August 20, 2008
by: Eric Frederiksen
You never know just what's going to happen in art school!
Manga Description: Takemoto lives in a rundown student apartment, where his greatest worry is when he'll next be able to afford to eat meat and whether he'll get to class on time. Although he's away from home and living on his own, Takemoto is far from grown up. Along with his crazy cast of friends, Morita, Mayama, Yamada, and Hagumi, Takemoto sets out to discover life and his true self.
Content: (This section may contain spoilers.)
I’ll tell you right now: I’m not exactly what you’d call a fan of shoujo manga. That being said, I’ve heard quite a bit about Honey and Clover and wanted to check it out since I hadn’t heard anything even remotely negative about it. I’ve braved the first volume and it’s safe to say this is something worth reading—yes, even if the mere term “shojo manga” sends you running for the hills.
Honey and Clover is a story about a group of students in art college and the love triangles—maybe better to say rhombuses—they create. While there isn’t really a truly main couple or protagonist, it’s clear the story centers on Hagu. Hagu is a very talented artist who also happens to be very, very short. Of course, she gets a lot of attention for this and is constantly being told she looks like a grade-school student.
Beside Hagu, most of the main cast is male. There’s Takemoto, the brash young guy who hasn’t picked his path yet; Mayama, the smooth ladies’ man who has everything lined up; and Morita, who at first glance looks like an average bishounen character, but breaks that mold in a lot of ways.
What makes H&C stand apart is how the characters’ interactions are contrasted with their innermost thoughts, which are spelled out for us. The characters that look pretty standard at a glance are all given a chance to become real people even in just the course of this first volume. Morita is a favorite of mine because he looks so conventional—but we find out very quickly that the guy’s completely nuts. He disappears for days at a time, can’t manage to stay awake long enough to graduate (literally!), and just about everything he does, he does his own way. When he meets the diminutive Hagu the first time, he exclaims “KOROPOKKUR!” (the name of a fairy-like creature in Japanese myth), then runs out back, gets a large leaf and asks her to hold it so he can start taking pictures. This he plans to turn into a website money-making scheme. The narration tells us he’s falling for Hagu, but of all the characters he gets the least internal time—he’s a tough nut to crack.
Takemoto is really the most normal of the bunch. He’s just starting school and trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. He’s even slow about figuring out his own feelings. He thinks to himself a lot, but when he finally realizes he likes Hagu, it hits him like a ton of bricks. This leads to one of my favorite scenes in the whole book: a Mac OS 6 (they’re very specific!) loading screen appears with the prompt “Processing ‘feelings of love.’” Takemoto seems to be figuring out things about as fast as we’re allowed to. Like I said, there isn’t really a main character, but Takemoto is the one whose eyes we see through a lot of the time.
Even cool and collected Mayama has his share of issues. An old flame still has substantial feelings for him, while he has a crush on a professor named Rika that he just can’t seem to speak up about. His inability to take action and the later discovery that this woman is already dating another professor, Hagu’s cousin, send him into fight-or-flight mode.
While just about everyone has a clear crush so far, it’s left unclear if Hagu has any interest in anyone around her. She appreciates the things people do for her, but the illness that has rendered her as small as she is gets her enough special treatment that some students see her as a golden child and she ends up lonely and left out. Like Morita, her thoughts aren’t spelled out on the pages.
Despite all the interpersonal drama going on here, there really is a lot of comedy in the story. Morita’s antics spur a lot of it, but it seems all the characters have a sense of humor and just about everyone spends some time in super-deformed mode, so the overall tone of the book is light-hearted but bittersweet. (c) (C) 2000 by Chica Umino / Shueisha
Morita just can't resist.
Art: The art is pretty standard shoujo art for the most part. The pretty guys are pretty, the cute girls are cute, and a lot of the art is really wispy if also clean—The art uses screentones, but not overly so. As with any kind of comedy like this, the characters spend plenty of time in super-deformed mode. What stands out the most about the art overall is the eyes: both in and out of super-deformed mode, the eyes are expressive even though they’re often simple scribbles.
Translation: The translation of the Japanese itself is pretty good. There aren’t any weird or awkward sentences, and there is a short glossary at the back for words like koropokkur and other things that wouldn’t translate well. However, the book uses a lot of different fonts and they don’t always work well. They’re never unreadable, but they often just seem goofy. In addition to the glossary at the back, there is a short comic from the manga-ka about how the light on the ceiling looks like a drooling face and it creeps her out.
The Bottom Line: This was a really good read. Even if you’re not a fan of shoujo, the characters are fleshed out well enough that you’ll want to know what happens next because you don’t feel like it’s going to be the typical nonsense where someone runs off crying because two people happened to be in the same city on a Tuesday. This is a great example of how to do shoujo manga right and is definitely worth checking out.