gin no Saji is starting to match nowadays if it weren’t for the usual lack of seriousness in Nourin, which I do NOT hate at all.

  • February 15, 2014 at 2:28 amEmD

    Another fantastic episode.

    The anime cut out a scene where Shingo meets up with Hachiken senior, which is a shame, but everything else was excellent.

    That scene of Hachiken breaking into tears is so good in so many ways.

  • February 15, 2014 at 6:45 amMeldoy

    Damn, excellent episode. I continue to be pleasantly surprised by this show.

  • February 15, 2014 at 7:20 amBear

    I don’t cut Hachiken-san any slack. He’s a bullying SOB. And who is he to talk? He’s just another salaryman, who’s already driven one son away and is working on destroying another. Even his complaint against the teacher was one of the teacher failing in his duty rather than real concern for his son. Unfortunately, Hachiken’s mother is a weak enabler, who can’t stand up to her bully of a husband. I’m sure Hachiken-san sees his son’s need for his approval as just another sign of his weakness. Is it any wonder that Hachiken thought none of the other students wanted to come see him and that he had failed? His father is truly contemptible, IMO.

  • February 15, 2014 at 9:39 amrochichan

    I really love Gin no Saji, especially because of Hachiken. He isn’t really “unique” in terms of personality, but how the series portrays him and his troubles make his character feel so real. As if you can really relate to him and understand what he’s going through. ////
    Looking forward to more! Thanks a lot for your insight, Enzo!

  • February 15, 2014 at 10:43 amGermanguy

    • February 15, 2014 at 2:24 pmBear

      Same mangaka created both so it’s not surprising if characters have similar appearances. There’s a number of characters that have twins in FMA (Beppu and Gluttony for example).

    • February 17, 2014 at 3:09 amKuroichi

      Same mangaka and some characters are intended to be similar ^_^

  • February 15, 2014 at 7:27 pmThe Truth is in the Axe

    Hachiken’s dad is that hardass parent we hate because they don’t understand the things that hurt the kid when they needed them, but knows them well enough to know their flaws and hit it where it hurts. He might not be the dad that cared a hell of a lot about image, though he does- like he could’ve been the kind of parent to force Hachiken to not attend Ezonoo at all without his input. But he uses Hachiken’s choice against him when he wants to berate him, so it would hurt more.

    Luckily being back at school lifts his spirits up; because there’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that all your hard work and contributions matter and helped people, after a whole day thinking that it didn’t amount to anything what with how disappointing his parents are.

    Also, that Ayame and Tomako human ban’ei race is gold.

  • February 16, 2014 at 9:23 pmKixmachina

    It is very rare that a show makes me get all kinds of feels in one episode.
    I really love this anime. Props to Arakawa-sensei for writing such wonderful stories.
    And kudos to the staff animating this series too.

  • February 16, 2014 at 9:39 pmonion warrior

    dang…i really hope Aki would at least give Hachiken a hug when he cries…but looks like its a long way to go XD

  • February 17, 2014 at 3:32 amKamui04

    GnS is easily one of my all times manga/anime. And I remember when the manga started and had a few chapters, most of the reviews were negative with comments like: “It’s not FMA, it sucks” and the like. Even now people just think it’s worth their time because it’s in the “slice of life” genre.

    • February 17, 2014 at 3:33 amKamui04

      *not worth their time*

  • March 3, 2014 at 1:47 pmYukie

    I lol’ed hard during the Banei race part. Tamako has got to be my fav. character in this show.

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