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Nessa's Thoughts

Just a British girl who reads a bit too much.

Currently reading

The Dead Zone
Stephen King
The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
Jean-Dominique Bauby
Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady
Samuel Richardson, Angus Ross
Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison
Piper Kerman
The Cuckoo's Calling
Robert Galbraith
Silver Spoon, Vol. 1 - Hiromu Arakawa One of my favourite anime/manga series of all time is Full Metal Alchemist. I've read all of the manga (and kept up with it while it was still being released online), and watched both series of the anime multiple times.While I had heard about Hiromu Arakawa's latest manga series, I hadn't thought to check it out until a little while before the anime premiered. Before reading, however, I had to repeat to myself: “Look, Silver Spoon may be big in Japan. However, FMA just has to be Hiromu Arakawa's magnum opus. So, dear self, don't be too crushed if Silver Spoon is a bit of a disappointment.”Here's the point where I might go: 'However, this exceeded all of my expectations! Silver Spoon is actually better!”...Except that Silver Spoon isn't really better or worse than its more popular elder brother. It's just okay. It's a safe, sweet little comedy that doesn't really reach outside of its boundaries.I remember the comedy in FMA being hilarious on both of my rereads, because it's some relief from all the drama and tragedy that takes place throughout the story. For example, when Scar hunts down Ed and Al, and is about to kill Ed in front of a powerless Alphonse. Tra-la-la! In bursts Major Alexander Armstrong to save the day, flex his muscles and wax lyrical about the technique that has been passed down through his family for generations! Oh, and later we get the cool and collected Colonel Roy Mustang almost getting killed for being so sure that his flame alchemy would work in a downpour of rain. All while Al is extremely upset with Ed for just giving up and saying he'd allow Scar to kill him so long as Alphonse would be spared.Alright, alright. I sound a little bit unfair here, since Full-Metal Alchemist and Silver Spoon are in completely different genres to each other. However, the comedy utilised in Full-Metal Alchemist is leagues above Silver Spoon, which is quite a feat considering this is supposed to primarily be a comedy manga.Silver Spoon plays out a bit like one of those formulaic Hollywood sitcoms, where they just violently toss a fish out of water and expect its agitated flopping around to be absolutely hilarious. In this case, we have our main character Hachiken, a high school freshman from the city who inexplicably decides to attend an agricultural college. Apparently this school will take on people from non-farming backgrounds based on their grades, and because Hachiken finds schoolwork to be a breeze, he thinks it'll be an easy ride. Those dumb hicks and their lack of a proper academic education, right?As you can imagine, the majority of the comedy in Silver Spoon comes from Hachiken realising he's completely wrong about farming life, and overreacting to things that the animals do, or where his food actually comes from. In chapter two, there's a running gag about Hachiken being utterly horrified to discover the way in which chickens lay their eggs. (Hint: freshly-laid eggs often have flecks of poop on them.) It's funny one time, but by the end of the chapter when Hachiken is still freaking out about eating eggs, and one of his classmates has to reassure him that chickens actually lay eggs out of a different part of their anatomy, it's old.When Hachiken attends class in the school building only to overheard his supposedly ignorant classmates conversing in agricultural science jargon that is almost impossible to decipher, sure, that's funny once. But seeing him getting flummoxed over Tamako or Ichiro or Aikawa railing off like they swallowed down a veterinary biology textbook, complemented by several back issues of Modern Farmer just doesn't work so well any more. Once you've seen it repeated three or four times, t's no longer funny to see a city boy getting all flustered and nervous around animals that are likely going to sense his fear and bite or lash out at him.Thankfully, Hiromu Arakawa does stop these gags from running too long, and manages to set a pace for herself over the course of the first volume. Still, though, the main comedic outline of this manga is: “I'm on a FARM and I'm not used to the agricultural lifestyle!”One has to wonder, though – why on Earth did Hachiken choose to go to a specialist technical school like Oezo High? Why does he show a complete lack of understanding for what he's getting into? Honestly, the latter question makes me think of somebody signing up for catering college and finding themselves out of their depth because, surprise, surprise, you're more likely to be marked on how well you can make a soufflé as opposed to passing a science exam. Surely Oezo has a brochure and an open day. Surely Hachiken knew what he was getting himself into. Right? Right?In fact, the reason why Hachiken is attending Oezo is never really made clear. It may just be because he thinks it'll be easier than going to a competitive private high school in the city, or just as an act of rebellion. Also, where are his parents? Did they not see him filling out the application for Oezo and put their feet down? I mean, what's the point of attending a school that teaches a discipline you don't have the first bloody clue about? It's right in the name of the school – Oezo Agricultural High School. It's not going to be a regular high school with some subjects tweaked to make them accessible to aspiring farmers.Hiromu Arakawa does have a farming background, so at least every agricultural detail is authentic. Having never been to an agricultural school, I can't vouch for the types of people you'd have in your class, but I guess they're true to some extent. One of Hachiken's classmates wants to be a livestock vet, one wants to take over the family poultry farm, and another wants to learn how to run her parents' farm as a successful business.However, it's a shame that the manga ultimately turns into a big exercise in: “I'm on a farm! It's SO STRANGE! The animals are unpredictable, people from farming backgrounds are alien to me, and it turns out you have to get up at five in the morning and keep yourself in peak physical condition!”It's not like this manga is a complete loss, though. As much as the comedy is predictable straight man overreacting to things that the people around him just shrug and accept, at least the characters aren't the staid stereotypes they so easily could have been.As much as I love Hiromu Arakawa's artwork, there are some times where her character designs from Full-Metal Alchemist are ever so slightly recycled. Some may see this as a cute throwback to the series that made her famous; I see it as kind of jarring. There's the Expy PE coach who looks almost exactly like Major Alexander Armstrong, the upperclassman who looks like Greed, or even Hachiken's classmate Nishikawa, who looks to me a little like the bastard lovechild of Ling Yao and Yoki. Hachiken's friend Aikawa looks a bit like an eternally blissful Sergeant Denny Brosh with a haircut. And so on and so forth. Thankfully, it isn't like every character looks like somebody from Full-Metal Alchemist, or even Hero Tales.The main cast all have some depth to them, which I'm quite glad for. I'm still very curious about why Hachiken is attending Oezo. Arakawa drops these little hints that something isn't quite right with our main character. He's a full-time boarder at Oezo, and even though he has the opportunity to go home for a week's holiday, he doesn't take it. He seems to skirt around any details of his home life, just focusing on what he's currently going through now. Just what is going on in his home life that he'd rather run away from home and take up a completely foreign field of study just to be away from his family? Curiouser and curiouser.3/5.(This review is also available on my blog: http://nessasky.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/manga-review-silver-spoon-gin-no-saji-volume-1-by-hiromu-arakawa/)