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Welcome to the NHK! – 16 – The Ultimate NEET

There was always going to be a twist behind the real world identity of Mia. “She” was too perfect, Satou loved her too much, and NHK! isn’t about Satou being in love. I certainly didn’t see it being Yamazaki though – jeez, that was cruel of him. And then there is the flash-forward to Satou’s soon to be 50-year-old fat balding old man still leaching off his parents. Brutal and depressing – basically I’m glad this arc looks to be ending soon.

Satou’s melodramatic over reactions to the in-game chats are darkly funny; especially when he can hear the bishoujo Mia creeping towards his apartment, the dumbstruck “oh no! my hikkimori is revealed!” expression slapped across his face is priceless – but where is the series going with this MMORPG arc?

I suppose the problem is that I can’t really see what the story is building towards; we’re now over half way through and it would be a shame for it all to just suddenly end in one episode with Satou walking outside, smiling and ready to take on the world. For all this damn depressing mental torture, I demand payment in smiles and happiness! Obviously the manga is still on-going – so this is a real concern.

The animation was pretty bad too. NHK! is hardly ever good looking, more mediocre, but it bothers me when the character designs are clearly misshapen, rushed and lacking in essential detail – like faces. Come on Gonzo, I thought you were supposed to be good? Give poor Satou back his face.

Red Garden – 3 – Theatrical heart break

Episode 3 of Red Garden is the best yet; the viewer leaves this instalment drenched in suspense, mystery and blood, and all the while we’re slowly beginning to understand what’s happened to the girls – or rather, how they died! There are still big question marks hanging over why they were all together on *that* night (since they were never friends before all this), and why must they fight the “dog men”? I’m desperate to know the answers.

This is a show that looks absolutely ravishing, but it can be absolutely brutal too. The death scenes in this episode are especially harrowing because of the voice acting – the way the victims scream; they sound genuinely terrified and desperate. We glimpse at another group of girls who, just like the main characters, have to fight the monsters to live – but they have given up hope and die in the throws of painful physical violence; we hear strangled throats buckle and bones break. I’m getting frustrated with characters running scared now though – the girls need to bring weapons. Swords. Anything!

I’ve also realised that Red Garden has a brilliant soundtrack. Composed by Akira Senju, the music in this episode was particularly compelling; full of dread, sadness and realisation. The style suggests a very emotional and sweeping opera, a worthy match for such an elegant series.

Having now taken in three episodes, I don’t hesitate to say that Red Garden is my favourite show of the season. Death Note is suspenseful and thrilling, but Red Garden combines such a theatrical and stylish art direction with a heart breakingly mysterious story that just begs to be watched. I need more!

Kemonozume – 9 – Old habits die hard

Still on the run from the Kifuuken, we join the love birds Yuka and Toshihiko aimlessly wandering down vast and empty roads when they are offered a lift by an old married couple. Their journey (squeezed inside a white van) is a chance for them to reflect on their young relationship, inspired by the beautiful and reflective scenery, and of course they can’t help but stare at the old couple still head-over-heals in love with each other after decades of marriage.

Later that evening, Yuka and Toshihiko take a walk down by a rocky beach but return to find tragedy; the old couple, having taken some strange medicine, have transformed into grotesque monsters and are biting chunks out of each other. Toshihiko tries to stop them, but Yuka is attacked and this in turn triggers her own transformation. The old couple end up dead, the medicine sold to them by the Kifuuken. Utterly horrified at having feasted on the old lady, Yuka leaves Toshihiko and runs crying into a near-by forest. Here she bumps into the frog like old man from the Kifuuken. He has a sick, greedy look on his face; grinning widely as if to suggest he has finally found his prey.

There is a lot of talk here about love and what it means to love someone regardless of their physicality. Subverting and repressing your nature, attempting to become something you’re not, this inevitably leads to heart break. Yuka is a flesh eater and she must accept this fact if she is ever to become happy.

This was another fine episode – noted for a particularly symbolic and beautiful scene where the characters find themselves walking on blue sky and fluffy clouds; a completely flat, shallow river that reflects the sky above. The novelty of a 60+ year old woman dreamily discussing sex not withstanding.

Kemonozume – 8 – Hard violence, hard sex, hard feelings

At the beginning of this episode a boy student is excitedly kissing his innocent girlfriend for the first time. They hold each other in an emotional embrace, it is a pivotal moment in their lives, “Ah the day has finally come, Takako-Chan’s warm, soft, slippery thing is in my mouth…”. But the boy gets too excited, “What’s this?” he wonders aloud, sensing something wet and sticky. He opens his eyes to realize he has accidentally bitten Takako-Chan in half. Whoops. Turns out he was a flesh eater, and along with a bucket load of her blood, the top half of Takako-Chan’s corpse dribbles from his fanged jaws. “What’s this?”

Kemonozume is the coolest show airing right now. It’s an adult anime, it has sex, it has attitude and it looks so completely different to everything else. With that said, it clearly isn’t for hard-line anime fans; the art is simply too eclectic and weird for most – fluid and evocative, it lacks the mundane and familiar beauty of typical anime, yet bursts with a free wheeling and fun loving spirit.

I have my doubts about the durability of the story – namely Romeo (Toshihiko – human) and Juliet (Yuka – flesh eating monster) are still on the run from their hunters – these characters, for all their swagger, feel as though they lack a compelling substance. I love that they are eccentric, passionate and unpredictable. All the characters in Kemonozume are fun to watch, but something still feels hollow; a gaping sense of empathy I’m still to locate.

Though these are just nagging doubts; so far Kemonozume has been a fiendishly successful experiment in dripping, post-noir style. Hard violence, hard sex, hard feelings. This is the bleeding edge of modern anime.

Red Garden – 2 – Expensive shirts and werewolves

I do love mysterious horror stories, especially when the viewer is as much at a loss as to what is going on as the characters themselves. The supernatural Red Garden is growing with this creeping intrigue, it’s bizarre and confusing and a lot of my interest is now centred on eventually finding answers.

In some quarters it is being compared with Gantz, though beyond the familiar premise of confused teenagers fighting off an unknown enemy, it’s a misleading reference. Where Gantz was extremely cold, violent and absolutely cynical, Red Garden has fluffy hair cuts, scared girls breaking out into theatrical song and air-heads more worried about ripping their expensive shirts than being eaten by werewolves. It’s a completely feminine anime, where fashion sense collides with survival. Elegant and extremely self conscious.

The characterisation feels very American, drawing on stereotypical high school cliques to bring together four distinct personality types, but it works quite well in the heat of battle with the girls forced to put aside their superficial differences and fight to survive. The constant crying and self pity can be tiresome, but it makes a refreshing change to see people who are genuinely too scared to move when faced with a razor toothed terror.

Welcome to the NHK! – 14 to 15 – MMORPGs destroy lives… mmmk?

The relentless waves of depression continue unabated with these two episodes as Satou (hardly recovered from his suicidal exploits) stupidly falls foul to the life sucking world of MMORPGs. These highly addictive and never ending online games are undoubtedly one of the major forces behind what is becoming a worldwide epidemic of hikkimori, but what if, like Satou, you’re a hikkimori before even signing in? You already have no work and no responsibilities – so there is no reason for a break, you can just play the game all day and all night without a worry in the world.

The end of episode 15 was a harrowing and unhinged sight. Satou’s suicide attempts felt like melodramatic entertainment, as if he was looking for (and found) a reason to survive, but now he appears to be a lost cause, detached from reality and convinced he has somehow improved his life style. MMORPG’s offer a gradual yet hollow sense of achievement, making it seem as if going up a few power levels was worth the weeks of effort.
Like most entertainment mediums, MMORPG’s are an easy escape from reality, but where movies usually finish after 2 hours; these games can essentially run forever. For an amusing but ultimately just as depressing satire of MMORPGs, take a look at South Park episode 147.

Satou is lucky to have Misaki and even Yamazaki checking up on him. In reality a cute girl does not knock on the door of a hikkimori. Then again perhaps their concerned interference is harming his progress. If Satou is ever going to change, he has to want to do it. No matter how much Yamazaki bugs him about their gal-game or Misaki lectures him about recovering, Satou has to hit rock bottom to decide how he wants to live. Misaki, Yamazaki and even his parents are dragging him on, allowing him to quietly trudge through life, when all he needs is a bit of tough love.

Mushishi – 26 – And so ends a landmark anime production

As if to confirm its audacious brilliance, central character Ginko hardly even appears in this final episode and it was still one of the highlights of the Mushishi TV series.

Again bursting with its trademark melancholic tone, this was yet another natural blend of touching storytelling that mixes a retrospective and sad human drama with symbolic and vibrant art. An episode that is not so much about achieving an end, but rather growing to accept our roles in life, learning to move on and trust in our friends – an ultimately a positive and beautiful way to send off this most outstanding of series.

I would dearly love to see Mushishi remembered as a landmark anime production, a series that fans of all generations will come to cherish. Minute by minute, episode by episode, it rarely lost my attention. The art, and particularly the beautiful country-side landscapes, were a joy to behold; the lush details and attractive seasonal shades of spring, summer, autumn and winter were all illustrated to great atmospheric effect, allowing the characters and ghosts of Mushishi to grace a stage fit for a dream.

Mushishi is much like watching a dream really, a plain of human imagination where everything has meaning and symbolism, but often sparkles with an odd flourish of unbelievable supernatural vision. The mushi look like faded ghosts, mysterious apparitions wandering, shuddering, gliding through the world bent on purposes we never truly understand. Ginko is by default the “main” character of this series, but like the mushi he hunts, he often wanders through these episodes as a neutral bystander, interfering with characters and using just enough wit to force them into making life changing decisions. Sometimes it ends well, other times it’s quite nasty, but then so is life. If I had one regret about Mushishi, it would be that we still know little to nothing about Ginko. I crave more information about him, how he feels and if he is happy.

We all have our favourites, our guilty pleasures, but this isn’t like that. Mushishi had no faults, it’s not about being a fanboy or obsessing over certain characters, you don’t need to be an anime fan to enjoy Mushishi, it was just a brilliant and magical TV series. A pleasure to watch.

Death Note – 2 – Hiding behind a notebook

I’m surprised by just how fast Light is losing grip on reality. In only this second episode he coldly considers killing his family if they were ever to piece together his part in the (now world famous) mass-murdering case, while later he shows no signs of regret upon murdering (using the Death Note, obviously) a then “police detective” who is threatening him via a TV broadcast. At this moment Light loses any perceived sense of neutral justice and edges closer to outright abuse of power, killing not for the good of the human race, but merely for himself and his own twisted ideals.

Despite Light gradually growing insane, the convoluted brilliance of Death Note is in not knowing whether to cheer for or to boo at our new age dictator; he may be an idealistic bastard, but the hard truth of the matter is that he is arguably doing mankind a great favour by killing off line after line of unrepentant murderers, raining down an ultimate judgement on those criminals protected behind years of lawful bureaucracy. The issue is complex, but ultimately comes down to whether or not you feel everyone, no matter what they have done, deserves a second chance, or if murder deserves murder in return. Both ideals are paved with contradictions. There is no right answer, merely point of view. Light can make mistakes; he will kill innocent people, but does the end ultimately justify the means? Is a better world worth a few innocent lives?

As if to comment on the herd like mentality of human nature, Light pokes fun at the cult websites springing up around his mysterious murdering sprees, and even goes so far as to dub his online followers cowards; suggesting these are people unable to support his methods in public, so they turn to the safe annoniminity of the internet. Knowingly though, Light is himself hiding behind a notebook, only capable of doing the “right thing” behind a locked door.

One Piece – Winning without even throwing a punch

It’s funny how we spend hours upon hours watching anime, often only for but a few short minutes of absolute pay off. I watch One Piece for these transcendental moments; don’t get me wrong, it’s a consistently fun show but every so often, it raises itself to a rare point of pure emotional resonance with me, where for a few scant minutes all of my attention is completely focussed on the screen, emotions lost somewhere between ultimate high and shocking low.

This happened again today with episode 147 – Luffy, Zoro and Nami are sitting at a bar, drinking and joking, when a purely evil pirate by the name of “Bellamy” walks in and immediately starts a fight with Luffy. He laughs in Luffy’s face, calls him weak and bitterly insults them all for chasing their childish dreams. In Bellamy’s mooted new world, there is no need for dreams. By now him and his whole crew are viciously mocking The Straw Hat Pirates, bullying them, spitting drinks in their faces and throwing beer bottles, basically trying to strip them of their dignity.

But Luffy refuses to fight back, and he tells Zoro to do the same. They have the shit kicked out of them; they are thrown through wooden tables and have their faces smashed through broken glass. Nami – like the viewer – is urging them to fight back, to stand up for themselves, but still they refuse. Eventually they are thrown out of the pub, barely alive.

Now we are left to wonder why they refused to raise their fists in the face of such provocation. Luffy doesn’t strike me as such an ardent pacifist – if someone needs a good beating, he’ll hand it out. But I wonder if he pities Bellamy, the man’s contempt for chasing dreams and ambitions a sure sign that he himself has lost faith in life. He hates Luffy and the rest of the Straw Hat pirates because they stand for everything he wants (or lacks) in life. Luffy’s pride and dignity never wavers, to fight back would suggest he is afraid of losing something, so he stands tall and embodies everything Bellamy lacks, in turn protecting his dreams with a iron will. Luffy and Zoro win without even throwing a punch.

This was a brilliant, passionate and gut wrenching scene; a fine example as to why I love One Piece, it was worth watching 146 episodes if just to get to this point.

D.Gray-man – 2 – The end of the world is nigh

Episode two is our first proper introduction to the spiritual world of D.Gray-man and clear references are drawn from Christian religion (“Noah’s ark”) to better illustrate the show’s strong supernatural themes with an interesting theological substance. To believe in exorcists, ghosts and demons, the obvious truth is that one must then also believe in god. D.Gray-man appears to be about fighting against a prophesized apocalypse, an immediately familiar tale of good versus evil, and Allen’s mysterious powers (described within this episode as “Innocence”) will potentially be a deciding factor when the time comes; his epic destiny well emphasized by the end with a stirring classical tune and his tired gazing into a timeless painting.

I’m impressed and excited to see more of D.Gray-man, but much of it is still by the numbers shounen anime. In becoming an exorcist, Allen must first register with the “Dark Religious Organisation” – their Transylvanian-like headquarters filled with “moody bishounen rival”, “perky yet cute assistant” and “daft but deeply intelligent leader”. Naturally it will take time for these characters to build themselves compelling personalities and I’m more than willing to wait; D.Gray-man’s dark and dangerous world is already deeply involving my curiosity. The action is sharp, creative and hard hitting while Allen himself is an immediately likable and strong central character. I need more!

Red Garden – 1 – Colourful teenage exuberance

Many people couldn’t be bothered with Vision of Escaflowne because the character designs sported big noses. The almost-ignored Fantastic Children suffered from this same shallow discrimination. I dare say both of these are modern classics, and now Red Garden will face the exact same battle against a community that largely considers the likes of Kanon the epitome of animated beauty. What went wrong?

For me this is hands down the best looking show of the fall season. Alongside the vastly different but none the less outstanding Kemonozume, Red Garden makes an immediate impression with its angular character design and eye catching colour scheme. It is like watching a feminine art book in full motion; bursting with attitude and elegance, bridging the gap between the colourful teenage exuberance of FLCL and grandiose beauty of Paradise Kiss. However keeping in mind Red Garden is being produced by GONZO, whether they can maintain these high standards remains to be seen.

Unfortunately there is something seriously wrong with this episode; the insert song. Taking its magical girl influence to scary new extremes, a particularly tearful girl breaks out into the kind of spectacularly cringe inducing, brain melting song fit to grace hell. I’m all for experimental anime, but this girl can’t sing. Fact.

I haven’t seen a good magical girl anime since Mahou Shoujotai, but on this evidence Red Garden’s wonderful style and enthusiastic charisma may well win over my heart.

Black Blood Brothers – 1 – Elegantly swift bishounen attacks!

I was quite determined to find fault with Black Blood Brothers – I took my fair share of melodramatic bishounen-horror in Night Head Genesis and eventually rejected it, so I feared more of the same from this show. Typically I was wrong. While it won’t win many end-of-season plaudits for originality, Black Blood Brothers at least matches it’s growling characters vocal angst with scene after scene of elegantly swift action set against an all too neon post-apocalyptic, city destroying back drop. This first episode is mostly shoujo eye candy, but it still moves fast enough and contains enough humour to at least retain my attention for a solid 22 minutes of fun action.

The lead character is a long haired and handsome “old blood” vampire called Jirou Mochizuki. Jirou is haunted by ghostly mirages of his now-dead girlfriend and appears to be travelling the world with his fun loving, blonde younger brother who notably cameos in this episode with a lovable innocent sense of humour. Jirou is the kind of character who gets away with wearing a floppy red top-hat, carries a big shiny sword and attacks groups of vampires with his body outlined by the glowing night moon. He is an elegant yet tortured soul and no doubt the main theme running through out Black Blood Brothers will concern him slaying anyone in his way, all the while coming to terms with past and present relationship troubles.

This first episode was easy to watch because the characters have emotionally layered and multi-faceted personalities. Importantly, Black Blood Brothers never takes itself too seriously. As a horor buff, the bullet dodging vampire attacks ain’t half bad either!

Death Note – 1 – Wicked, manipulative and morally deranged

Death Note is a Shounen Jump anime, but forget the generic conventions those two words invoke. Just like Bleach, this is a story that depicts the soul reaping world of “Shinigami” but where Bleach’s version of the afterlife is jammed with pouting pretty boys and nothing else, Death Note’s vision is dark, cold and lifeless. The characters that inhabit this world are surreal, twisted nightmares – imagine a slightly toned down version of Hellraiser’s cenobites.

The shinigami of note is Ryuuku; a permanently smiling, razor toothed man beast. He is growing bored of his job; it seems that these days Shinigami are no longer needed since humans are happy enough killing each other anyway (see: war, murder, terrorism, execution). To spice up his eternal boredom, Ryuuku intentionally drops his Death Note (a book with the power to instantly kill anyone who’s name is scribed inside, including through instructions on usage) into the human world and it’s typically picked up by that worst kind of person, a disaffected and arrogant teenage male (name: Light Yagami) with ideas of grandeur and a clear definition of what’s right and what’s wrong.

Bursting with an obvious social commentary from the very first couple of scenes, Death Note is an involving, elegant and clever supernatural thriller with some stunning gothic artistry. By the end of the episode, Light’s lofty ambitions are bound to crash back to reality. His ideas of creating a better world are admirable but naive and ultimately pointless; to think that he can rid the world of criminals is a denial of (even his) nature, after all he is becoming the very murderous monster he strives to wipe out of society. Star of the show will undoubtedly be Ryuuku – a “wicked”, manipulative and morally deranged personality that represents our (the viewers) presence in the show. Just like Ryuuku, we’re smiling with delight in the knowledge that Death Note is going to get very interesting very quickly.

Welcome to the NHK! – 13 – In a word, depressing

For some odd reason, I was expecting Satou to be the hero of this episode, but today I doubt he will ever be a hero – just like Yamazaki says, people “like him” aren’t suited to dramatic ends. In a word, depressing. Hitomi is selfish and cruel, her reasons for coming back into Satou’s life were superficial; he is her fail safe option, a shoulder to cry on when she feels down and clearly she has no romantic interest in Satou. He has been dragged along as her token sacrifice.

Misaki’s “confession” was nearly as bad – just like the cruel Hitomi, to her Satou is a selfish reassurance that no matter how bad life can be, she can never slip as far as that “lowly hikki” Satou. She needs him around to validate that her existence isn’t totally worthless.

Naturally, Satou doesn’t take well to these revelations and eventually goes from being the one person not on the deserted island with suicidal intentions to the one personality crazy enough to actually kill himself. His friends (and I suppose that includes Misaki) turn up to save him, but by the end of this episode he is understandably feeling like the loneliest man in the world, his contorted, desperate cries ringing around the abandoned island. It’s not the NHK conspiracy forcing Satou in to his hermit lifestlye, it’s his friends!

Black Lagoon – 13 – People call it spinal reflex

Madhouse Studios have an exceptional talent for adapting manga – BECK, Monster and now Black Lagoon, they clearly devote a lot of careful thought to developing a specific style for their works; almost inevitably, they craft absolutely unique anime. I feel safe in saying that Black Lagoon’s flair for attention grabbing will never fade, such is it’s commitment to ass kicking, it is a series willing to twist the boundaries of bad taste, adding layer after layer of extreme and unbelievable material, naturally showing a complete disregard of human life.

Consider incestuous, cannibalising, underage twins from Europe. They carry axes and have sweet little dolls tied to their massive machine guns. They are clearly insane. Cute, but insane. They commit depraved acts, but what is truly chilling is that they are simply kids – innocent by nature, they are none the less completely lost in and exploited by the darkness that surrounds them.

Balalaika and even Revy (as cool as they look) are obviously killers themselves, but would one consider them evil? They show an emotional restraint in their bloody and brutal work, but if they took on the same job as “the Twins”, of course they would eventually rub out their targets all the same. But because we have seen them with their feet up, drinking beer and joking with friends, we recognise a glint of their humanity, instinctively we know that deep down, they have feelings just like you and me. The twins offer no such empathy; show no emotion in context with their disgusting acts, so it’s them that are the monsters. Apparently. Body count is irrelevant.

Black Lagoon is still just as fun as ever – there is a loveable black humour and corny kitsch value to be found in such an over-top bunch of episodic villains, and despite the animation (particularly character designs) looking strangely inconsistent, you just can’t beat this show for a good ol’ fashioned shoot out.

Pumpkin Scissors – 1 – Faith in humanity after all

I’m getting worried about the fall anime season; there is too much to watch. Putting aside the immediate favourites like Death Note and Black Lagoon (these two are unmissable in my eyes) the likes of Pumpkin Scissors and D.Gray-man have proved just as fun and action packed, so where does one (desperately trying to be a ‘casual’) anime fan draw the line? Because at this rate I’ll be signing pink papers down at the Akihabara mental asylum by the end of the month!

Paranoid rambling aside, Pumpkin Scissors cut an impressive debut. Set a few short years after a hard fought and debilitating war, civilisation is left in ruin. Law and order is spread thinly, and vicious soldiers turned sadistic bandits roam the land, exploiting the weak without a care in the world. Pumpkin Scissors follows the people willing to stand up and defend what good is left in their world.

Although I’m somewhat at odds with cliche teenage pretty boys and girls posing as our heroes, Pumpkin Scissors is evocatively set within a post-WW European landscape; crumbled buildings, muddy grass and depressed villagers fill the screen with their dank green hue. Running with this realistic tone, the brief skirmishes between soldiers and bandits are notable for their distinctly painful and violent aethetic.

Interactions between the characters are as interesting and natural as you would expect, there are no laugh out loud jokes but man mountain Randel Orlando has a face covered with scars and a chilling, excited look in his eyes when its time to take down a 3-manned tank; he is a bad ass. I’m interested to see how the budding relationship between he and the idealistic female lead (nick named Pumpkin Scissors no doubt due to her cute appearance) develops and whether they survive the mass of human darkness drowning them.

D.Gray-man – 1 – Completely coherent and mysteriously atmospheric

Anyone remember Pierrot Le Fou from Cowboy Bebop? How can we forget that floating fat man, screaming with insane laughter as he tears his way through the landscape. I know D.Gray-man may not have the kung-fu style of Spike Spiegel, but “The Earl of Millennium” looks just like Pierrot Le Fou, and also happens to be a sick bastard too.

Regardless that my brain is still hurting from the craptastic shounen epic Kiba, this first episode of D.Gray-man was surprisingly impressive; showcasing suitable levels of gore and supernatural brutality, my ultimate interest in these Shounen Jump adaptations often rests on their mutli-talented casts. Ichigo of Bleach is a dull jock, so I can’t be bothered, but D.Gray-man’s Allen Walker offers a mysterious balance of “dark history” (represented by a striking red tattoo dripping down the left side of his face and an apparently demonic left arm ) with a shockingly pleasant personality. Just from his voice, its obvious Allen has a good heart, and no doubt, he should become a hero worth supporting.

D.Gray-man’s universe is based on an involving snap shot of late-Victorian England, an era full of little details and fascinating quirks- the fashions, the hair styles and the architecture of the time have been captured well, setting an intoxicating and foggy tone from which the supernatural adventure can begin. This undeniably human mythology, covering the classic themes of ghosts and exorcism, builds an important sense of belonging and familiarity for the viewer, lulling us into Allen’s weird and wonderful life, a world still capable of springing a few real shocks and grotesque surprises.

Based on this one episode, D.Gray-man has shown real potential. Completely coherent (compared with Kiba) and mysteriously atmospheric, it immediately reminded me of Fullmetal Alchemist, right down to the tragic truth of Allen’s dangerous profession. I plan to watch more, filled with the hope that this can become an involving and fascinating adventure.

Honey & Clover II – Wallowing in the aftermath

It was always going to be one of those dreaded moments when Honey & Clover finally finished up – an empty feeling, my mind swirling in miscellaneous doubt and irritating confusion. What do I watch now?

I had my ups and down with this second season, perhaps borne from episode after episode of frustrating romantic cliff hangers, but sooner or later it will be worth coming back and watching the whole show again, from start until finish — I say "start" and "finish" as if to suggest there is a definite beginning and end to the adventures of Takemoto and his merry band of buddies, that’s wrong, because life goes on, round and round.

If Honey & Clover is the beginning and end of anything, it charts the spark of close friendship, our gradual parting of ways, and the birth of meaningful, affecting memories. I’m glad with how it’s ended — half expecting a sickly Hollywood climax; we’re left instead with the bitter sweet taste of a hopeful future. True to its base human empathy, Honey & Clover ultimately leaves these characters free to chase their dreams and open new chapters of their lives, having lost innocence but gained an important wisdom; basically, all grown up.

At times threatening to become an inverted male harem (with no less than three dashing heroes chasing one fair maiden), Hagu makes the right choice to stick with Shuuji; of all the characters, Shuuji most desperately needed Hagu – the idea of them eventually "hooking up" is more than a little unsettling, but their relationship is more like kindred spirits than any physical attraction. Truly they need each other to survive, while Takemoto and Morita are strong enough to move on — their dreams and ambitions lay elsewhere.

Taken a whole — including the first season, Honey & Clover has been a joy to watch. Symbolic, philosophical and moving, it’s not without faults but that’s not really the point. Watching this show forces me to look within myself, to think about life. You can’t really ask for much more than that, to be engaged on such a personal level is rare indeed and the whimsical Honey & Clover will always have that extra something special.