Yuta Takemoto has recently enrolled in art college in Tokyo. He’s gradually getting used to his classes, to his schoolwork, and to the ancient apartment complex where he now lives. But when a new student enrolls at the same college, both Takemoto and his senior, Shinobu Morita, fall for her. The young woman, Hagumi, is shy and sheltered, relying heavily on her cousin Shuji Hanamoto, who is a professor at the school. Adding to the relationship troubles are fellow students Ayumi Yamada and Takumi Mayama. Yamada is in love with Mayama, but he only considers her a friend. Instead he is in love with Professor Hanamoto’s good friend Rika, a designer whom Mayama works for occasionally. Rika cannot return his feelings, though, as she is still mourning the loss of her husband in the same car accident which crippled her.
The strength of Chika Umino’s Honey and Clover manga series lies in how she keeps a plot with that many romantic tangles from being maudlin or sappy. She brings her readers from happy to sad to silly and on to thoughtful, all in the same chapter. Luckily for us, the anime follows exactly the same path. The manga series is only ten volumes long, so the anime doesn’t have a lot of fillers or fluff. It will seem that the years are whizzing by, that Takemoto only just got to school when suddenly he’s a third-year student, but that is same as it is in the manga and that’s what makes the story realistic. College years are often fast, moving by at a speed one doesn’t expect. That, combined with the power of the characters’ emotions, is what makes the story come alive. You will feel for these young men and women as they try to keep their hearts whole, knowing all the while that it isn’t possible. No one is a jerk here. Mayama is tortured by Yamada’s crush on him. He genuinely cares for her and wants her to be happy, but he simply cannot return her feelings. Hagumi is overwhelmed by the attentions of Morita, even as she finds a comfortable friendship with Takemoto, but she is troubled by the love she feels from both of them. But you will also laugh with them, especially at some of Morita’s wilder stunts. He is as socially awkward as Hagumi, but shows it in much more flamboyant ways.
Umino’s artwork in the manga is rough lines within open panels, a unique style of imperfect art which keeps the story from being overly precious. Those lines have been smoothed over in the anime, which is both a shame and to be expected. Some of the oddness of the manga is captured in the opening sequence where a series of plates of bizarre food (a cake that looks like panties, a bug made out of veggies, etc.) come alive and move about. These are meant to echo the distressing cooking talents of Hagumi and Yamada. On the third disc is a feature showing you how the opening sequence was filmed, which is fascinating viewing, especially because the director of that section is a woman. The music is nothing terribly special, but the Japanese voice talents are well-cast. The American voices took longer to grow on me. The actors didn’t seem to have fully captured the emotions of the characters in the beginning, but by the third disc they were stronger. The subtitles are in a distressingly small font. I don’t have my television very far away from me and I still had to squint occasionally. There are translation notes on each disc, though not a lot. Some of the signs or special words are not translated, which frustrated me at times, especially since some of them are translated. But the biggest frustration was with the character names. I know Honey and Clover because of the manga, where the characters almost always call each other by their family names. This is also the case in anime when the Japanese actors are speaking, but the subtitles and the American actors would use the characters’ first names. I don’t understand why this was done. It was the one jarring moment of the series and I wish that it had been thought through a little more.
But, that complaint aside, Honey and Clover is still a powerful series, whether you read it or watch it. The characters are still young, but this is different from the usually shojo schoolgirl tale. Umino has crafted real emotions, ones that will affect you no matter your age. A must-watch or must-read.
NOTE: This review was previously posted at an old blog of mine, Fujoshi Librarian.