a.k.a. Hachimitsu to Clover
Takemoto Yuuta is a college student majoring in art. Like most artists (and students) out there, he lives in poverty, sharing a runned-down apartment with a very serious Senior and a very talented, but rather odd, money-lovin’ underachiever. As he juggles between class assignments and looks for a goal he can aspire to reach, Yuuta meets an incredibly talented and diminutive Freshman… and feels his heart skip a beat.
summary by Soundchazer
Highs: Lovely character design; strong ensemble cast; realistic situations people can relate to
Lows: Ending may not satisfy everyone; loses a bit of steam towards the end
When Fuji TV decided they would change the way anime was perceived by creating their “NOITAMINA” (“Animation” read backwards) late-night slot, I was somewhat skeptical. After all, Fuji TV wanted to push the idea that you can do a serial like, say, CSI or Gilmore Girls, while using animation and being successful at it. The logic behind my skepticism was that anime already tackled serious issues in the past, and therefore there was little ground left to cover. I was pleasantly surprised when I was proved wrong and in a really bad way. Honey and Clover is indeed a different breed of anime.
First of all, in order to keep the quality of the animation from dropping, J.C. Staff used over 20 different animation studios to get those 24 episodes done, including some big names like Gainax and Bee Train. Then they used about 18 different directors, almost one per episode. What does this tell us about this production? Instead of trying to bravely march with one or two teams, overwork them and have the quality dip, J.C. Staff used a myriad of crews and had them focus on one or two episodes. This way they could get it right and pay attention to detail. And then there is the music; instead of relying on a lot of generic background music, many of those musical moments were filled with J-Pop and J-Rock songs that were actually good…really good. The best among them was the first ending theme, Waltz by SuneoHair, which is a very memorable song that you can hum to and tap your shoe.
But in the end, no elite production values amount to much if there is not a good story to tell, and Honey and Clover has that and more. The funny thing is that there is really not a specific plot that has to be resolved, but rather a sequence of events that we have to follow. This is a character-driven series, and these people are presented in every facet imaginable: funny, serious, self-conscious, filled with doubts, filled with hopes but never dull. And the thing that makes them great is they are, for the most part, no different from you and me. These characters are firmly grounded in reality and come with some incredibly good insights and dialogue to boot. These characters come in a nice package, too, because the art is very unique. It has a somewhat hazy, dreamlike quality to it, using soft tones and muted colors, almost like watching art being done using cotton, charcoal pencils and crayons. As weird as that sounds, it works perfectly.
If there is anything negative about this anime, it is that the latter part of the series loses a bit of steam. Some of the later episodes were just a tad too introspective and little happens. This is a departure from the first episodes, where the combination of comedy and drama is more balanced. And then there is the ending, a perfect and subtle resolution but a bit too open-ended for people used to Hollywood productions that have a very clear-cut finale.
Regardless of if you are into anime with some shoujo vibes, this is one that you cannot miss. Honey and Clover is so different to almost everything out there that just the novelty alone warrants attention. This is without a doubt one of the best anime of the last ten years.
Highs: Slice of life; superb visuals and soundtrack
Lows: Cast doesn’t grow much; repetitious at times
I was lured into watching this anime with a mere two words: Maison Ikkoku. Those are some really big shoes to fill, but it never bothered trying to fill them in the first place. There is similarity or two, sure, but it’s got plenty of its own stories to tell, and that’s fine, too. At its core, Honey and Clover aims at realism and, for the most part, hits it (some antics take a leap of faith, though). The thoughts and feelings of the cast are distinct reminders of college life; between partying and school work, there’s usually a frightening amount of time left for the characters to do what they want. We get to see them in all of their humanity; love, doubt, joy, and sorrow plague them in every step and decision they make. It’s amazing to watch their experiences and understand why they live their lives the way they do. And somewhere along the line, they become alive. Much like how talking to a stranger may turn them from a statistic into a friend, there’s a certain attachment that grows between the audience and cast. I haven’t seen such emotionally authentic characters since His and Her Circumstances.
Visually, this anime is astounding. The art style is mildly reminiscent of Planetes, but after seeing some of the Honey and Clover manga, it’s apparent that that’s from where most of the inspiration for the style came. The use of rough lines, dull colors, shading with pencil marks and occasional blurring may not sound too hot, but it’s definitely eye candy. Acoustically, the only song that I wouldn’t tout is the opening theme, Dramatic, because the vocalist sounds too whiny. However, everything else is very pleasing to the ear, whether it’s a vocal piece or both end themes.
Regardless of how rich the characters may be, the majority of the cast is rather static. I’m not asking for grand revelations, but their realism is mildly hampered by the fact that these people don’t change over the course of the several years in the anime. And along the same lines, the characters do occasionally sound like a broken record. It’s quickly established that Ayumi has the hots for Takumi, Takumi is in love with the wife of Shuuji’s dead friend, Yuuta is uncertain about his future, etc., but we don’t need to be constantly reminded of that emotional baggage every time someone gets depressed and sulks.
Honey and Clover starts in the middle of everything and ends the same way, a style which works very well here. Some may not like how it ends because they grow too much of an attachment to the characters or want to see some parts finished, but it’s quite fitting. If you’re a fan of shoujo, you’ll kick yourself if you miss this. And if you aren’t a shoujo fan, shut up and watch it anyways.
Highs: Nice artwork
Lows: No plot; little story; static characters; nothing really happens at all
One wouldn’t have to look far to find fans ready and willing to sing the praises of Honey and Clover. Often lauded as being a groundbreaking, brilliant new style of anime, it seems no expense was spared in its creation. However, one also needn’t look far to find those of us who are less impressed with it. Beneath the layers of high budget animation and high production values, this anime is badly lacking in substance.
Though some may argue that anime in the “slice of life” genre need not have a plot, there should at least be something going on that keeps the anime feeling fresh and dynamic. Sadly, this is not the case here. Each episode drags, and each character repetitiously does whatever antic the creators assigned to him to make him seem “unique.” The girls whine endlessly, the men angst and nothing ever really moves forward. Though the writers did make an effort to include two separate storylines, neither one ever goes anywhere. Instead, the characters spend a lot of time crying, suffering, internalizing their problems and staring at the sky or out of a window while music plays in the background.
During the second half of this anime, things begin to look up… briefly. One of the storylines actually becomes mildly interesting and moves to the forefront. However, this refreshing change is very shortlived, and soon this anime moves back into its previous state of stagnation. Occasionally, the endless boredom is interrupted by something genuinely beautiful or moving, but without fail the mood is shattered by ill-timed and badly conceived attempts at humor. In the end, Honey and Clover ends pretty much where it started, with exceptions: the characters haven’t grown and nothing is resolved.
It would be unfair to dismiss this anime out of hand without mentioning the artwork, which is gorgeous. Soft and dream-like, this anime creates a gentle atmosphere and a world of astonishing texture and color. This alone almost makes it worth watching, but not quite. Instead, it is often frustrating to see such lovely visuals combined with dull, annoying and sometimes grating characters.
In the end, Honey and Clover is an anime that fans will have to watch and pass judgment on for themselves. Some will undoubtedly find it charming and unique. Others, like myself, will find it frustratingly dull, filled with pointless melodic interludes and get fed up with the repetitive angst-ing. Pretty though it may be, this anime is far from groundbreaking.
Honey and Clover can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.