I think there are 2 ways for a show to achieve greatness. One of them is to shock a viewer - quick action, unexpected story twists and lots of suspense are perfect tools for it. Whether the plan is to leave the viewer pumped up with adrenaline ( approach that most of sports animes take) or leave him empty and depressed ( End of Evangelion is the best example here) the main part of it is impact. As long as you are hit strong enough, you will naturally use "amazing" and "extraordinary" when talking about that anime. The second way is equally tricky to pull, even though it sounds simple - it's main principle is to charm a viewer and it's main tool would be the mood. This is the approach, that most of the slice of life are taking. Honey and Clover is no exception of that.
Story - 9/10
This anime is a story about group of 5 students attending Hamabi art college. Even though they are all from different years, they hang out together, party together, at some points work together and some of them even live together. Basicly they are really close friends, slowly entering mature life. On their way to adulthood they face many emotional and social hurdles, and have to learn how to deal with them. Difficult relationships, confusion with planning career after graduation, money issues, pressure from society, lack of inspiration, drive to improve yourself... All the problems are gently presented, as the characters worry, laugh, think, cry and try to enjoy their college days. Even though there are moments that come close to "dramatic" cathegory, they unfold at very slow pace, typical for slice of life. That approach takes away the impact, which leaves the sad parts on "slightly melancholic" level of drama.
Coming of age is the main topic of this anime, but not the only one. There is also a bittersweet romance weaved in the background, or to be precise two different romances. One of them is sweet, but unbelievably slow love triangle between Takemoto, Hagu and Morita. While it sounds as an interesting pairing, due to the personalities of characters involved, it hardly moves in any direction. Since both Takemoto and Morita figured, that the other one is also in love with Hagu they are avoiding confrontation (probably in order to keep the friendship going). Sure, there are some developments but come one - there are only 3 or 4 moments, at which we can honestly say that one of them have taken some action, yet none of those actions pushed the relationship into something deeper than friendship. The rest of the scenes given to that romance is either character thoughts, dialogues with uninvolved characters or just stuff normal friends do. And even though I understand that this slow approach fits the overall mood, stilll - for a 24 episodes show that's kinda weak.
Second romance, while also unresolved, is a bit more interesting. It's also a love triangle, at some point even a love square. To put it simply - Yamada loves Mayama, but has been rejected since Mayama loves Rika (and also been rejected... kinda), and I won't spoil who the fourth participant in this play will be. Since they aren't at level of quiet admiration, this romance doesn't seem as stale as the first one. Sure, it's not moving forward at first, but later it naturally evolves, and washes the bitter aftertaste of never-ending game of tag. While I think, that Mayama is the one, who gets most of the blame for lack of change in their relationship, it's hard to really judge him, since everyone has it's reasons. I guess that how it works with love triangles - if the author manages to make all characters likeable, you aren't sure anymore who should you cheer.
Ther is also another factor in this equation - comedy. While "melancholy" rules over bigger part of the show, in order to loose the tension some jokes are neccessary. It happens more often at the beginning of the show, and slowly fades near the end. Since I'm a fan of absurd, black humour (like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei for example) the comedy seemed really mild for my tastes. At least for the most part,since there were also really hilarious moments (new version of Twister or Mocademi Awards being the prime examples). Watching this show just for comedy would be a grave mistake though.
While the story is quite good, and have it's importance, it is not the main focus of the anime. After all - with the pace, at which the plot unfolds, even the most amazing story would turn out to be boring, unless... the anime was based on something different. And that's exactly the case - Honey and Clover is more focused on scenes than on story (similar to Aria). The most important thing is to create some moments with charming and heartwarming mood that the viewer might enjoy (even though most of them won't lead to any major twists in the plot). They manage to achieve it by taking a nice idea for a romantic/melancholic scene, fill it with meanigful dialogue, season it with beatiful animation and sound, and finally top it with narration of character inner thoughts. And since J.C.Staff is really skillful at creating touching moments, you can expect some quality time.
I've written already 5 paragraphs filled with mostly praise, but it's not like the show is perfect. The main (and the most deadly) flaw is the weak start. No matter how you would try to defend it - it's pretty clear, that first 3-4 eps are mostly for the purpose of introducing characters and their relations. Moreover first ep even brings scenes, that are completely irrelevant to current plot, and their meaning is clear only near the end of the show. Sure - I can understand, that it's purpose was to make some sort of connection between the beginning and the end of the anime, but still... The pace of the show is already slow enough, so further weakening the beginning seems kinda like a suicide goal. While slow pace could be considered a flaw in general, I think it's normal thing for slice of life. You can't really rush, when your plan is to captivate the viewer in some charming scenes - that would just kill the mood. That said, to be perfectly honest - first half could be a bit faster paced. I mean when I compare the first half to second half, it's obvious which one is better and some part of that is due to story unfolding quicker. The last flaw I notice is the lack of closure. Of course the reason for that is the existence of second season, but as an independent show, Honey and Clover feels really unfinished. Apart from Takemoto confusion every single storyline resolution is left for second season.
You will have to excuse my fanboyish attitude, but I think the animation in this show is simply beatiful. If not for the calm, pastel drawings, the slightly melancholic, bittersweet mood could not be achieved so easily. There is barely any CG, and when it appears it's nicely planted, so that it wouldn't feel out of place. Characters are pretty detailed, and often it felt as if I were watching moving manga instead of an anime.
Sound - 9.2/10
The opening was a bit weak ( though the opening video was great and original, but that's a different story :P). The first ending was good, the second was also weak. But the background music was really great. A nice and simple combination of piano, violin and (at some parts) guitar amplified the mood well (and the main "melancholic" theme managed to stuck in my head, which doesn't happen so often). Also there were a few nice, slow songs scattered among many episodes, that helped to highlight some of the important scenes ( or at few occasions were used for some short recap). Seiyus did a good job, especially Hiroshi Kamiya (voice actor for Takemoto) during "inner thoughts narration", since his voice fits the mood perfectly.
Character - 8.6/10
Among the 5 main characters Takemoto grows the most. He starts as a gloomy kid without self-confidence or purpose in life. On the course of show, plagued by inferiority complex (which is understandable, being surrounded only by talented people) he struggles to find a goal for himself. He is this sort of "too nice guy", who prefers to stand on the side, rather than challenge Morita, and try to win Hagus affection. His depressing attitude is a bit annoying, but it's understandable (no job, no goal, one-sided love + love triangle with good friend... yeah, it can get depressing). Near the end of the show he finally matures (though most of the effects of his transformation can be seen in season 2)
Morita is Takemoto's exact opposite. Bright and energetic, talented genius who can easily create a great sculpture, play morin-khuur or create a CG for a movie. He is the biggest prankster, and source of most of the comedy in the show. He is also incredibly selfish, and doesn't know how to create a good relationship. Due to that he feels jealous of friendship between Takemoto and Hagu. While amusing, this character is very incomplete. Some hints about his motives are hidden throughout the show, but the real explanation for his actions is in season 2. Without it, he seems to be only a whimsical genius, and he is actually a bit more than that.
Last part of this love triangle, Hagu is the most artificial character in H&C. Having the looks of middle school kid is one thing, having that kind of mentality is another. For a first half of the show she doesn't speak much, and when she does it's usually silly. She matures during the second half of the show, mainly due to overhelming pressure and artistic troubles she encounter. Still, to me she seems most alive not when she acts, but when Takemoto watches her and narrates it. Even though his narration is biased, he still highlits some details that aren't exposed well enough just through her actions, or he adds some sort of commentary that makes Hagu more interesting (for example his thoughts about "how much the world differ, from the talented painter Hagu point of view")
Yamada is way more realistic character than Hagu. Strong on the outside she is plagued by unrequited love. At the beginning she plays the role of hurt princess, but later on she realises, that the weird situation she's in is not only Mayama fault. She is selfish, easily throws tantrums or cries (especially when she's alone) and her desperate tries to cling to Mayama makes her look a bit uncool. Yet at the same time those feats makes her look real and likeable. Also during her "innner thoughts narrations" we learn, that she also feels guilty for being unable to forget Mayama and find new love.
Mayama is the most interesting of the five, even though he grows the least. He is intelligent and cunning, doesn't mind forcing his way in, when it benefits him. He is almost a stalker (very thin line here). The main issue with him would be his unhealthy relation with Yamada. After he rejects her at the beginning of the show, he still feels he have the right to decide, if the "candidate" is appropriate boyfriend for Yamada or not. I can understand he does feel guilty, and Yamada uses it (hoping to make him fall in love with her) but still he acts kinda like a jerk. His main issues are about emotional stuff, since he is the only from the main group, that have a steady and interesting job through almost the whole show.
Rika, Nomiya and Hanamoto are suffering from the same problem Morita does - they aren't good enough without season 2. They do well as support characters, but nothing more than that, even though they try to be somewhere between support and main cast. Rika and Hanamoto have their past partially explained , but their main reason for acting is only uncovered in H&C II. That makes them feel kinda flat, especially compared to the main protagonists. The rest of the characters plays purely support role ( In most cases comedic relief )
Overall - 9/10
Honey and Clover isn't a show for every type of romance fan. If you don't like slow-paced slice of life you will be disapointed or bored by this anime. Hovewer, if you like charming shows based on mood, than this is a must see.
Story: A slice of life kind of anime without a set plot where we follow the lives of three roommates who are in college and trying to find purpose in their lives. That's the basic gist of the anime and yet the story manages to add so much depth, humor, and reality into it at such a well pace that I was hooked from beginning to end without getting bored. The odd, random, and absolutely wonderful humor balanced out the rather heavy drama stemming from the plethora of intertwining love triangles and trying to find a job and goal in life. The anime is so realistic and well-paced that I can't help but feel for all the characters except maybe Shinobu but he remains an enigma, switching from being deep to ridiculous continuously. Despite the realism, just when I thought I knew what would happen, the characters would surprise me with their unexpected but understandable decisions. They're just trying to get through college and adult life as well as they can while dealing with the pains of uncertainty and love. The anime takes the simple slice-of-life genre and creates a well-paced, deep, heartwarming, unpredictable, and unforgettable story that truly stands out and left me satisfied with a bittersweet, open ending that wasn't a perfect ending for everyone but a happy/sweet ending nonetheless that answers some questions while still leaving itself open to a 2nd season.
Animation: Absolutely beautiful. Just what to expect from J.C. Staff. The art is subdued, not particulary vibrant, but rich in color and slightly toned down. The rich, pastel colors add to the rather down-to-earth feel the anime has and makes the anime seem more realistic. The animation of the people is done wonderfully. Everyone looks distince and the art style is rather unique. I haven't quite seen character designs like these, well at least for the females. The expressions are done so well with pain or happiness being conveyed merely through facial expressions or through the eyes. There is also such attention to detail such as turning on a blinker when a character makes a turn, the lingering of the camera on a four-leaf clover, the way the wind blows in the characters hair and clothes, or even the way it repeats the images of a bike wheel/ferris wheel to make a point of how the characters feel. It really makes the viewer connect to the characters and relate to their internal battles.
Sound: Again, absolutely beautiful. It is so soft and rich sounding with nothing to dramatic and really "loud" which suites the anime perfectly. Suga Shikao's songs perfectly add to the mood and add another layer to the scene while the scores are all memorable, adding dpeth to the scene and heightening the emotion that are spilling forth from the characters. I just had to go listen to the entire soundtrack and realized I adored every piece which means I need to go and buy it. The music is just so unique and each selection stands out to me. So not only did they all manage to add to the scene, it made me want to know what each was called so I get the song. The opening and both endings really convey the message of the anime nicely though the 2nd ending was not nearly as catchy and sweet as the 1st.
The VAs really added depth to the characters, expressing their emotions with such depth that I truly felt for each character and each and every one of them stood out.
Characters: A unique and wonderful cast that is filled with depth, humor, and quirks. Each character is suffering yet smile through their pain and uncertainty in life and continue with lives on a day-to-day basis. Yuta is trying to find a job while realizing that he is in love. He fears rejection and tries to sort through the uncertainties of his future the best he can in a realistic manner though comes to an unforeseen action towards the end of the anime. He cares about his roommates and tries his best to help them though it is definitely not easy. Shinobu's life is a mysterty to all and I still don't know what his job is or what goes through his mind but he adds plenty of comedy to the group. Ayumi struggles through her one-sided love and I can't help but hope for a happy ending for her as she tries to strive forward. Hagu is just so cute and acts like such an adorable child yet she is so mature in her way of thinking and understanding situation sometimes. Each character seems like a cliche at first glance but all of them develop so wonderfully throughout the anime and solidify their unique personalities with their reasonable flaws that make them so easy to relate to during the beginning of the anime so we care about their problems and want to see them find happiness. One of my top casts in an anime.
Overall: A refreshingly unique take on a slice-of-life where all the characters grow and mature in a realistic pace while keeping true to themselves. The question "How far can I travel without looking back?" is continually referred to and showcases how each of them strives forward yet still cling to the past letting it hold them back or allowing them to go forth. The anime was amazing from start to finish. I highly recommend this to everyone who is at least a young teenager regardless of gender. It is one where most people can find something to relate to and one that is truly unforgettable.
Sometimes real life is more interesting than fiction…
Honey and Clover is a dramatic romance that follows the lives of five art college students as well as their former professor. Yuuta Takemoto, the main protagonist, finds himself inching closer and closer to the end of his college lifestyle, and yet he has no idea what direction he wants to take his life in. He shares a run down house with his two seniors, the collected and graduating Takumi, and Shinobu, the source of most of the show’s comic relief. Along with Ayumi, a student who finds herself hopelessly infatuated with Takumi despite his rejection and Hagumi a relative of the surprisingly active professor Shuuji. The series wastes no time in introducing two love triangles between the main characters and works from there slowly developing each one.
The biggest strength that Honey and Clover has is the characters. Throughout the show, each one is explored and developed meticulously either by exploring them, having them overcome struggles for the better or at times both. All of the protagonists are either immediately likable or will soon be by the end of the show. Honey and Clover even develops the closest thing to an antagonist in a sympathetic way, despite building him up as a detestable individual without leaving it there, something many other series would do instead. It is not just the character themselves that are developed but the interactions between them as well. Each character does well playing off each other. Shinobu in particular is worth mentioning as a standout character for not only providing some of the best moments of comedic relief, but also having perhaps the most moving character arc.
Are there problems? Well, perhaps. One huge issue that will be a definite road bump for many viewers is pretty much what comes with a title like this. Honey and Cover is a slow moving character based show. If the exploration of characters and their relationships between each other is the main draw of the show and if that doesn’t interest you then you probably won’t enjoy this series very much, despite some amazing comedic moments. It doesn’t help that with the exception of the end of the second season, there are no moments that could be defined as “climatic”.
One of the immediate things that one will notice about Honey and Clover is the art style. The unique style is impressive and works for the most part if not for the fact that the show has a nasty habit of overusing bloom to somewhat blinding results at times. A minor quip, but a quip nonetheless. One final thing to note on the animation is the show does not hold back in exaggerating character expressions. When not expressing a serious scene, which is often, character expressions are very animated showing a very obvious influence from the manga, and this works spectacularly making the comedic points hit much better. The soundtrack is wonderful and atmospheric, and the Japanese voice actors fit each of their characters wonderfully emphasizing both the lighthearted and serious moments to a t.
For any fan of drama or romance, Honey and Clover is an absolute must see. When it’s funny it’s hilarious, when it’s tragic it’s incredibly moving. While not for everyone, Honey and Clover is a wonderful must see title.
For fans of josei, Honey and Clover will prove to be a joy. Not unlike stories like Paradise Kiss and NANA, Honey and Clover gives a realistic look into the lives and relationships of young adults. Instead of going on a long and dark route of drama, this show takes a more lighthearted approach by taking the building of relationships slow and laying a lot of the shows focus on the development of the individual characters. Comedy was also present plentiful and hilarious (and generally of the non-spastic kind), making the 24 episodes go by smoothly.
This is a show I'd wholeheartedly recommend to fans of josei and romance in general. Not overly dramatic, serious when it needs to be and enjoyable from start to finish.
A great series if you are looking for a complicated love story. Don't be afraid of how young Hagu looks; she is a young adult who is underdeveloped, and the characters romantically interested in her are not Lolicons. It's a great mix between wacky comedy and tender romance, and will keep you on the edge of your seat. It's also a great coming-of-age story, and I know many people can identify with that :) I will warn you, the end feels incomplete because it is; you have to watch the sequel to get the whole story and to feel satisfied.