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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.

Honey & Clover II – 7 – Bleeding with a flickering hope in life

As far as hyperbole goes, this was quite possibly my favourite episode of Honey & Clover II. No doubt I could say that after every episode- but this seventh instalment particularly deserves praise for violently jamming the second season in a completely different (and darker) direction.

It’s not that I was getting sick of the likes of Yamada angsting over the same old melodramatic things, instead I’m simply enthused to see an episode more akin to the first season- a somewhat sad story filled with life-affecting, thought provoking symbolism and philosophy.

Tatsuo cuts an absolutely ambiguous character; morally what he does to Tsukasa Morita is wrong, yet his sympathetic envy is so well emphasized through the use of some touching symbolism. His best friend can fly, so why can’t he? What makes him so damn special? As individuals we’re all brought up to feel one of a kind, destined for greatness. But when the harsh reality of life kicks in, and we find ourselves stuck in the shadows of others, how should we react – after all, realising you live a mediocre life sucks.

Typically the ever changing colour scheme and art work for this episode matched the muted, sombre tone with such whimsical aplomb. My favourite scenes included Tatsuou and Kaoru’s walk through an open expanse of beautiful golden fields; such expressive, emotive style bleeding with a flickering hope in life.

Honey & Clover II – First and fleeting impressions

Honey & Clover is said to epitomise the ambiguous “slice of life” genre – a typically slow, ambling style of story telling with no true narrative direction. Indeed, Takemoto’s impulsive journey around Japan is all about finding a definitive meaning to his existence only to discover that ultimately, there is no set path for us all to follow; that life and youth is random and fleeting; about searching and wondering, rather than knowing it all.

If Honey & Clover was thick with such philosophical commentary but lacking in conclusive fulfilment for the viewer, then it’s sequel is the opposite; Honey & Clover II has almost done away this cloud glazing ponderment and locked in on the various love triangles that make up its cast. Now it is very much a case of wondering who will end up with whom and sometimes (and even Mayama admits this) suffers from being bogged down with hammy dialogue and a sickly sweet sentiment.

The truth though is that Honey & Clover (I & II) is surely the essential anime for our generation. In being made now, it has captured and expressed every young adult’s profound worries and nostalgic thoughts about life and love in such a contemporary, trail blazing style. The wistful animation is ultra expressive, fluid and engaging while the longing soundtrack is raging with a burning emotion. This is a great series, that should become one of the greats.

The most influential people in your anime fandom

The ever reliable ICv2 recently posted up a list of the “ten most powerful people in the North American anime industry“. The run down makes for interesting (if a little predictable) reading and sitting at the top is Gonzo’s bestest buddy Gen Fukunaga (of FUNimation), who managed to visciously kill off any competition with his company’s swelling ranks of mediocre action anime to become “the one” (or should I say, Jyu-Oh).

This got me thinking about the people who have had the most influence on my development as an anime fan, or more specifically; which sick bastards transformed me into the hardened anime junkie I am today?

The list of shame

4. Yoko Kanno – Cowboy Bebop

Soundtracks play a great part in my love of anime and no one does it better than Yoko Kanno. I first heard her work in Cowboy Bebop and have since been totally and utterly defeated by her varied tunage and heart wrenching, nostalgic stylings.

3. Chika Umino – Honey & Clover

At a time when I was feeling seriously jaded about anime (I couldn’t even make it through the first 3 minutes of Gonzo’s Black Cat), along came a funny slice of life series called Honey & Clover that completely refreshed my enthusiasm for the genre. This was a geniuenly funny, life affirming drama with colorful, original animation and a wonderful soundtrack to boot. Chika Umino wrote this story, so deserves credit first and foremost, but irregardless of that, everything about Honey & Clover is brilliant.

2. Kentarou Miura – Berserk

Berserk was the first anime I fell head over heels in love with and Kentarou Miura is the genius behind it all. In combining though-provoking philosophy with an extremely violent, complex cast of characters, Miura will forever be the brilliant mind behind my favourite anime of all time.

1. Masashi Kishimoto – Naruto / Shonen Jump

Although it is with something of a guity conscience, I simply wouldn’t be watching anime today if it wasn’t for Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto. This was the first ever fansubbed series I got my mits on and to this very day I still remember the nerve-wracking, sweat-inducing climax of the Zabuza story arc. After sitting through around 50 episodes of Naruto, I realised I had to check out more anime. And furthermore, I realized subtitles should always be the way to go with foreign film and TV.

Soundtracks that stand alone

Great music and great anime usually go hand in hand, but the sign of a great song is that anyone can enjoy it, irregardless of their love (or lack there of) for anime. I remember thoroughly enjoying the music used in Honey & Clover, but on its own it is a disappointing, minimal experience I often compare with the dull instrumentation of easy listening elevator tunes. Within the context of falling in love with the Honey & Clover anime, I imagined this soundtrack would mean so much more to me.

From back to front, there are few anime soundtracks that truly transcend the chains of being locked to their respective TV series. Without stating the obvious example of Mistress Yoko Kanno, I genuinely feel Toshio Masuda’s ethereal Mushishi score is a consistently lush and driving musical master class. I can play these songs at home, in the office at work and even to my damn family- everyone (relative to their undeniably bad taste) will love it.

Of course, as is their nature, soundtracks aren’t designed to be stand alone albums anyway but it’s certainly a bonus to know that in sixth months, hell…, six years down the line, I can still enjoy listening to some of this music without having to revisit the TV series first.