This week we’re taking a look at a manga that outgrew the slot it was shoved in. My first exposure to this series by Chika Umino was in Shoujo Beat magazine. Before its untimely demise, this magazine featured several manga that, as you could probably guess, fit the shoujo genre along with other articles on cooking or arts and crafts. While it has shoujo elements, I wouldn’t ever call Honey and Clover a shoujo series. If you’re familiar with these, I would compare this series more to Azumanga Daioh than something like Kitchen Princess. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to explain.
The main thing that separates Honey and Clover from other would-be shoujo series is that the main character is a boy, Yuuta Takemoto. Even then, the series doesn’t explicitly focus on him. In thematically sound shoujo, the plot focuses on one main female character, only deviating to see a pensive look of heartbreak on the love interest or a disgusted monologue on the part of the heroine’s enemy. Although it’s obvious which characters (plural) are supposed to take main stage, the other characters are still well-thought out and feel fleshed out beyond the usual tropes.
Another aspect that sets this series apart from other, more traditional shoujo series is the way in which the romance is handled. Honey and Clover shares with other shuojo that romance is a driving force in the plot, but the way it mixes in with other natural human desires sets it apart for me. How does one deal with having defined their place in the world, only to feel alone and cherished? Should one sacrifice one precious thing to chase another? These hard, relatable issues and more are discussed through the struggles of the characters. Although I’m sure that this isn’t the only series that talks about these aspects of life, it’s one of the only ones that doesn’t make it seem like you’re getting beat over the head with blushing and unrequited feelings every other page.
Now that all of that’s out of the way, I should probably actually go over the plot. For once, I’m going to leave spoilers out, one, because I want you to read it and two, because I actually haven’t finished it myself. Whoops.
As I mentioned earlier, the series focuses mostly on one, Yuuta Takemoto, who attends an art college in Tokyo with his two roommates and friends, Takumi and Shinobu. All three of them are noticeably different from each other, which creates for interesting dynamics and viewpoints of their career and relationships. Yuuta takes the role of the naïve, younger brother type who is still trying to figure out what he actually wants to do with his life and talents. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Shinobu is a somewhat chilly and jaded fellow who may not be particularly happy with the route he’s chosen, but he’s going to stick it out until the bitter end. Lastly, and perhaps contrary to ones expectations, we have Takumi. It’s difficult to describe him as he’s a rather
complex character, but he bears a lot of resemblance to Vash the Stampede personality-wise: he’s a rather serious character, but acts so batshit at times that it’s almost surprising to find him being introspective.
These three fellows are joined also by our two, lovely female characters: Hagu (the other ‘main character’ of the series) and Ayumi. At first, one may assume that Hagu is just there to fit some sort of loli (little girl) trope and to be super cute. Whereas she is really cute, she’s so much deeper than that. Her art is already well respected by professionals, but she can’t deal with being around people very well, even to the extent of making herself ill from stress over the issue. She is extremely sheltered and shy, and has no method other than to hide herself away when she becomes stuck in a love triangle, no matter how passive it is. Ayumi, on the other hand, is almost Hagu’s complete opposite. She’s outgoing and has taken it upon herself to admit her feelings to the people around her, no matter how much they may hurt her. Ayumi is actually the character I enjoy the most because she’s just so open and fun, but she can’t stop hurting herself by holding onto an unrequited love. I’ve been there, to the point where you just can’t let them go, so I know exactly what she’s going through in her character arc and it hurts.
In fact, this bittersweet tone is something that never leaves this series and I like it that way. Life doesn’t always have happy endings, nor is it always terrible. There are ups and downs, and the important thing is to not take those ‘ups’ for granted. In my opinion, I think Umino has chosen a very skilled way to present this message and it’s why I’m glad this isn’t a straight up shojou. Beyond the characters, there’s not much else I can say because it’s so much closer to a slice-of-life genre that I can’t. They go to school, they interact and their characters evolve based on those interactions. There’s no bad guy, there’s no adventure. It’s just life, un-distilled in all its complexities. The series isn’t very long, so it’s possible to sit through it in a day, plus the art style is refreshingly different and fits Umino’s method of storytelling perfectly. Just make sure you have some tissues around, some parts are tear jerkers.