Review: Honey and Clover

Here goes: the last series review…why do I like to leave the difficult ones for last?

First though…I really wish I could see something like this spring!

Even if this is animated, it’s definitely one of the most beautiful in the world.

Honey and Clover (ハチミツとクローバ), one could say, has one of the dullest, most common premises that can be dreamt up for a manga. After all, who wants to read about the everyday lives of five college students struggling to find their way (or even simply to survive) through and beyond art school in Tokyo? And surely no one would want to watch a series like that either, right? Something melodramatic like NANA would be much more interesting…well, I disagree.

Takemoto Yuuta, a second-year art student, lives in a run down apartment block 10 minutes walk from university. HIs flatmates include 6th year Morita Shinobu, an eccentric genius, and Mayama Takumi, a relatively serious 4th year. Honey and Clover begins with the introduction of Hanamoto Hagumi, beginning her first year at the fictional art college. Both Morita and Takemoto fall for her at first sight, though they express it (or fail to) in vastly different ways. Rounding out their group is Yamada Ayumi (aka 鉄人), who, despite her own beauty and popularity, is suffering from a one-sided love for Mayama. The story follows these five as they move through college and on to working life, developing their friendships, relationships and characters in the process. (Wiki has a much better summary, though it has spoilers too, of course. Not that this review doesn’t…)

A tiny 6-tatami mat studio room – pretty standard in Tokyo. Though at 34,000 a month, it’s not that expensive…

Although this may seem like the typical set-up for an American college drama, no American show has ever made me laugh and cry the same way that Honey and Clover did, all in the span of 20 short minutes. I have forgotten exactly which episode it was (I saw the first season more than a year ago!), but there was much more laughter and melancholy to follow. Takemoto’s journey of reflection and self-discovery was the major climatic event of the first series. The development of his character through this journey (to the point where he was able to confess to Hagu despite knowing that he was probably going to be rejected) helped give what many people may consider a frivolous and long-winded series a satisfactory if still incomplete outcome. Personally, I really loved the “slice-of-life” nature of the first series, as Umino Chika-sensei made the ordinarily seem extraordinary. Nevertheless, I’m extremely grateful that the second series was commissioned when the manga neared it’s end.

Honey and Clover II picked up where the first series left off. Takemoto’s confession led Hagu to withdraw into herself a little, adding to the other complications that gradually surfaced as the secrets and goals of various characters came to light. From the revelation of Rika/Harada/Shuji’s history and the resolution of the associated love triangle to the mystery behind Morita’s strange disappearances, the second series really took on a more serious tone. Mayama’s stalkerish tendencies, including his going through Rika’s email, scared me quite a bit. However, given the way she had locked her feelings and self away from the world after the accident, his perservering intrusion into her life may well have saved her. Similarly, whilst Nomiya certainly did not approach Yamada with the purest of intentions, but his growing concern for her is what she needs. For people who have fallen into a rut which they cannot pull themselves out from, the lengths that others may need to go to in order to help them may not consist of actions that the rest of us would allow. However, for the people they save, one could say that they are necessary.

Having created two female characters chained and saved in such a way, it wouldn’t be difficult to criticise Umino-sensei for subscribing to the values of a patriarchical society (although that is what Japan, more than most other developed nations, still is). However, one should not forget that Takemoto also had an identify-crisis. Furthermore, critical events at the end of the series force Hagumi to confront her insecurities and determine what she desires most, testing how far she is willing to go to achieve them. Whilst someone else has to sacrifice himself (in a manner of speaking) in order to fulfil that, Hagumi truly becomes a stronger person in the process. The way in which Umino-sensei delved into the minds of geniuses like Hagu and Morita through these events was exceptional, demonstrating that one of the greatest difficulties for people of their calibre is the weight of expectation that is laid upon them. The higher the potential, the greater the consequences of failure. Ultimately, one of the messages of Honey and Clover is that the least one can do is to try and find the strength to move on, beyond challenges and adversity.

The Mocademy Awards…*snicker*…but just how far do Morita’s talents go?

Over the years I’ve been reading manga and watching anime, very few series stand out. Part of this is definitely due to the numerous cliched plotlines that run through so many works. However, Umino Chika-sensei has created a gem in Honey and Clover, and the anime, which follows its source very closely, certainly lives up to it. 9/10

p.s. I’ve said a bit about the seiyuu in previous posts. Back when I first saw the TV broadcast of the final episode, the abrupt change to Nojima Kenji (due to Kamiya Hiroshi’s accident) was jarring. However, posters on Garten’s blog offer some interesting comments, so I’ll probably try to watch it again after I’ve read the manga. 9 whole volumes in Japanese…*sweatdrops* I’d better get started…

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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