Gin no Saji: An Uncommon Setting

Break is over, for me anyway–someone else is still on vacation for another week (boo hiss). Anyway, so I’m finally back up at school and stuck in my room with a bit of a head cold (my post may be a bit incoherent, I’m kind of out of it). Seemed like the perfect opportunity to work on this post instead of trying to get homework done. First off, I’d like to preface this post by saying that I actually liked Gin no Saji (GnS). Cricket, cricket. I know that’s shocking for most of you to hear since I’ve been pretty misanthropic recently. So that being said, not sure how often you’ll hear me repeat it in the future so enjoy it while it lasts XD.

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Here’s a brief synopsis courtesy of MAL:

Yugo Hachiken dreams of life separated from his family, so he takes the initiative by enrolling in an agriculture school. He thinks, with his talent in studying, no problems will arise no matter what kind of school he attends. He is proven wrong very quickly. Raised as a city boy, he is forced to uncover the inconvenient truth about agricultural life. Enjoy the story of Hachiken, as he tries to keep up with his new friends, farmers’ heirs, who are already accustomed to the harsh world of farming. With no clear goals or understanding of farming life, how will Hachiken survive this new, cruel reality? The story of a sweat, tear, and mud-stained youth begins!

First of all, I want to talk about how after FMA (Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood)I’m pretty sure the creator of GnS decided to see just how far away from the former she could get. I’m pretty sure she decided she was sick of magic and cities so decided to throw us into a very realistic and rural setting. Not that there wasn’t somewhat of a pastoral feel when Ed and Al went home, but this was hard core farm country. I haven’t seen any other anime with this setting, although I’m sure there are others and my sample size isn’t too large, but it was a novelty to me. I think the only time I’ve been to a farm is to go apple picking with friends in the fall or when my parents used to take me and my sisters pumpkin picking when we were kids. Definitely not the same thing! Wait, wait that’s not true. Back when I was pretending to be an environmental studies major (last semester haha), I went on a field trip to a farm and basically it was raining and muddy and smelled pretty gross. Can you tell that I’m not cut out for a lifestyle like that? Yep. So that’s my experience with farms and I imagine it’s similar to that of most people in my generation.

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I am not an animal person.

The setting and atmosphere of GnS is really unique in the world of anime. Of course there are zillions of anime fantasy-scapes that are different enough, but if you look carefully they’re really all the same. However, when you explore the shows set in the real world they are all urban or if they’re rural, they’re at some sort of secluded school or historical manor house or city. It sounds really silly and obvious, but on that note, I’ve never before seen an anime set on a farm for the entirety of the season. It doesn’t seem like a particularly unusual setting, but I’ve never watched a show like it before so there must be some reason that it hasn’t caught on.

So why is that? Likely a studio or writer doesn’t think about it. It just isn’t an idea that would even cross their minds. After all, most of them live in cities or the suburbs so there would be no reason for them to consider that there is another mode of life that could contribute to an original setting. Let’s talk about about Hiromu(i) Arakawa. It seems that Ms. Arakawa was actually raised on a dairy farm. (If you believe Wikipedia, which you should since Wikipedia is essentially the alpha and the omega.) So yea…that’s why. I’ve always heard that traveling or coming from an interesting or adverse background makes for a better and more well-rounded writer and I guess this is a perfect example of why. I guess thinking back, it does make a lot of sense. The show pays meticulous attention to detail (although that may just be Arakawa’s style) and makes the farm dynamics convincing and realistic. I actually learned some stuff from watching GnS, hopefully it’s accurate because I don’t want to accidentally spout some random fact I picked up from a show and be totally wrong haha. When I watched it, I assumed that she had just done a good job with her research, but turns out that it probably wasn’t too necessary for her!

Ok. Mystery solved. What else makes Gin no Saji unique?  Aside from the physical setting, the show itself is just, for lack of a better word: chill. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, there isn’t really any pandering, and there aren’t super crazy adrenaline pumping action sequences. (Although I must admit that bacon party at the end was pretty intense). That being said, it isn’t boring either. GnS makes you realize that a show doesn’t have to be set in the middle of potential mayhem and it doesn’t need someone dying or getting shot at every five minutes to be enjoyable.

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Super intense bacon party.

Additionally, the pandering really wasn’t there at all. Most of the girls were average looking and there was…a fat girl? Am I the only one who’s never seen an obese young woman in an anime before? Maybe I need to branch out or something, but I was actually kind of shocked by her presence. I’m definitely not try to be offensive and I’m not a cacomorphobe or anything, but Tamako is a total anomaly. I would feel the same way if I saw an anime girl with legitimate curly hair and not that wavy or huge doll-curl crap they usually pull. (Sorry, I have naturally curly hair so it makes me a bit upset.)

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Am I the only one who was surprised?

In terms of plot, it wasn’t anything so revolutionary. There was the kid who ran away from home because he couldn’t deal with his parents’ expectations and needed to prove himself to impress the girl that he liked and find himself in the process. A pure and simple story of finding identity and oneself–something that comes up in almost every anime I’ve ever seen. At least in GnS Hachiken didn’t whack you over the head with his teen angst. GnS wasn’t my favorite show ever and I personally prefer a bit more action, but I actually finished it and unlike Josh if I don’t like a show I won’t waste my time.

However, this show could have gone either way in terms of enjoyment. When you throw an audience into an unfamiliar setting with a character who already knows his/her way around,  it makes it more difficult for the audience to relate. Part of what made this show so accessible was the protagonist. Hachiken was designed to be the key to us understanding the world. He was likable enough, if not the most interesting of protagonists. Hachiken was a character built to function in a certain way. His design was entirely based upon the ability to help the viewer navigate the world of an agricultural school. This is fine, but at the same time I thought he was a little bit too bland  and stereotypic compared to the rest of the cast, which was the only major downside of the show for me. At the same time, even though I didn’t love Hachiken as a character, I do admit that he was necessary or I would have felt totally lost.

Also can we please agree that this is Major Armstrong? I mean come on. This HAS to be Major Armstrong.

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