Reviewby Carlo Santos, Oct 18th 2005
Honey and Clover
Second-year art student Yuuta Takemoto lives the typical college life: sleeping, eating, and dealing with troublesome apartment mates like eccentric Morita and ladies' man Mayama. Life gets interesting when Hagumi Hanamoto, the gifted niece of Professor Shuuji Hanamoto, comes to school and surprises everyone with her talents (and unusually young appearance). Takemoto wants to make friends with her, but Morita always seems to make the first move; Hagu-chan, meanwhile, is afraid of the boys and prefers the company of pottery student Ayumi Yamada. Gradually they all warm up to each other, learning the ups and downs of college life and beyond.
Was it ever supposed to get this good? Honey and Clover began life as the debut series for Fuji TV's "Noitamina" (read it backwards) lineup, a new anime block aimed at older female audiences. The simple but daring plan worked—young women who would never normally watch anime got into it, and the manga now breaks the Top 10 sales list regularly, sitting alongside blockbuster titles like Prince of Tennis or Bleach. But even viewers outside the target demographic attest to its greatness, pointing out its heartfelt storytelling and unique visual style. It was supposed to be just good enough for sophisticated female viewers—and it ended up being good enough for everyone. Funnier than most comedies and more touching than most dramas (even the live-action ones), Honey and Clover has emerged as one of the best shows of 2005.
Like a true slice-of-life series, it begins right in the middle of things—Takemoto in his second year of college, Mayama nearing graduation, and Morita stuck in seventh-year hell. When Hagu-chan shows up, there's hardly any "please welcome the new student" pomp; she simply joins the cast, and the drama-go-round begins. There is no epic quest to fulfill, no convoluted conspiracy to unlock, no childhood friend to win over—it's just a bunch of college kids figuring out what to do with their lives, and it is fascinating. Every character gets a moment in the spotlight, with story arcs transiting flawlessly between each other. Even Takemoto, who spends most of the series as a neutral observer, closes things out with an inspiring personal triumph. The mood of the show switches effortlessly from madcap comedy to utter heartbreak and everything in between, yet nothing feels out of place. Within a single episode, a game of Art School Twister takes humor to new heights, and yet minutes later, Takemoto muses upon the meaning of friendship.
Like all good shoujo, Honey and Clover succeeds because of its characters' complex personalities. Morita emerges as a quick fan favorite with his bizarre antics and affinity for money, but to focus on him is to miss out on the intricate relationships between everyone else. In particular, Ayumi's unrequited attachment to Mayama is sure to arouse plenty of indignation about the portrayal of women in Japanese entertainment. But maybe that anger is because Ayumi openly reveals everything we hate about themselves: weakness, insecurity, and the tendency to do really stupid things in the name of love. She is the most human character in a cast of incredibly human characters.
Despite this realism on the emotional level, however, the artwork in the show is decidedly surreal and dreamlike. The character designs match the manga almost perfectly with big, expressive eyes, ultrathin lines, and characteristic hatch marks. Even the coloring style adheres to the comic; you may never again see an anime that looks like it was watercolored (there are a few exceptions, like SaiKano). The animation is equally adept, with moments of broad physical comedy being rendered just as smoothly as subtle scenes of close-up dialogue. And of course, no discussion of Honey and Clover is complete without the infamous "food" opening, where spinning plates of food behave in very un-foodlike ways. This 90-second homage to stop-motion auteur Jan Svankmajer is just the first of many artistic touches, proving that the animators—like the art students depicted in the series—treasure creativity above all else.
If music is the language of emotion, then few shows speak it as eloquently as this one. With just a few studio instruments, the soundtrack is able to express the gamut of emotions that each character runs through. The energetic opening theme by YUKI converts into a gentle piano solo, and even Morita's bouts of insanity are accented by charming comedic themes. The most effective emotional tools, however, are the insert songs by singer-songwriter Suga Shikao and rock group SPITZ. Playing a poignant song over internal monologue is hardly a new thing, especially in angsty teen dramas, but to hear it used in an anime makes the technique fresh once more.
If Honey and Clover has any faults, it's that you want it to keep going after it's over. It ends just like it begins—right in the middle of things, with so much more yet to be experienced. 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 one of them learn a little bit more about themselves. 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.
Overall : A
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A+
Music : A+
+ A unique dramatic comedy (or comedic drama) that will capture your heart.
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