Last year, it was almost inevitable that I would become one of the many people to fall under the spell of Honey and Clover. Having just graduated from university myself, the tale of a group of people undergoing the same experiences (well, roughly the same) was one I could easily relate to. And so it was that from start to finish, the anime captivated me with its emotion, humour, and a personal touch of bittersweet nostalgia.
In due course, the anime came to a close, but we had no need to fear, for come the next summer, a second season would be with us. Despite my usual reservations about having too much of a good thing, at the time it seemed as if Honey and Clover could do no wrong, and so I resolved to put aside my doubts and wholeheartedly look forward to the next few chapters in the story.
Unfortunately, when Honey and Clover II finally came to air, it would be a rocky relationship at best. At times, the series showed echoes of its former brilliance, picking out thought-provoking themes or showcasing emotional moments. As much as I tried to deny it, however, a slow decay was setting it. The focus and balance of an episode, once so finely tuned, now seemed terribly askew. Humorous moments appeared where serious ones were needed; characters that once had depth and development became one-dimensional personalities, repeating the same joke over and over.
For weeks, the rot continued to eat away at the series’ quality, but still Honey and Clover endured simply by virtue of being Honey and Clover- and after all, to speak out against it would be to incur dismemberment at the hands of the series’ fanboys. Nonetheless, upon watching episodes ten and eleven of season two, my course was clear- no matter what the repercussions, the series’ fall from grace had to be documented.
In hindsight, it is easy to say that Honey and Clover II was doomed from the start. Despite being only twelve episodes long (although at the time we believed it to be thirteen), the series began by using its precious time to bring us that most dreaded of budget and effort saving devices- the recap episode. To be honest, as recap episodes went, this was one of the better ones, but nonetheless, its existence served as an oblique warning of what was to come.
In the episodes that followed, the very presentation of the series was to suffer under the new regime. Insert songs were lazily used to fill time every episode, whilst bizarre elements began to creep in. In one scene, Nomiya envisions a squad of unicorns appearing to protect Yamada’s virginity, in another, both Yamada and Takemoto briefly appear to have dog ears and tails. Such visual symbolism is hardly uncommon in anime, but for a series that is relatively grounded in reality, it just felt that little bit too out of place.
Dissecting the story
Mayama the Stalker
One of the key themes of Honey and Clover is the tortuous love chain that sees Rika pining for her dead husband, Mayama pining for Rika, Yamada pining for Mayama, and Nomiya attempting to pursue Yamada. Even in the good days, this situation had a touch of the repetitive about it, but it was nonetheless a rich vein of interesting themes. Yes, the characters were caught in a rut, but that’s what they had chosen- loving from afar was a safe and familiar option compared to the unknown factors a new relationship might bring.
In season two, however, everything changed, as things began to move between Mayama and Rika. Mayama had once been a developed character, the man who had grown up and stepped into the ‘real world’ even as his peers retained the student mindset. Now, however, he became something far simpler, little more than a stalker monitoring Rika’s every move- checking her emails, setting an alarm to stop her leaving in the middle of the night, even considering barging into her locked room. Even as Rika seemed hopelessly devoted to a dead man (yet equally willing to use Mayama as it suited her), Mayama was becoming terrifyingly obsessed with her, to the point where his character less likable than it was simply shallow and creepy.
Loli and Clover
Alongside the love chain, Honey and Clover brought us another romantic tangle, this time focussing on resident loli Hagu. No one could deny that Hagu was targeted for a particular audience- despite being eighteen years old at the beginning of the series and aging several years throughout its course, she seemed to retain the appearance and mental age of an elementary school student. Nonetheless, despite (or perhaps because of) this, no less than three of the series’ leading men fell in love with her, beginning an ongoing tournament to win her affections.
As with so many things, in season one, Hagu was a promising character in her own way. Her personality seemed to mark her out as a pure-hearted artist, one utterly committed to work, who could so easily be destroyed by having to compromise with reality. Even in season two, this is still the case, but then the worst happens- a plate of glass falls on her, leaving her badly injured, and with the possibility that her right hand will never function properly again.
From hereon in, Hagu’s suitors- Shuu, Takemoto, and Morita- seem to engage in an all out battle (physical fights included) to be the one chosen by Hagu. Takemoto and Morita both try their hardest, but in the end they have little chance against the lifelong bond the older Shuu has forged with Hagu. Through the ever useful flashback mode, we come to see how Shuu has groomed Hagu from an early age, making himself so important in her life that she can never escape him. As Honey and Clover II draws to a close, he finally claims the prize that he has spent so long raising, seeing off his rivals so that he can enjoy the fruit of his labours. Needless to say, given Hagu’s outward appearance and the age difference between them, this is more than a little unsettling.
In episodes six and seven, we take a break from our main characters to explore the tale of Morita’s brother Kaoru. With the aid of lengthy flashbacks, we learn about the Morita brothers and their brilliant, slightly eccentric but ultimately good-natured father. Unfortunately, said father is betrayed by the actions of a jealous friend, and his company is bought out- in the intervening years, Kaoru’s actions have been entirely dedicated to earning the money to buy it back (as seen in episode eight).
The main problem here is that Kaoru is not a character we’ve ever had a chance to know or care much about prior to this point, and so to suddenly expect us to invest time and emotion in following his story is a little on the abrupt side. That being said, for a time, I found myself interested in this arc, no doubt aided by the fact that it showcased the question of whether hard work could ever catch up to natural talent, something I had wanted to write about myself at some point.
Thus it was that I was able to sit through episodes six and seven with little complaint, but by episode eight, it was all beginning to break down. The end of episode seven had shown us Hagu’s bloodied hair and shards of glass, and that was the storyline I wanted to see followed up as soon as possible. First, however, the business of retrieving the company had to be concluded, and it soon turned out to be something of an anticlimactic denouement. The man who had bought the company was quickly established as the most generically evil company president ever, the sort of man who laughs cruelly as he proposes firing workers or reducing wages. Kaoru’s ousting of him was something of an inevitable but uninspiring non-event, faltering in sight of the finish line, but somehow dragging itself onwards.
Was it inevitable that such a brilliant series could not maintain the high standard it set for itself? Could it only have been a matter of time before it would come to decline as it has? Did I just end up setting my expectations too high? It may well be the case that the answer is ‘yes’ to all of these questions, and yet that makes it no less painful to see a once-favourite series fall from grace. If anything, the last few episodes of Honey and Clover have been the most upsetting yet- not because of any special merit, but because of how they so aptly demonstrated the depths to which the series has fallen to. Only one episode remains to restore the series’ good name, and with the way things are going, it has little hope of achieving such a task.