Review by: Sophie Stevens
Publisher: VIZ Media (Shojo Beat)
Author: Chica Umino
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shojo)
MSRP: $8.99 US
Release Date: Available Now
A second helping of something sweet.
It didn’t take much convincing to nominate the first volume of Honey and Clover for our Editor’s Award seeing as everyone in the office practically fell in love with Chica Umino’s brilliant manga. When the boys in the office are excited about the upcoming release of a shojo manga then something must be up and, well, it’s hard not to blame them. I’ve even taken the precaution of waiting for the mail myself so fellow reviewer Clive Owen wouldn’t scoop it up first. Sorry, Clive, you wait your turn like the others.
Part of what made the first volume such a delightful read was the fact that it was genuinely funny, brilliantly written and contained characters you almost instantly fall in love with. By the end of the manga, you’re already a fan of these young art school students that find themselves trying to get by and as well as try to make heads of tails of love. Mayama loves an older woman while Yamada loves Mayama … and then there’s Hanamoto who might have a spot in his heart for said older woman. Then there’s Takemoto and Morita who are falling for the pixie-like Hagu. Whew, quite a few love triangles here, aren’t they?
Yet unlike most shojo manga, Honey and Clover isn’t just about love, romance and dating but rather about living and experiencing the power of friendship, family and life in general. In the beginning of the second volume, Takemoto returns to his hometown after having been away for so long. His mother is a nurse who re-married after his father’s death and he can’t quite come to liking his stepfather. A decent man with his heart in the right place, Takemoto’s stepfather is a bit on the loud side and – to him – also annoying. Yet his stepfather lets the young man know that he was never out to replace anyone and he is never one to get in the way of a mother-son relationship. In the end, Takemoto accepts his stepfather for who he is and appreciates him a little more.
Once back in Tokyo, Takemoto discovers that one of the lottery tickets the loveable oddball Morita handed out during Christmas has won enough money that Professor Hanamoto decided to take their little group of five out on a field trip of sorts. Their first stop is an inn with a hot springs bath, it is during dinner that Morita crashes into a wall and destroys a painting so using some soy sauce he paints a replacement that manages to astonish not only Hanamoto but also Hagu. It’s clear to Hagu, who is an artistic genius, that Morita is talented beyond words.
During the trip, it also comes to Hanamoto’s attention that Yamada is in love with Mayama. He feels sorry for the lovely young girl because he knows that the young man has fallen hard for Rika. The first volume touched a bit on Mayama’s affections for the older woman but in this volume Hanamoto reveals a bit of his past to Mayama. The young Professor was once a friend of another art student named Harada who not only took in lost animals but he also took in Rika and Hanamoto into his home. The three were inseparable friends even well into the marriage of Rika and Harada until one evening the pair got into a horrible car accident that killed Harada and badly scarred Rika. Hanamoto was there for Rika but he felt he needed to give her some space so he recommended Mayama to help her out. Thus is born a complex and sad love triangle.
While the first volume was a lovely introduction to the wit and humor of the series, this one simply ups the ante to new and delightful heights. It also, however, shoots for themes that any reader will come to identify with like the dread of turning in final projects and slowly realizing how lonely a giraffe must be seeing as Japan’s various zoos are only allowed one of its kind. While the others turn their final projects in on time, it is Morita that skips his final project to make money and once again fails to graduate. Meanwhile, Mayama not only manages to graduate but also find work in a high-paying architecture firm.
As I mentioned above, the humor that made the first such a fun read is still very much present here. Umino is great at taking tender, sad, warm or romantic moments and injecting them with her charming sense of humor. After Hanamoto decides to accept a job with an old colleague and leave Hagu on her own, the group comes to see the many odd culinary delights Hagu is use to making such as a sliced pumpkin she popped into a microwave and filled with chocolate mint ice cream. When the group forgets that they got together to celebrate Takemoto’s birthday, Morita runs into Hagu’s room and comes back with a homemade version of the party game Twister. What was meant to be a fun party game becomes a torturous Twister duel between Takemoto and Morita.
Oh, and I will catch some office flak if I do not mention Midori. When Takemoto decided to keep Hagu company when Yamada isn’t able to he encounters Hagu accompanied by a giant male poodle named Midori. Umino even translates some of Midori’s growls that becomes clear to Takemoto that if he so much as tries something with Hagu that he’s in for trouble. Midori is even the focus point of a little part in the end of the manga that readers should definitely not miss.
What makes this second volume so endearing, however, are the parts that other shojo manga would have made too over sweetened. Instead, we find a moment where friends go that extra length for each another such as the time Yamada, Morita, Mayama and Takemoto try to help Hagu find a four-leaf clover she planned on giving Hanamoto before he left on his trip. Another moment is rather heartbreaking as Mayama carries a very drunk Yamada on his back as she tells him how much she loves him.
“I love you so much, Mayama.” She tells him as silent tears stream down her cheeks.
“Thank you.” He replies.
That, my friends, is just a small part of what makes Honey and Clover the thing that true shojo manga is really made of and it proves it once again in this second volume. It’s becoming apparent that the series is more about life and the little things in-between them that become a part of who these people are and how it is shaping them as they go about their lives. It’s also one of the reasons we can’t put down this manga and why Clive can’t help but try to take it from out of my desk.
To Clive I can only quote Midori-chan: “Don’t move a muscle, buster!”
Takemoto reconciles with his stepfather and we get a wee peek into what Hagu’s life was like before Hanamoto-sensei brought her to Tokyo. There are a number of really memorable sequences that really stand out … two of which even appeared in the movie (like their stay in an inn and Takemoto, Mayama, Yamada and Morita helping Hagu look for a four-leaf clover). It’s great stuff, indeed.
I can spend the entire day chatting about art in manga and even more so how much I enjoy Umino’s original art that makes every panel and manga cover so eye-catching. It’s different and different is definitely most welcome.
If the first volume didn’t convince you that Honey and Clover is one of those rare artistic works of art then you are seriously missing out on a true manga gem. This second volume delves a bit deeper into the lives of these interesting characters and fleshes them out in ways I wish more shojo manga would do. Consider this one another Must Have.