Honey and Clover Box Set 2 (VIZ Media, T+ for older teens)

I’m probably making Honey and Clover sound like a Tolstoy novel but it makes perfect sense as you watch the series.

 
Chica Umino’s Honey and Clover has proven to be quite the sturdy franchise, having already appeared in manga, anime and live-action forms. I’ve become a fan of the series in all its incarnations, and what I like best is that it’s aimed neither at kids nor at guys who like to see machines fighting and stuff getting blown up.
 
No, Honey and Clover is written for adult women (technically it’s a josei series, for women from the late teenage years and older) and it’s all about students in an art college trying to figure out how they fit into the big world out there. When they’re not working on their art projects or viewing the cherry blossoms, they’re having long philosophical conversations with each other or with themselves. The central character is a girl whose primary concern is becoming an artist rather than nailing the cutest boy on the block (or in this case the building, since the main student characters all live in the same low-rise apartment building).
 
Click here for a larger image.The second box set of Honey and Clover presents episodes 13-24 of the first season plus a bonus episode and some extras. If you’ve been following the series (and if you haven’t, I recommend watching the first 12 episodes before starting in with this set) you know the basic setup. The main arc is a love triangle with Hagumi (Hagu) at the apex. She’s a shy country girl who looks and sometimes acts like she’s 12 years old but is very serious about her art. Hagu is desired by both Shinobu and Yuta, although they have strange ways of showing or not showing it. Shinobu is the oldest of the three: he’s had to repeat several years of school because, although talented, he’s also erratic and can’t seem to organize himself to meet the graduation requirements. Yuta is a much more nervous character who fell for Hagu at first sight and is jealous of Shinobu but too shy and conflicted to express himself. And now he’s almost ready to graduate and has more than the usual worries about his future.
 
The supporting arc, so to speak, centers around Takumi, an architecture student whose emotional life is even more complicated: he’s still carrying a torch for Rika (an older woman for whom he worked) while his fellow student Ayumi is in love with him. While Takumi is not interested in Ayumi he feels he has to protect her from the predatory Nomiya. There’s also lots of minor characters including Mario and Luigi, two absolutely stereotypical screaming queens with costumes apparently designed by Johnny Weir, a dragon-lady salesperson, Hagu’s cousin Shuji who teaches at the college, a couple of truly ancient professors and a dog whose thoughts we can understand.
 
I’m probably making Honey and Clover sound like a Tolstoy novel but it makes perfect sense as you watch the series. The big things that happen in episodes 13-24 are that Shinobu abruptly leaves for America and Yuta becomes so agonized about his future that he takes off on his bicycle and rides all the way to the northern tip of Japan. So the guys are off on road trips of self-discovery while Hagu is having a more internal journey of a similar type. She has to work through an artistic crisis and discover what is truly important to her, while the faculty and her fellow students debate the meaning of success and whether it is possible for a woman artist to be either truly successful or happy, let alone both at the same time.
 
This series can really grow on you—it’s sort of a soap opera with many intersecting arcs but where nearly all the characters are nice and well-meaning. They can become a bit silly with their determined introspection, but Umino treats them all fondly and with respect. Besides, if you can’t indulge in a little navel-gazing while at college, exactly when should you do it? There are enough well-rounded characters of different types that most viewers will be able to find one to identify with (I’m a Yuta girl, myself) or at least to cheer on.
 
The animation of Honey and Clover is above average for a television series. The basic look for the characters is a softened version of anime conventions and the color scheme includes a lot of pastels. Most of the storytelling is done with fairly realistic art (within anime conventions, of course) but at moments of extreme emotion the characters revert to caricatures and the backgrounds turn into screens just like in shojo manga. The opening and closing sequences mix photo-realism with fanciful animation to very nice effect. The music is also more effective, or at least more to my taste, than what you find in the usual anime series.
 
The DVD set comes in a slipcase and includes several extras. Most substantial is a humorous bonus episode which goes outside the main story arcs. There’s also footage from the Tokyo 2005 anime fair and a 2005 screening party (great for people who are into anime culture), some voice recording clips, a selection of production art and clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. You have a choice of the original soundtrack or an English dub (the Japanese sounds much more impressive to me) and there are optional English subtitles. | Sarah Boslaugh

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