Hiromu Arakawa – Silver Spoon, chapters 1-82 (in scanlation)
This is kind of great. It’s a slice-of life series about a bunch of kids at an agricultural high school out in the boondocks of Hokkaidō, and it’s really charming and clever and humane. And hilarious! And if nothing else, it’s probably the only boarding school hijinks story you’ll read this year where someone has to butcher a roadkill deer.
The setup is that the main character, Yugo Hachiken, burnt out really hard at the end of middle school and begged his counselor to find him a low-pressure high school with dorms somewhere far away from his overbearing asshole dad. Thus, agricultural school. Which of course kicks his ass immediately, but at least it’s kicking his ass in new and different ways that don’t isolate him and pit him against all his classmates, and he gradually starts making some friends.
SIDENOTE: Something that resonated a lot with Past Nick is that Hachiken doesn’t really have any hopes or dreams. He’s spent so long treating school and high-stakes testing as an end in themselves that he has no idea what lies past that horizon, and on the first day of class, he finds out that literally every one of his classmates has some concept of What They Want To Do. I won’t lie, that hit me where I used to live: when I read that page I physically felt that exact same crushing weight on my guts, the one I used to feel whenever our high school counselors said something inane about “career” planning.
With Hachiken, that dizzy feeling about the future is largely from the pressure his dad put on him; me, I think I did it to myself. Performing well academically was an easy way to get praise and recognition, and up through a big chunk of college, I tied too much of my identity to it instead of doing the hard work of figuring out what I really valued and who I wanted to be. (If any teenagers are reading this, here’s the best advice I have: get good at thinking, but don’t ever become “smart.” “Smart” is not a valid identity. If they try to tag you “not-smart,” same deal.) Relevant to ongoing thoughts about etc. etc. etc.
Anyway, Hachiken wrestles a lot with that exact same shit, and I love him for it. It’s refreshing to see a story engage with that kind of identity struggle in a way that seems authentic to me.
But don’t get me wrong here, this isn’t a heavy comic! There is a dog named “Vice President” who carries a tip jar around his neck. There is Men’s Bath Yogurt (NURTURED BY THE HEAT OF A DOZEN SWEATY BROS). There is a cheese-obsessed equestrian club teacher who looks like a Buddha for no particularly good reason. That one horse has Kronar-the-Barbarian-face. It’s great. Also, I read that Arakawa went to an ag high school herself, and the experience comes through — it’s a really rich setting, and she has a lot of love for all the characters, even (especially?) the ones who would be one-note jokes in a lesser comic.
Oh, and shout-out for a good job to the scanlation team “Red Hawk Neo,” who apparently have actual good writers on deck (and researchers for double-checking the occasional animal husbandry technobabble). I’ve mentioned before that there are two main cohorts of scanlators: the “disposables” who do fast and shitty jobs on series that will probably be (or already are) licensed for official release, and the “permanents” who try for high-quality translations of niche titles that would otherwise stay in Japan. Silver Spoon might actually get picked up, since it’s by the cartoonist who did Fullmetal Alchemist, but RHN are working like they expect it to stay online for a while.