Honey and Clover 4 by Chica Umino: A-

honeyclover4From the back cover:
Morita has disappeared, leaving his friends bereft and confused. Hagu and Takemoto turn to their art, while Mayama and Yamada cling to their unrequited loves. When his coworker begins to romance Yamada, Mayama can’t help interfering. But what does he care, when he’s nursing a flame for a woman he hasn’t seen in a year?

After a chapter in which the gang reacts to Morita’s sudden departure and Takemoto receives a troubling answer when he asks Hagu whether she wants Morita to come back, the pendulum swings back to the Mayama-Yamada-Rika triangle. We learn more about how Mayama met Rika as well as more about his current job and coworkers. One of these coworkers, Nomiya, is a bit of a playboy and when Mayama objects a little too much to Nomiya meeting Yamada to talk about some pottery she’d helped them with, that only makes Nomiya all the more determined to meet her. Mayama goes a bit nuts trying to “protect” Yamada from Nomiya, with various people urging him to question his motives. Does he, after all, just want to keep Yamada in reserve in case things don’t work out with Rika?

One thing I particularly liked about this volume was the use of metaphors to illustrate Yamada’s and Mayama’s feelings. In a chapter from Yamada’s perspective, in which she spends hours getting gussied up for a festival just so Mayama will tell her she looks nice and maybe begin to want her just a little, a plant that she’s been growing has been damaged by a storm. Her mother advises her to snip off a bit of broken stem and allow new growth, but she just can’t give up on it and delays too long, condemning the plant to a slow, withering death. This exactly parallels her situation with Mayama—she just can’t let go of her feelings for him, and persists in holding out hope that romance will bloom. In the next chapter, Mayama’s dogged yet fruitless pursuit of Rika is juxtaposed with the way cicadas spend their brief lives.

It’s okay to spin around and around in the same place. Just so long as you’re singing your heart out.

The comparison is subtlely done, with Umino trusting to readers’ intelligence to make the connection.

I’d also like to commend how well Yamada has been fleshed out as a character. Originally, it seemed like she was just going to be the violent girl who pummels the boys occasionally, but she has really evolved beyond that. Too, I’m liking Mayama a lot more than I’d originally expected to. He’s a pretty complex guy—very aware of his own flaws and yet still driven to do things he doesn’t completely understand. I love how his dislike of being left out of social gatherings comes into play in this volume. Hooray for consistent characterization and continuity (as also exemplified by Yamada’s dad wearing his tea-cozy-as-hat in one panel).

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