Silver Spoon, Vol. 1
Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist
) takes a personal touch in this fresh take on coming of age. Searching for direction, city teen Hachiken enrolls in an agriculture-focused vocational high school out in the countryside. He assumes his intelligence and academic skills will make the transition a breeze, but, in the time-honored tradition of fish-out-of-water comedy, the wind gets knocked out his sails with his first 4:00 a.m. wake-up call. Hachiken soon learns that agriculture courses are demanding, farm work is hard, animals seldom do what you want them to, and the other students—mostly the children of farm families—are smart and motivated in their chosen careers, ignorant about algebra but able to chatter excitedly about the latest livestock cloning technologies. On the plus side, there’s fresh produce at every meal. Arakawa grew up on a dairy farm and brings a refreshing realism to her sitcom premise. In between scenes of rural slapstick, the reader learns all about the realities of modern farming, including cruel realities: some of the animals are penned in factory-farm setups, and the teachers warn kids that “you need to be able to kill.” The simple, character-centered artwork is less arresting than in Arakawa’s prior series, but it’s bright and funny, littered with unexpected visual gags. It’s a side of Japanese high school life seldom seen in manga, making for an irresistible series. (Feb.