Honey and Clover 3 by Chica Umino: A-

honeyclover3From the back cover:
Professor Hanamoto is off in Mongolia on a research trip and Hagu is having a hard time coping. The gang do their best to help her out, especially Takemoto. But as graduation threatens to alter their friendships forever, Hagu begins to turn toward Morita…

Time moves very quickly in Honey and Clover—already two years have passed since Takemoto met and fell in love with Hagu. While the days pass quickly and those still in school make progress with their studies (except for Morita, the terminal senior), relationships within the group remain at a standstill. In volume two, the focus was more on the triangle consisting of Mayama, Rika (the boss he loves unrequitedly), and Yamada (the classmate who loves him unrequitedly). This time the story revolves around Takemoto’s feelings for Hagu and how he begins to realize that she and Morita are attracted to each other.

One thing I really like about this series is how the guys genuinely try to help each other out with their romantic entanglements. Morita, ever the enigma, turns out to be quite perceptive to Yamada’s feelings and thrusts her (quite literally) into Mayama’s path more than once. Mayama, meanwhile, though incapable of extricating himself from his love woes, dispenses advice to Takemoto, encouraging him to fight for Hagu while Takemoto is inclined to simply step back and accept the situation. I find Takemoto’s attitude here to be pretty fascinating and realistic. He’s a gentle boy whose uncertainties of his own self-worth are well documented and not only that, he’s been a great friend to Hagu and primarily wants whatever will make her happy. I sympathize with him a lot and find his internal monologues—especially the scene when he compares Hagu’s flustered behavior around Morita to her complete relaxation in his presence and concludes that she doesn’t love him—exquisitely painful.

Morita also demonstrates some new layers in this volume. In addition to his perceptiveness, he also betrays that he is rather freaked out by his feelings for Hagu. After a random encounter during which he impulsively kisses her, he flees and ends up going on an extended trip to America on one of those mysterious jobs he does every so often. Takemoto is astounded by this, thinking that Morita has everything Takemoto wants and is just going to run away from it. We don’t see Morita between the kiss and the departure, but he is pretty notorious for his lack of seriousness, so his reaction to run from genuine emotion feels perfectly in character.

The main flaw in this series remains Hagu. She has definitely changed a great deal since arriving at the art school and is learning to be more independent now that Hanamoto is out of the country. Still, though, I feel like I don’t really have a handle on her personality just yet. Another thing that bugs me is that we see the characters working on projects but seldom their outcome. Did Takemoto ever finish that armoire thing he was building to house Hagu’s dolls’ clothes? Did Hagu finish the project for the art exhibition that she was stressing over in the beginning of this volume? I’ve got no idea.

Despite my small complaints, Honey and Clover offers a charming blend of humor and nostalgia that pleases me very much. Could any other series make a bonus story about tea cozies so fun to read? I think not.

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