Gin no Saji and the many worries of Hachiken
February 21, 2014 3 Comments
Hachiken has gradually grown and matured as a character during the first, and now second seasons of Gin no Saji, he has taken a proactive approach to his life by attending Yezo Agricultural High School, despite having no knowledge or experience of working in agriculture. Watching Hachiken come to terms with the idea of killing animals for food – an obvious fact, but one that is kept at a distance by most consumers who appear to take the various cuts of meat, and other meat products for granted – thus beginning to understand the realities of working on a farm. Furthermore, we see Hachiken change the way he views school work, as he may be very good at studying within the rigid, and predictable Japanese exam system, but he has little, and in some cases no real knowledge of the physical labour required to keep a farm running. These discoveries are all part of his growth as a character, and provide the audience with an insight into the inner workings of farms and broader agriculture. But, Hachiken remains a flawed, and at times very foolish individual who is his own worst enemy.
While Hachiken has grown as a character, he continues to worry about his decisions and his future – the very same worries and anxieties that prompted him to choose Yezo over a more conventional high school in Sapporo. We saw in the first season that Hachiken became acutely aware of his lack of goals and dreams for the future. His life until this point was taken up by studying to such an extent that he has little real life experience, and his knowledge of the world outside of his textbooks is sorely lacking. Moving to Yezo serves as a rude awakening, not least because he is now in a setting where the ability to study and pass high school exams is not as all encompassing, or as important as it would be in a more conventional school. Instead these exams are viewed as a means to an end, as something that gives the students qualifications to follow through with their own dreams and aspirations. This is how exams should be; they shouldn’t be an all-consuming aspect of ones life that stops you from having fun out of fear of dropping a few marks or percentage points. This is not to say that classroom lessons are not important at Yezo, because the theory behind aspects of agriculture – from raising animals to planting crops – is important, but it is presented within a practical framework, and the students can see it in action, and even experiment in their practical lessons.
The stark difference between the school system that Hachiken is used to, and the one he finds himself in at Yezo represents one of the main worries, or anxieties that he has. While everyone in his classes seems to have their own dreams and aspirations, possibly linked to their family businesses (most are from farming families after all), he feels inadequate, and doesn’t like the idea that he lacks clear goals or aspirations in his life. Because he was so consumed by study, by his wish to gain his fathers recognition, Hachiken has never had a chance to think about what he truly wants to do, and has instead gone with the flow. This particular worry is partly solved when Hachiken begins to understand that he isn’t alone in his inability to decide what he wants to do in the future, but it remains, niggling away at the back of his mind into this second season.
Now we get to one of the major issues that Hachiken must deal with, his inability to say no to people, coupled with how much he worries about everyone else but himself. Saying no to someone is important – this isn’t about refusing to help everyone who asks, but more about learning about your limits. Hachiken doesn’t seem to know where his limits are, and accepts almost any job asked of him, partly out of an idea that he must gather self-worth. In a way we can see Hachiken’s attitude towards himself as one of being worthless, and by carrying out various tasks and living up to the expectations of others he is able to gain worth. We have already seen the way he reacts to simple mistakes made in season one – particularly when he worked on the Mikage farm and spilled lots of milk. Any mistake he makes, no matter how small is compounded by his upbringing, and the feeling that any mistake, or problem means that he doesn’t deserve any sort of praise, or reward for completing a task.
In recent episodes we have also seen Hachiken’s inability to say no to people cause him significant trouble, even leading to him collapsing from over work and exhaustion. It would be wrong to suggest that Hachiken is too nice for his own good – I feel that it suggests that being nice or kind to people is a bad thing – the problem is that everyone in Yezo knows how competent his is when it comes to organisation and dealing with money, thus they take him for granted. This is compounded by Hachiken adding more pressure in his constant quest to gain worth and become a hard working and dependable person, despite it being obvious that he already is. He worries about almost everything in these latest episodes, worrying about Mikage’s problems and wondering if he can help her, worrying about Komaba overworking himself when he is the baseball teams ace, worrying about making the school festival a success, and even worrying about his own work, wondering if it is good enough. His thoughts about Komaba are of particular interest here, as we know that Komaba’s father died due to overwork, which remains in the back of Hachiken’s mind as they are preparing the Banba course. He worries that Komaba, who is already hard at work training for the upcoming baseball tournament will overwork himself by helping with the school festival. The irony as we know is that Hachiken is the one who ultimately overworks himself and collapses due to exhaustion.
When we see Hachiken automatically think, and believe that he has let everyone down immediately after waking up and finding himself in a hospital bed, coupled with is attempts to return to Yezo and help run the festival show us how of his self-worth is tied up in being successful, and useful. To him by collapsing he has let everyone down, thus not having anyone visit him is a natural consequence of his failure to be a good, responsible individual who can complete all of his work perfectly. The appearance of his overly strict father further complicates matters by reinforcing this feel of self-loathing and a lack of worth as a person. Hachiken’s current state is partly the fault of his father, but we cannot only blame him as it is Hachiken’s unwillingness, and at times, inability to listen to the advice of others, coupled with his belief that he needs to be perfect in everything that have also played a part in his current predicament. The worried face of Mikage, along with the reactions of everyone when Hachiken returns to school demonstrate to us that he is worth something, he is a successful person with a good group of friends there to help him. Although he isn’t quite at the point where he can fully recognise this and begin to understand that he doesn’t need to be perfect in everything he does just because his father says he should or because his older brother is so clever.
These sorts of themes are not unique to Gin no Saji, with many other anime set in or around a school dealing with ideas of being worthy, doing the right thing, and living up to peoples expectations. In the case of this series, Hachiken is not unique or special either, he is not the only character with their own worries and troubles, but what makes him interesting is his ability to care about everyone almost equally, even getting jealous of their situations. Mikage has her own issues to deal with, some we have yet to be told about, the same can be said for Komaba, and everyone else around him. Hachiken is full cognisant of these problems, and spends a good amount of his time worrying and thinking about them. But, this comes at the expense of his own health and situation – he is a kind character who goes out of his to help others, partly because of his good nature, but also because of his background and ideas of self-worth as already discussed. Hachiken will have truly matured once he can acknowledge that he doesn’t need to live up to everyone’s expectations to do a good job, and that just because his father doesn’t approve of his choices does not mean they were wrong. Once he can confront these issues, without losing the kindness, and good nature that draws others to him, we shall see Hachiken finally discovering what hew ants to do with his life.