With the very questionable and novel moments out of the way, now comes the stream of moments that are simply some of the best executed—and yes, Symphogear and Girls und Panzer are going to make the list. But first comes the pig-slaughtering episode of Silver Spoon, because I have a weakness for episodes where I know cute and loveable animals are going to die.
Almost the entirety of Silver Spoon is about exposing the quirks of farm life and future farmers to greenhorn Hachiken, without shying away from the moral and financial problems that the field has in the modern world. Traditional family-run farms are being portrayed as something of a dying noble art, the romance behind sustaining oneself with one’s own hands replaced by cold, hard machinery. It’s hardly cynical, even presenting more automated operations in a positive light, but these points are brought to the fore and laid bare with no hesitation. Where it truly excels, though, is in making the common slaughter of a pig one of the most gut-wrenching inevitabilities of the year.
Silver Spoon presents Hachiken growing attached to a piglet, appropriately named Pork Bowl, as a cute moment embedded in a sea of several others. We see him and the piglet get closer as the series goes on, with the Student Chatter of Damocles always quick to remind him that the animal is going to be slaughtered, no matter how attached he gets to it. Giving it a name and setting it apart from its siblings will only make their inevitable separation harder. Meanwhile, he’s gaining the skills he needs to steel himself for the day of reckoning. When it finally comes, we know enough about Hachiken to know that he’ll make the right choice. He won’t do it happily, but he knows that he can’t hang on to an animal that’s sentenced to death for the crime of deliciousness.
If Silver Spoon were a lesser show, the fateful moment of Pork Bowl’s departure would somehow save him from the chopping block. But, as has been established, the show does not flinch from the harsh realities of being torn from a cute animal, its mournful cries accusing you of betrayal as it’s loaded into the back of a truck. Hachiken offering money for Pork Bowl isn’t to save the pig from death, but to cook and share its choicest cuts with his classmates. Hell, snippets of animals being butchered and drained of blood are animated as part of a film that Hachiken’s class has to watch, which goes a long way toward driving the point home that this shit isn’t pleasant, but it is reality. Succulent, mouth-watering reality.
This entire episode is by far one of the most sublime that’s aired in the past few years. It doesn’t seek to change Hachiken, but to present to him and the audience the cold, objective truth of slaughtering animals for food—namely that it isn’t pretty. It even says “Yeah, slaughtering animals can be morally iffy from a certain perspective. It’s cool if you think so, we respect that.” Hachiken does change, but not in his treatment toward what could be his dinner a few months down the line. That’s all his choosing, feeling separated from the relaxed grip that the show has on his development.
Silver Spoon has always made its characters feel fluid and natural in their interactions and development, but Hachiken’s crisis of faith toward the slaughter of livestock is the graceful crowning jewel. Cheers to the anime that brought me to the closest I’ve been to a sobbing wreck in years.