(Anime Review by Teri O.)
Honey and Clover is a comedic drama that combines heartfelt storytelling with a unique visual style. The voice acting, pacing, and soundtrack are all excellent. Like its name, the anime is down-to-earth and super sweet. It also has deeper themes geared towards high school and college aged youth. Honey and Clover is very touching and heartwarming as it deals with many issues that teens and young adults know best.
The series depicts a group of students enrolled at an art college in Tokyo. Like a true slice-of-life anime, the storyline basically follows the day-to-day trials of adolescence and life in general. It’s fascinating to watch how these students gradually mature in their thoughts, feelings, and relationships. All of the characters are wonderfully developed and much more complex than they initially seem.
The main characters are: Hagumi “Hagu” Hanamoto – a shy blond art prodigy who’s rather small and immature for her 18 years of age; Ayumi Yamada – a nice older girl who’s a talented potter and is popular with many young men but falls in love with the one who doesn’t love her; Yūta Takemoto – a somewhat shy gray-haired boy who befriends (and secretly loves) Hagu; Shinobu Morita – a black-haired perpetual student who’s kind of crazy and moonlights at a mysterious high-paying job; Takumi Mayama – a hardworking architecture student with glasses who’s in love with an older woman but is protective of Ayumi as a dear friend; Shūji Hanamoto – an art teacher and Hagu’s cousin; Rika Harada – a widowed friend of Professor Hanamoto who runs an architecture studio she founded with her late husband.
An interesting thing about this anime is that the thoughts and emotions of the male characters are explored just as well, if not more so, than the females. Much of the story is narrated by Yuta as seen through his eyes, with every character getting his or her moment in the spotlight. Yuta himself is a struggling student who can’t find a job and doesn’t really know what he wants to do. But even though he spends most of his time as a neutral observer, he closes out the first season with an inspiring personal triumph.
Honey and Clover is one of the most realistic animes I’ve seen; nothing magic, sci-fi, or supernatural happens in this series. Though the characters could be university students anywhere, the settings provide a good feel for the Japanese country and lifestyle, from summer festivals to sleeping on futons. You will need to know that about 100 yen = 1 dollar. Japan has a lot less regulation about cigarettes than America does, so don’t be surprised to see some characters smoking. They also drink too much on certain occasions. When not at school, Ayumi helps run the family liquor store. The characters don’t use any bad language, but when emotions run high they will sometimes call someone an “idiot” or “jerk.”
Like real life, the show isn’t entirely serious but can turn hilariously witty and just plain silly at times. The mood switches effortlessly from madcap comedy to utter heartbreak and everything in between. General themes in this anime focus on the joys of friendship and the pain of unrequited love. Teen themes include “finding oneself,” graduating from college, and interviewing for jobs. Summer themes include going to the zoo, riding a Ferris wheel, playing carnival games, watching fireworks, searching for four-leaf clovers, and taking a cross-country bike ride. The show is riddled with pop culture references to things like Twister, Star Wars, other animes, the Mario Brothers, and even Bill Gates.
Episodes 1-13 start out with one of the weirdest openings ever, where spinning plates of food behave in very un-foodlike ways, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with the show so don’t let that turn you off. It’s a homage to Czech stop-motion animator Jan Svankmajer, so in a way it represents the creativity of the art students. The Honey and Clover animators themselves are talented artists adept at instantly switching from subtle scenes of soft watercolors to bold surreal strokes of broad physical comedy.
If Honey and Clover has any faults, it’s that there should have been more episodes because you wish it would keep going. Without realizing it, you’ve become part of that circle of friends: you’ve shared their heartbreaks and triumphs, walked alongside them as they poured out their feelings, and watched each of them grow in some way. The second season went off in various tangents with the development of some new characters, and there’s so much more that could have been done with them. But the story ends just like it begins – right in the middle of things and leaving the possibilities wide open.
This series will make you laugh, cry, and think about what’s important in life. Whether in school or not, who hasn’t asked themselves at some point: “What do I want to do? Who do I want to be?” Honey and Clover may not have the answers, but it’s all about trying to find them. If you’re a fan of Clannad, you will surely like Honey and Clover. You can see Honey and Clover for free on Hulu right now: http://www.hulu.com/honey-and-clover. There are 36 episodes of 23 minutes each – and you can’t just watch one at a time, trust me! – so it would be a pleasant way to spend some lazy summer days.