Reviewby Megan Rocke, Aug 2nd 2011
Honey and Clover - Collection 1
Love, Life, Education!?
What do you get when you cross creativity with self-discovery and unrequited love? Art school!
Yuta Takemoto has no idea what's in store for his life when he enrols at a Tokyo art college, but he find out right away it'll never be dull! Love triangles form as fast as friendships when both Takemoto and senior classmate Shinobu Morita fall hard for shy artistic prodigy Hagumi Hanamoto. And while architecture student Takumi Mayama secretly pines for an older woman, dazzling ceramicist Ayu Yamada pines for him! Confused yet? Welcome to the bitter-sweet world of Honey and Clover...
Many of us enjoy anime for its escapist and fantasy qualities; many popular anime take us on adventures we could never experience in real life, through characters who pilot giant robots or discover latent magical powers they didn't know they had. Or an anime might throw us into the kind of high drama we don't tend to experience in our own lives, full of murder, mystery or grand evil conspiracies. Honey & Clover takes a very different route however. It's full of stories of everyday events told at an easygoing pace, and it certainly won't be for everyone. But if you enjoy seeing ordinary people finding their way through life and love, with all the joys and disappointments that we experience ourselves, this series can take you on a journey that's rich, sensitive and emotionally true, with all the comic and dramatic anime style you're familiar with from more bombastic anime.
Honey & Clover spans two series of anime and follows the coming-of-age journey of Takemoto Yuuta and his other friends at an art college in Tokyo. This first collection from Madman contains the first 12 episodes of the series, along with a comic one-off special. We're introduced first to Takemoto, his roommate Morita and their neighbour Mayama in the cheap, run-down student apartment building they all live in - a brief but vivid picture of the conflicts and camaraderie of their cheap student lifestyle. The anime then progresses to a day at the university, where the other main characters are introduced: Yamada, a pottery student, Shuuji, their professor, and Shuuji's shy cousin Hagu, who is a new student at the university. The episodes that follow gradually develop each of these characters through their friendly interactions, the way they work and explanations of their pasts. We quickly get accustomed to the complex relationships in the group, too; Morita and Takemoto are both in love with Hagu, and Yamada loves Mayama, who is in love with Shuuji's old friend Rika.
The series' focus on unrequited love may seem tiresome; none of the romantic plot lines come close to being resolved by the end of the twelve episodes in this collection. However romance is only ever one aspect of the main characters' lives, and all of them are fully-rounded with plenty of development outside of their love interests. Takemoto and Yamada both dwell on their unrequited feelings for their respective love interests, but the series presents plenty of insight into the other aspects of their characters through the progress of their art projects and their relationships with their families. Hagu, who first appears to be unrealistically childish and dependent on her cousin, becomes a much more complex and believable character when we learn about her background and watch her gradually learn to be more independent. Even Morita, who usually exists as comic relief, shows hints of a much more complex character by the end of this collection.
The plot may not be complex or fast moving, but the characters are all fascinating and the most emotional moments always hit home, like Shuuji's decision to travel abroad and leave Hagu behind, or Hagu's fear of her own feelings for Morita. The slow-moving love stories may be frustrating for some, but although they tend to dwell on their feelings a lot, the way the characters deal with them is usually refreshingly mature in comparison to the comic denial and misunderstanding that drive most anime romances. This collection covers only the first third of the series, and there are sure to be more satisfying plot developments to come.
In terms of the DVD release, it's a decent job. The Japanese and English vocal performances are both pleasant to watch, though I preferred to watch the Japanese with subtitles; the English cast don't nail the most dramatic moments quite as well, and the overall feel of the series is so quintessentially Japanese that the American accents can sound out of place. Madman's decision to use manga art as background for the menu screens looks a little tacky, but the DVD extras are great: an index of difficult-to-translate Japanese terms is helpful for those things which can't easily be explained within the episode, and the documentary showing the making of the unique opening sequence is a real treat.
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