Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Honey and Clover II
DVD - Box Set 3
No group of friends can stay unriven forever. Like any group, Takemoto's close-knit circle drifts slowly apart as the currents of life take them in different directions. Takemoto is working on getting his driver's license so he can become an itinerant repairman of temples and cultural landmarks. Morita and his brother Kaoru are nearing the end-game in a lifelong quest for vengeance. Mayama's work at Harada Design is taking him places, both geographical and emotional, that are far removed from his college life, and Yamada is struggling to leave Mayama behind—with the not entirely unselfish help of Nomiya. And Hagu...her need to create is driving her into a corner she may not have the wherewithal to escape. But whatever future they choose, whatever their distance, they are still friends, and when tragedy stretches its claws into their lives, they come together one last time to prove it.
Honey and Clover II, the twelve-episode sequel to Honey and Clover, is a very different beast than its progenitor; different merely by dint of being the series' concluding chapter. Where Honey and Clover was a study in delicate melancholy driven by slow change, Honey and Clover II is an emotional locomotive, coming out of the gate with both fists swinging and never letting up. This is a conclusion; full of significant development, irrevocable changes and big events. It brings all of the characters to their end-games and builds in a very traditional manner to a simultaneous climaxing of several plot lines. This is a sharp departure from the deliberate lack of directionality in Kenichi Kasai's subtle, unconventional first season. There is no repetition here, no reassuring stasis undercut by unnoticeable drifting, no long, sneaky, premeditated builds to potently underplayed emotional climaxes. Rather season two is all full-bore forward motion towards emotional payoffs that redefine the heart-wrenching power of the bittersweet. It's an unstoppable emotional steamroller—slow, inexorable, powerful—that gracefully stomps the crap out of your heart from start to finish.
It is also a cornucopia of wonderful moments, a cinematic horn of plenty packed with such care that hardly a scene passes that isn't beautiful, moving or laden with meanings to be parsed over multiple watchings. A long delayed glimpse inside Hagu's head finds there one of anime's most poetic tributes to the joy and torture of artistic creation. Mayama's pent-up frustrations explode when Rika waxes quietly suicidal; Morita reveals a carefully shielded core of emotional scar tissue; and Nomiya's inner softie comes out to play, embarrassing him to no end. No mere litany can communicate the sheer volume of game-changing moments in the series, and between them, buttressing them, are innumerable incisive little touches; tiny moments of outsized import that spit shards of feeling with unerring accuracy. Things like Yamada smiling through her tears at some familiar flowers or Takemoto noticing Hagu's discomfort around him. Warm things, sweet things, stark things, painful things—woven tight and propelled forward.
The series may be something of a velveteen battering ram, but that directness should not be mistaken for crudeness. Tatsuyuki Nagai, who takes over the director's chair from auteur of the indirect Kenichi Kasai, is too conscientious to break with the first season by being artlessly melodramatic. Nagai builds the cast's emotional lives from details—glances, changes in expression, one-sided conversations, actions that speak of things that words can't—their meanings made so plain by his instinctive eye for the emotional content of human movement that dialogue is often moot.
His conscientiousness doesn't end there. Nagai does everything in his power to make his sequel an organic extension of the original. The characters are as adorably expressive as ever, their world the same sepia-tinged watercolor wonder it was before. The score remains sensitive, the piano versions of the vocal themes able to play manipulative melodies with viewers' own heartstrings. And though a far darker series, it still finds time for some killer, and typically surreal, gags (like Yamada's trash-talking unicorn guardians). Nagai even goes so far as to continue Kasai's wheel motif (though a tad less effectively) and open each episode with an avant-garde stop-motion sequence. If it weren't for the way he twists it all to the sequel's own darkly potent ends, polishing away the series' rough edges, you'd be excused for not noticing the change in leadership at all.
Viz's dub continues to be their release's Achilles' Heel. Very close to being directly translated, it lacks the grace and poetry of the Japanese, and while the actors do good work when emotions run high, the frequent introspective interludes aren't understated so much as lifeless. It also mistakes the meaning of some scenes, prompting the actors to imbue their lines with the entirely wrong emotions. Nomiya's dueling internal monologues are flattened into one not entirely sensible one, and in one rather embarrassing scene Hagu describes a statue with a weird sensuousness rather than a more appropriate sad longing. Naming conventions are also problematic, as the consistent use of first names even when the original uses last names destroys at least one scene. A problem shared by the subtitles as well. Even dub fans will want to stick to the subs.
Aside from extras standbys like clean opening and closing animation and a smattering of production art, the set also features a "voice acting karaoke" feature. In it you can practice a couple of scenes' worth of Hagu and Takemoto's lines. Weirdly addictive, though lethally embarrassing if someone happens to walk in on you. This is also where you'll find the series' credits, both English and Japanese.
The humor, subtlety and casual warmth of Kasai's first season are missed to be sure, but in its way Honey and Clover II is the perfect sequel: dense, contiguous, and willing to ruthlessly capitalize on the characters and moods so painstakingly painted by its predecessor. All payoff and no filler, it both builds on and demolishes the original's work, bringing it to a definitive close and in the process creating a powerful (if more conventional) drama that speaks to universal emotions in all of us.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A
+ Lean, propulsive, and unspeakably emotional.
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