Most anime fans don’t realize that Japan has very large and very active technical high school programs across the country. Nearly every prefecture has several different technical high schools, all geared toward students who want to focus on careers instead of college. Japan’s agricultural high schools are unique in their focus and cover a wide range of agricultural businesses, such as livestock raising and breeding, veterinary science, farm management, dairy production, and many more. If it involves any aspect of where your food originates, it’s part of agriculture, and often something that can be taught and utilized almost immediately after high school. Gin no Saji offers viewers a fairly complete view of nearly every aspect of agriculture businesses. Each student represents one piece of the agricultural puzzle.
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Gin no Saji is all about one fictional agricultural high school in the rich and beautiful backwoods of Hokkaido Prefecture. Ooezo Agricultural High School is absolutely full of life and beauty, surrounded by farmland, filled with oinking, neighing and mooing farm animals, and peopled by young, enthusiastic students who all have their lives and future plans set in stone. All, that is, except for our main character. From the very first episode, it is clear that first year student Yuugo Hachiken is very different from his classmates. He doesn’t know how to tend to animals. He didn’t know that eggs actually came from a chicken’s anus (yuck!). He had no idea that most bulls (male cows) are sent to slaughter. Worst of all, he doesn’t have a plan for his future. While his classmates and new close friends all seem to have their futures planned out, he has no idea what he wants to do with his life.
Those diving right into the rich and bountiful fields of Silver Spoon’s storyline will find a protagonist filled with constantly changing internal conflict. Despite having failed the entrance exam to the high school that he most wanted to attend, Yuugo is actually a very intelligent and very stable-minded individual. And while the protagonists of many other slice of life anime are filled with constant, emotional existential crises that define their journey to self-discovery, Yuugo’s path to self discovery is filled with very humorous and engaging interactions. The anime’s key focus is on Yuugo’s constant interactions with different classmates who seem to have it all together, while he constantly feels (and shows) that he is embarrassingly out of place.
Much of Yuugo’s development is centered around often crazy situations that occur at the school. As he experiences different aspects of rural and agricultural life, his eyes are slowly opened to several different realities. One of these is the oft-forgotten fact that the food we enjoy has to come from somewhere, and someone has to make a living growing, tending to, and preparing that food for everyone else. Every episode of Gin no Saji reveals another aspect of agricultural life and experiences that reflect Yuugo’s complete ignorance of the all-important world of agriculture. From being completely grossed out from where eggs come from, to falling in love with an despairing over the eventual slaughter of a pig, Yuugo’s character development is centered intricately around his acquisition of knowledge and experience related farming.
Indeed, Yuugo is completely surrounded by classmates who all come from one sort of farming background or another. Meanwhile, Yuugo was born and raised in the city, went to a highly prestigious college preparatory middle school, and had absolutely no farming background or experience. Yet he is as much a novelty his classmates as they are to him. He immediately becomes one of the most popular kids in the school, as he looks at every new experience with the eyes of a child, allowing his classmates, for whom farm life is daily life, to see their own world through a new set of eyes and a unique perspective. In an interesting way, the series’ creator Hiromu Arakawa has turned the main character into physical representation of the average viewer. How many of us truly know and understand agricultural life? How many of us can say that we know the intricacies of raising chickens, pigs, and cows? How many of us understand the struggle of having to wake up before dawn to milk cows, or the harsh reality that spilled milk really does matter? Most viewers of the anime don’t. To that end, Arakawa created an anime that teaches the viewer as much as it does the protagonist, and allows us to grow in our understanding of a world and lifestyle that often gets ignored.
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Aki Mikage is unique in Gin no Saji as a perfectly complementary character to Yuugo Hachiken. Smart, intelligent and humble, she immediately becomes a point of fascination for him. She embodies everything that an agricultural school is supposed to represent: she was born and raised on a cow and horse farm, and is now attending the school to continue in the family profession. Mikage is one of the most complicated minor characters in the story, and that’s saying a lot. Almost all of the characters in Gin no Saji are extremely dynamic in their personalities. As a daughter of horse farmers, Aki naturally has a love and passion for horses. She is the first person that Yuugo has any deep-level interaction with, and this of course occurs while she is riding a horse.
While the story primarily focuses on Yuugo, Aki’s story is somewhat of a sub-plot to the overall conflict surrounding Yuugo and his efforts at self discovery. Despite being at the school to ostensibly continue in the family business, Aki is very troubled in that desire. Does she truly want to succeed her parents? Do they truly want that for her as well? Her feelings for Yuugo are also somewhat difficult to interpret. While we have no problem getting into Yuugo’s head and witnessing his deep fascination and affection for Aki, we are rarely able to get into hers, or anyone else’s. We are mostly presented with her feelings and motivations through her actions. She’s incredibly nice to Yuugo, but does that kindness have a deeper, more romantic bent to it? Only time will tell!
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In an anime full of comedic characters and situations (as many good “slice of life” genre anime are), Ichiro Komaba provides all of the counter-balancing seriousness. This is not to say that Ichiro is an uninteresting character. He is indeed one of the most important minor characters in the anime. However, he is marked by an extremely focused personality that has somewhat of a sobering effect on the other first year students at Ezonoo. Ichiro's traits come from the responsibility that he feels weighing heavily on his shoulders. As with every student at the agricultural high school (except Yuugo, of course), Ichiro comes from a farming background. His family owns a small dairy farm that struggles to make ends meet. This burdens Ichiro more than most of his friends understand. As a result, Ichiro strives to use his talents at baseball to earn money that will support the family farm.
Tall and handsome, Ichiro is somewhat of a rival for Yuugo. Despite being one of Yuugo’s best friends at the school, Yuugo also examines him with jealous eyes. Ichiro and Aki have been long time childhood friends, and share a special connection and secrets, that Yuugo cannot seem to break into. The jealousy abounds only on Yuugo’s side, however. For the most part, Ichiro does not even notice. His personal drive and feelings of responsibility for taking care of his family makes him much more mature than his classmates. Naturally, he is tall, handsome and a veritable dreamboat to the girls at Ezonoo.
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Much like Ichiro, Shinnosuke Aikawa is a very serious-minded character with big dreams and impressive goals. Shinnosuke is one of the first students that Yuugo meets and befriends at Ezonoo. Unlike Ichiro, his seriousness is not a marking of his rather difficult personal life, but of his personal drive for wanting to be something more than what he is. Unlike many of his peers at the school, Shinnosuke’s future plan, becoming a veterinarian, will require him to go beyond just obtaining a high school education. It makes sense then that Shinnosuke is well studied in animal sciences, something that impresses Yuugo and helps him to realize that Ezonoo is not a school for slackers as he originally thought.
In a sense, Shinnosuke shares the most in common with Yuugo on an intellectual level. Both are extremely bright, study hard, and work hard. Both also have a certain weakness to things they find disgusting. When Yuugo learns where eggs come from, he almost faints at the idea of eating them for a long time. When Shinnosuke sees blood, he does actually does faint. This is a pretty difficult weakness to overcome for someone who wants to be a veterinarian! As with every character in Gin no Saji, Shinnosuke’s life is a minor subplot. As the story progresses, we learn more about him, but only minimally. He is not the primary focus, but does add an important element in Yuugo’s personal development and in his attempts to figure out the meaning of his own existence.
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Tamako Inada is one of the most interesting character in Gin no Saji. The daughter of very successful industrial farmers, Tamako has money on the brain at all times. Money, and food. Gin no Saji spends quite a bit of time focusing on Tamako’s weight and love for the finer culinary delicacies and the delicious sound of money. This adds to her interest as a character, as many of the actions she takes within the anime are directly related to her acquisition of one or the other. Indeed, Tamako’s drive creates in her a tendency towards villainy. In one episode, we learn that her true desire is to devise a coup, overthrow her parents, and take over the family farm, turning into a soulless money-making machine.
Interestingly, many of the guys love Tamako for the ruthlessness that she expresses. She is dedicated to getting the job done, and on that end, she is usually successful. She adds yet another interesting set of interactions that give Yuugo a different perspective of agricultural businesses. In one episode, she even advises Yuugo on what to do with 50 kilograms of pork he bought. Through her tutelage, he is able to make money through selling different pork pieces and through and equivalent exchanges (a term that is not outright stated, but certainly an amusing nod to series creator Hiromu Arakawa's focus on equivalent exchange in her popular anime Fullmetal Alchemist. While Tamako may be playfully made fun of for her weight throughout the series, most of the male characters do treat her kindly, and she quickly becomes a close friend to Yuugo.
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Keiji Tokiwa may be the very definition of what Yuugo expected out of a technical high school. Resourceful yet extremely lazy with his studies, Keiji represents all technical high school student who has no plans for educational attainment after high school. Keiji is the son of chicken farmers, and his goal is to take over the family farm. While this is not completely unusual, Keiji is the only one who does not take his studies very seriously. That is not to say that Keiji is without talent. Yuugo quickly learns that Keiji is extremely bright and very creative, but simply never applies himself to getting good grades in topics that do not interest him.
As each minor character is a metaphor for different aspects of agricultural business, Keiji is the one that represents chicken and egg farming. This comes into play very early in the story, and marks the first real learning phase that Yuugo encounters: discovering the truth of where eggs come from. When Yuugo discovers this reality, it is Keiji who attempts to help him understand and overcome his visceral disgust with the knowledge he gains here. That interaction helps cement Keiji’s role as an important and close friend in Yuugo’s life, and an essential element to his personal growth while he attends Ooezo Agricultural High School. Amusingly enough, Keiji is the one student considered the “bad boy” of the group, who is quick to draw conclusions and even quicker to get himself into trouble.
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The very definition of “minor character”, Mayumi Yoshino is an almost mirror character for Tamako. A child of rich farmers, she grew up never knowing the lack of wealth. Indeed, she is representative of the positive and successful end of agricultural businesses in a way that also makes her a contrasting character to Aki and Ichiro, whose families have a relatively difficult time making ends meet. In an anime that attempts to give the viewer a wide range of perspectives on the agricultural businesses, Mayumi is indeed very important. Despite the possibility of taking over a vast fortune, her key desire is to buck the trend of taking over the family business. Instead, she wants to use the wealth that her family’s business generates to start her own business: making cheese. While it sounds silly, it is a dream that she is intimately dedicated to accomplishing.
Ayame has very few interactions with Yuugo, but what interactions she does have shows that they are good friends. When Yuugo discovers that his classmates have never had a real pizza, he dedicates himself to making one for them. Mayumi immediately places herself into the plan, using her knowledge of cheese to add the all-important pizza element to the creation. Much like the other students that Yuugo interacts with, her knowledge is very focused, but very succinct. She may not be as well-studied on lots of topics like Yuugo is, but she is an expert on cheese, and brings that expertise to the table, impressing both Yuugo and her classmates in the process.
The characters in Gin no Saji provide an interesting look at farming life and culture in Japan. Although few other anime shows cover this niche topic, it is not one that the writers took lightly. Each of the main characters has a fully developed and dynamic personality, and each has an interesting back story. Every character adds a little piece to the plot development. With a cast as crazy and convincing as this one, who wouldn't want to attend Ezonoo High School?