Honey and Clover I & II

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Watched via DVD



PLOT: Honey and Clover focuses on the lives and careers of several artists attending art school together, over the course of a couple years. This is pretty much slice-of-life at its peak as far as genre goes.

The beginning of the first season introduces us to a group of friends, from a variety of art focuses and with a range in seniority, who all hang out in their teacher’s room in their free time. While the series follows all of the characters to some extent, the main protagonist is chiefly Yuuta Takemoto.

The first episode could be described as a typical day-in-the-life-of sort of episode, following Yuuta in his daily struggles. What makes this day so pivotal story wise, is that Hagumi Hanamoto moves to the school to live with her cousin once removed (the professor that this group hangs out with). The addition of Hagumi creates a ripple effect throughout this group and through the school. There are love triangles and hearts breaking everywhere. This story definitely focuses on love, but above all that it explores art and inspiration.

I suppose I could say this is like one of those growing up stories, but these characters are already mostly matured adults. Rather I’d say this series explores self identity and self acceptance, and that is what really sets it apart from all the other slice-of-life’s.

I think this show is about growing into yourself, which is what college is really about. The characters might all be adults, but that doesn’t mean they have a solid grasp on who they are and what they should do with their lives.

PLOT: Honey and Clover follows five art students through their time in college. It’s a Bildungsroman about art school, where the students grow up as both artists and as individuals, figuring out what they’re capable of and what direction their lives should lead. Naturally, it’s a messy, sometimes-painful process, but it’s definitely worth all of that in the end, when you see how far the characters have come.

Yuuta Takemoto’s the protagonist of the show, an uncertain artist who’s also in love with the unattainable Hagu. Hagu’s completely involved in her art, though she does take notice of another art student, Morita, who wows her with his over-the-top creations. For his part, Morita also has feelings for Hagu and respect for her art, but he’s constantly being dragged away by his brother and never has a constant presence at the school.

The other two students are Mayama, an architect who is close to graduation and has to deal with getting a job, and Yamada, a ceramicist who’s in love with him. Mayama’s hung up on an older woman he used to work for, and Yamada spends a good amount of time pining over him.

As you should expect from that description, a lot of this show revolves around relationship angst and unrequited love. Eventually the characters move on and find other things to focus on, but it takes a long time, just as heartbreak takes a while to get over in real life. The most affecting transformation happens in Takemoto, but I also loved watching Yamada get over Mayama. If you aren’t into slow-building shows that deal with a lot of emotional issues, this might not be for you, but I found it all completely worth it for the character development.

SETTING: Yay for a show that isn’t about teenagers. Okay, it’s barely not about teenagers, but it’s still a step towards something else. Honey and Clover still takes place at a school, but this time it’s at least a university! Which means adults and adult like inter-relationships.

The school overall is pretty normal. You have several different areas of focus in the fine arts. This program seems to be quite traditional, which may be a Japanese thing, or just the students depicted in the group, either way everyone is pretty much painting or sculpture.

What I liked about this series was how it showed life after the glorious years of college. That dreary part of life where you actually have to go out and find a job. This ends up being a major theme throughout the two seasons as characters graduate or come close to graduating with little idea of what they are going to do next.

SETTING: This show takes place at college, which is a different enough setting on its own to stand out from the pool of anime that take place at high schools. However, the characters are all attending art college, so we also get to see a different aspect of attending college than in something like Genshiken, where the students are all trying to find lucrative careers in business or something. Here they’re trying to figure out what they can do in art, which is an interesting discussion, since artists’ prospects are pretty similar in the US.

I also enjoyed seeing the close ties the students have to the local shopping district, where Yamada’s family runs the liquor store. This show provides a good view of how important the family business can be and how central the shopping district is to a town’s citizens. The shopping district isn’t a huge part of the series, but it’s prominent enough that it feels like an integral part of the setting and has its role in the characters’ lives. Makes me want to visit Japan and see how their towns and cities actually work.

It makes me wish I had a family business to fall back on when I run out of art degrees to pursue. I think part of why I love this show so much is that it focuses on the futility of art and academia.

CHARACTERS: I love the characters in this show! I don’t know if it’s an art school thing, but I strongly identify with the cast. They don’t really count as archetypes or stereotypes, but each of the struggles they go through is so universal it’s practically impossible not to form at least some connection to the characters, even if you aren’t an art nerd like myself.

The first time I watched this series was when I was an undergraduate, and at that time I was very drawn to Yuuta Takemoto. It’s hard not to like the guy, he’s passive, nice, and well meaning. Unlike his friends, his talents have a ways to go before fully maturing, which is definitely how I felt at the time when I first watched this series. The majority of the series follows his studies and him having to come to terms with his current artistic ability, while constantly being over-shadowed by his classmates.

I could probably write a whole essay on each character, but I’ll try to keep this brief. Hagumi and Morita are seen as the idols of the school artistically. When Hagumi enters the school, she becomes a type of muse to Morita. I think it’s safe to say that the pair identify well with each other and have huge art crushes on one another. They constantly inspire and try to out do one another.

Then there is Ayumi, who is my favorite character. She’s a very talented ceramicist, yet the focus is mostly on her relationship drama, which is heart wrenching. I actually like that she constantly gets the short end of the stick, as it feels more realistic. Also it shows that there is always a next time, and while the now might hurt, there is a strong hope for the future. There are a lot of beautifully thought out inter-relationships between characters. Some are romantic, while others are about idolization, or camaraderie. The focus on individuality and talent really helps in strengthening the idea of self acceptance.

I appreciate the variety of relationships and the complex interactions between characters, since that feels more realistic to me. So much anime focuses on idealizing relationships, but Honey and Clover shows you the ups and downs of life while only getting a little extreme at the end of the show.

CHARACTERS: As a protagonist, Takemoto’s very easy to identify with, since he follows the basic arc that most college students go through. He begins out as an uncertain freshman with no idea of his strengths and how to develop them, and it takes a few false starts for him to figure out what he wants to do with his life. Even people who aren’t artists should find Takemoto relatable, since his struggles are universal when it comes to growing up and finding your way.

Yamada’s the other character that I strongly identified with, perhaps because of her unrequited love her Mayama and how difficult she finds it to get over. She’s definitely a flawed individual who’s trying her best to move on, but it takes its time. Like Takemoto, I loved seeing the resolution of her character arc, and I wish her the best in the rest of her life.

Hagu and Morita are more difficult for me to relate to, since they’re both so certain of their skills. They’re like those people who have everything figured out and never waver on the way through life, which makes people around them jealous. They’re both humanized by the end of the series, which makes them more relatable, but I experienced them more as hilarious, idealized figures than as real people.

Mayama was pretty difficult for me to get along with, since he’s so dense about Yamada and causes her so much angst. I don’t really like him, but I can get where he’s coming from if I try to be impartial about it. He’s definitely my least-favorite character of the cast because he’s so clueless about those around him.

There’s a strong supporting cast in Honey and Clover, led by Hagu’s cousin-once-removed Professor Hanamoto. I have a lot of love for all of the secondary characters (except for Mayama’s ex-boss), and I wish I’d seen more of them. This is a great show for characters, since so many of them feel like real people that I felt very intertwined in the characters’ lives.

I don’t want to give away spoilers or anything, but I think Hagu also goes through a very important transformation. I think it goes beyond becoming “humanized”. She is suddenly faced with her future becoming uncertain, when it seemed so definite before. It’s easy to take life for granted when you’re younger, and that’s the challenge she is put up against. Not only is her future threatened, but the realization that it can be, also acts to derail Hagu’s confidence.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: So, I absolutely loved the manga. Typically I really enjoy an animation series that looks and feels like the manga. However I didn’t really like the watercolor feel of Honey and Clover. It just appears too washed out. The value range is extremely limited and it just grates on my nerves, like looking at over-exposed video footage. I never really understood why an anime has to be watercolor in appearance, just because the manga covers choose to be that way. It’s a media, not necessarily a style.

Anyways, the character designs transitioned over to animation nicely and everyone is easy to tell apart, though I often felt people were “off model”. Which also kind of goes back to the manga look, since the characters seemed to have the same problem in the manga as well.

Animation and budget wise I’d say Honey and Clover does as expected of a slice-of-life series. The storyboarding is nice, but that’s probably because it copies the manga so closely. The most exciting aspect is how the studio decided to make the opening sequence with stop animation. It doesn’t really make sense in the grand scheme of things, but it is “artsy”.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Unlike Whitney, I liked the art style of Honey and Clover a lot. I think the pastel-and-watercolor look worked well for the series, and I can’t image it with a different color palette. Visually, the show stands out from other anime, too, and it has an overall artsy look that heralds its subject matter to new viewers.

The character designs also stand out from other anime, as the art style’s very shoujo and the characters, especially Hagu, are very round and soft. As a result, it can be a little difficult to take them seriously as adults, but after a while I got used to it. I do think the character designs work a little better in the sketchy manga style, but they have more continuity and substance in the anime, which I appreciated.

It’s worth noting that Honey and Clover has a lot of wacky humor that shows up visually with characters going SD or having effects in the background. Overall, this is a pretty light-hearted show, so don’t be too shocked when the humor shows up. It’s kind of like Fullmetal Alchemist, where it uses extreme humor to mix up its serious content matter.

OVERALL: Honey and Clover has to be in my top ten list. I don’t actually have a list, so I can’t say that with 100% confidence, but I’m sure it’s up there. This series is a wonderful character study, a charming and whimsical depiction of love, and a fantastic exploration of art and creativity. It may seem a bit slow moving, so I’d recommend it more for slice-of-life fans. Though, I really think it has to be one of the best from that genre, so even if that’s normally not your cup of tea, I think it’s worth giving a shot for the character growth and exploration.

I should also note, that you can easily find and watch episodes online on the Anime News Network website. Which is great, because I’ve been craving another re-watch of this series after suffering through my first year of graduate school in fine art.

OVERALL: I love this show for depicting exactly what college is like in a beautiful, heart-wrenching way. Though my college experience didn’t play out exactly like any of the characters, and even though I wasn’t an art student, Honey and Clover still brings out all of those college feelings for me. There are the close friendships, the unrequited loves, the struggles to pick a career, the difficulties of finding a job when you feel unqualified to do anything. Every part of college is here, distilled down to its essence and mixed with a little bit of honey to make it go down sweeter. The characters of this show feel close enough to be my own college friends, and I’m just as deeply invested in how things turn out for them. Anyone who’s able to sit through a slowly-building, character-driven show should give this a shot. It’s totally worth it.

FINAL SCORE: (9/10) FINAL SCORE: (10/10)

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