Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Jan 29th 2016
Honey So Sweet
When she was in middle school, kind-hearted Nao left an umbrella and a box of band-aids with a beat-up boy in the rain. Now in high school that boy has resurfaced – with a confession of love and a desire to date with marriage in mind! Nao isn't sure she's ready for this, plus she thinks she's in love with her legal guardian, so she asks the boy, Onise, if they can just be friends. Onise agrees, and Nao starts to realize that with love, nothing is quite as simple as it looks, and that the scariest outsides can hide the sweetest souls.
Spiritually, Honey So Sweet has a lot in common with Robico's My Little Monster. Both stories feature high school age heroes who frighten their classmates (and even got suspended for the same reason on the first day of school) and the girls they love, neither of whom are entirely clear on what this whole “love” business is in the first place. If that's your flavor of sweet, then this first volume of Amu Meguro's English-language debut is worth checking out, especially since Meguro explores the question in a totally different way than Robico does.
The heroine of Honey So Sweet (originally titled just Honey in Japan) is Nao, a high school first year whose parents died in an unspecified accident when she was six. Custody was awarded to her young uncle, whose honest and earnest attempts at taking care of the traumatized Nao lead her to believe that she's in love with him. Rather than leave this creepy construct in place as an actual barrier to Nao developing feelings for Onise, who fell hard for her when she left him her umbrella and a box of band-aids when he was injured in the rain, instead Meguro takes care to show us that what Nao thinks is romantic love for her uncle is likely instead the only way she had to classify her feelings of gratefulness and familial love. As a shy, quiet girl, Nao doesn't have many friends or opportunities to interact with boys her own age; coming to high school was a chance for her to change that, although she hasn't been able to at the story's start. With her uncle being her only major social interaction and source of affection, it becomes easy to see how she could have convinced herself that her feelings were romantic. Interestingly it is Onise who points this out for the readers; when he meets Uncle Sou in chapter five, when he comments that he was previously worried about the two, but now sees “a normal, happy relationship.” This seems to be an acknowledgment that he understands what Nao doesn't, and feels as if he might really have a chance.
Onise himself is a lovable protagonist, despite coming on very strong at the beginning. He fell for Nao when she overlooked his scary face and the fact that he was totally beaten up to show him compassion in middle school, and he kept her umbrella (with her name and address on it) in the hopes of someday being able to find and thank her. When he sees her name on a class list in high school, he loses little time presenting her with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and asking her to date him with marriage in mind. He is 100% serious, but he does understand that he's freaking her out, so showing more maturity than anyone credits him with, he agrees to just be friends. To his everlasting credit, Onise never goes back on that in this volume (and I hope the remaining seven volumes of the series keep him this kind and respectful), refraining from the vast array of creepy “you remember I'm a guy, don't you” tactics that shoujo manga has sadly become known for. Instead he does his best to look out for Nao, to build her (and himself) a friend group so that neither of them is as ostracized as they have been, and to just generally be a good person. We as readers aren't allowed to forget that he's in love with her, but she as a character is, only remembering at certain times. This helps the volume to have a slower pace and a more organically evolving relationship than many other shoujo romances, which is quite pleasant.
On the other hand, it also makes Honey So Sweet's first volume drag a little in places. Since the character who needs to do the most changing is Nao, we need to come to understand her past and and her present, and while the past is very well done, the present consists of a lot of familiar territory, such as dividing into groups and a school trip, along with the obligatory chapter about how good both Nao and Onise are with children. The other two friends introduced this book are also fairly unremarkable: the cocksure, abrasive boy and the stand-offish girl, neither of whom are yet adding to the dynamic between Onise and Nao, except to keep pointing out that they act like they're dating. Granted, it is only volume one, but it feels like a little more could have been done here; the same goes for Sou, who is either unaware of Nao's feelings or valiantly trying to act like they don't exist. Both are fine, but a hint as to which would have been nice.
Meguro's art has a soft, dreamy quality to it that really works for most of the story, with only the school trip section not quite pulling it off. (This feels true of the writing as well.) There is no overuse of screen tone, which is pleasing to the eye, and characters are generally very easy to tell apart. Bodies tend to look too long for their legs (particularly when it comes to males), but the pages flow easily and the book is easy and pleasant to read.
Honey So Sweet's first volume introduces us to a charming story that plays with some of the established forms of romance we frequently see in shoujo manga. Nao and Onise are protagonists worth following as they carefully navigate love's twisting road, and it looks as if Meguro is going to place more emphasis on slow realizations for Nao than on lightening strike romance. Thus far this is a story as sweet as its title; hopefully it can maintain that charm.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Sweet and charming, works around some of the tropes of shoujo romance. Art is pleasant and the leads are worth following.
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