It certainly feels refreshing to see a manga series that doesn't have the usual medley of gratuitous violence, complicated and/or explicit romantic entanglements, and/or (psychotic/delusional) characters either with or without magical powers. On some level, I identify with Hachiken, the main lead of Gin no Saji, who is from the city and therefore an outsider at an agricultural trade high school. He's also somewhat adrift on the sea of life without a landmark of destination in sight.
All of Hachiken's classmates seem pretty set in life. They have decided to follow a specific trade in some type of farming or animal husbandry, often take over the family farm. A subset of them dream of playing professional sports in order to make more money and support the family business. On the one hand, these youngsters are following a tradition in what they are born into, what they are familiar with. On the other hand, these trades demand a lot of physical and mental stamina, as well as a strong intrinsic motivation. Like Hachiken before he enrolls at the school, I really have no idea what it actually takes to wake up before dawn and clean the stables and milk the cows and harvest the eggs and... butcher the animals.
Hachiken gets asked many times that all-encompassing inevitable question, "What do you want to be? What is your dream?" To which he would reply, "I... don't really... have one..." He very likely has followed a prescribed path that supposedly leads to a contrived and canned definition of success. Like a perverse version of E.T. following a trail of Hershey's.
Ahh, the artificial construct of being number-one. When people are conditioned in an environment filled with numerical differentiators and zero-sum games, their intrinsic motivation soon withers and dies. (Read Dan Pink's Drive for more elaboration on this idea.)
Over the course of the seasons, Hachiken's experience at the agricultural school has opened his eyes in ways that a regular city high school would not. Perhaps he will eventually find some kind of purpose in life.
Speaking for myself, a perversely conventional definition of an educational "success" story. Is it a success story if I don't feel much like one?
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