Fat, Food, and the Anime Series ‘Silver Spoon’

I’ve been watching an anime series called Silver Spoon. (It’s free to watch the first eleven episodes here.) It’s about students at an agricultural technical school in Hokkaido. The protagonist comes from a prep school and is unsure what he wants to do with his life, and chose the school because it was a boarding school*, but the other students all come from farming families and have fairly specific dreams for what they want to do after school. So far I’m on episode 7. I was a bit worried going in, because I noticed that there were a couple of fat characters featured in the theme song montage, so I wondered if the way they were portrayed would ruin the series for me. Given the choice between no fat characters and characters who are a walking fat joke, or for whom fat is one of many traits meant to signal that they’re contemptible, I’ll take no fat characters. So far, although they’re not perfect, I’m relieved that they’re portrayed fairly sympathetically. And I’m somewhat impressed by the way the show portrays food and the process of making it.

The two fat characters are Beppu (male) and Tamako (female). (Click on the links to see what they look like.) There is maybe a bit more commentary on Tamako being fat than Beppu. Let’s get the problematic parts out of the way: Tamako and Beppu are both shown snacking much more frequently than the other students. This doesn’t bother me as much as it might, because while it does stereotype fat people, IMO there’s nothing wrong or contemptible with snacking more frequently than other people. Of course, I don’t know that the creators share my opinion. Some of the male  students also say that Tamako would be hot if she slimmed down. There’s also an episode where the boys are preparing to sneak out of the school through a bathroom window, and Beppu volunteers to stay behind because he believes he will not fit through the window–but this is another part that I’m not sure bothers me; there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the observation that not everyone is the right size to fit in a particular space. I guess the only reason I feel a flicker of discomfort is  that, again, I’m not sure the creators share my opinion; there are probably people who think Beppu should be embarrassed that he can’t fit through the window when the other boys can. Similarly, there’s a scene in the first episode where all the characters are trying to hold down the cover of a greenhouse during a windstorm, and one of them remarks that even Tamako is getting blown around; whether this is a matter-of-fact-yet-whimsical demonstration of just how windy it is, or a joke at Tamako’s expense, depends on your attitude.

But I find myself liking both Tamako and Beppu, and neither are portrayed as contemptible or pitiable. Tamako is intelligent and direct. She wants to go into agribusiness and has sort of a ruthless-in-a-good-way personality. Beppu’s character hasn’t been developed quite as much so far, but he seems amiable and laid-back.

I’m not the only one who likes these characters, I guess. I liked seeing this kid get excited about how Beppu “kicked. ass.” in episode 5.

When I went to the page about Tamako that I linked to earlier, I accidentally read a minor spoiler about her. If you don’t want to know it, don’t read the rest of this paragraph. I read, “Over summer she goes on a diet and slims down considerably to the point where most of the characters do not recognize her.” I felt let down. But then I read, “She regains her weight quickly since being thin makes her feel weak and faint.” Interesting… Perhaps the creators believe that some people do, in fact, need more food and need to weigh more in order to function normally.

The series also has a fairly good attitude about food, I think. So far they haven’t talked about certain foods as “good” or “bad”. Food is portrayed as a source of energy, a source of pleasure, and a way to bring people together. In the first episode, Hachiken, nicknamed Hacchi (the protagonist) marvels at how something as delicious as an egg can come from “the anus”. (One of the other characters corrects him: it’s the cloaca, not the anus.) In the fourth episode, Hacchi makes pizza for the other students with products produced by the school, bringing everyone together to experience the joy of a delicious meal, made with the help of many people, and Hacchi enjoys making the pizza as a gift for others. In that episode, Hacchi also wrestles with the fact that a piglet he has named–Tamako warns him that if he’s going to name it, he should name it something like “Pork Bowl”, so Pork Bowl it is–will be turned into bacon, and admits that he “won’t know until the time comes” whether he will be able to eat Pork Bowl.

I could see vegetarians and vegans either really liking or really hating the way that the series deals with animal slaughter and eating meat. One the one hand, it does take it very seriously, and the protagonist struggles with it. (He only really struggles with it when he’s seen the animal before it’s turned into food, but that’s realistic for someone who’s only started to give serious thought to where his food comes from.) On the other hand, it’s a series about farming, so it seems likely that he’ll decide that he’s okay with eating meat. Also, I’d say that its portrayal of factory farms is kind of sanitized.

Most of the episodes include at least one Fun Fact. (It’s me, not the show, who calls them Fun Facts.) Fun Fact from episode 1: birds have cloacas and that’s where eggs come from! Fun Fact from episode 4: Japanese people prefer gouda instead of mozzarella on their pizzas. Fun Fact from Episode 3: pigs can easily bite through human fingers! (Seriously, don’t mess with pigs.) Episode 3 also contains a quote from Winston Churchill.

In closing, here is a link to a nice song about farming, The Field Behind the Plow (lyrics), by one of my favorite musicians, Stan Rogers.

*This is one of the few things that really doesn’t make sense to me in this series. Couldn’t he have found a boarding school that wasn’t an agricultural school, if he had no particular interest in agriculture?

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