Honey and Clover 9-10 by Chica Umeno: A

These are the final two volumes of Honey and Clover, so there will be spoilers here. Beware.

Be sure to have some mental palate cleanser on hand—fluffy shoujo may work for you but I turned to shoot-’em-up seinen—when you finish Honey and Clover, because, man, is it depressing! It’s not that I’d expected everything to turn out rosy, since much of the plot revolves around two love triangles among friends, and someone must end up disappointed if there is to be any resolution, but I had failed to grasp the bigger sorrow in these characters’ lives: the time has come for them to go their separate ways.

Primarily, this realization affects Takemoto and Hagu, the two characters who are graduating. Hagu has said before that she plans to return home to Nagano to live a simple life and paint as she pleases, but lately it seems like she wants something else, but is reluctant to ask for it. As she articulates her dilemma, we see a more adult Hagu than we’ve ever seen before. This impression deepens when a freak accident leaves Hagu with nerve damage in her painting hand and she goes without painkillers in order to feel the first inkling of pain that might tell her there’s hope for regrowth. (If you had ever had reservations about this series because of Hagu’s child-like appearance, rest assured that she is clearly a strong, fascinating, and respected grown-up by the end.)

This accident is the catalyst for just about everything that follows. Takemoto has a job offer from the temple restoration group he’d encountered on his bicycle journey, but can’t decide whether to leave a recuperating Hagu behind. Ayu decides that Morita ought to know about what has happened to Hagu, and their reunion coincides with a frustrating lack of progress in Hagu’s physical therapy. Morita, who is sick of people loving or being jealous of him because of his talent, is ready to cast all that aside and offers Hagu the chance to do the same and just live as two people in love. She’s tempted, but when a night away from the hospital results in swelling in her hand, she realizes what is most important to her and decides to go back.

Hanamoto-sensei is ready to give everything up and stay by Hagu’s side as she recuperates, but doesn’t want her to know about the sacrifices he’s poised to make lest that knowledge influence her decision of what to do with her life. The night with Morita helps her realize that art is more important to her even than love, and in order to be able to pursue it, she needs Hanamoto by her side, to nourish her with his presence and enable her to relax and grow. It’s this that she was loathe to ask for, but nearly losing her ability to paint clarifies her desires and she ends up requesting the very thing he’s been ready to offer.

You see, though I never would have guessed this, Hanamoto is in love with Hagu, too. Through being with her, he was able to recapture some of the joy in art—and in life—that he had lost. Because of this, though she does not return his feelings in the same way, he’s willing to devote his life to staying near her. I find this inexplicably sad for some reason. Too, because Hagu chooses this path, both Takemoto’s and Morita’s romantic hopes are dashed. It’s just so awful that nobody’s love is returned in the same measure that their own is given. These are kind people, willing to keep on loving no matter what, and I can’t help but want to see that kind of devotion rewarded.

Takemoto and Morita have both been positively affected by their love for Hagu—her vow to always watch over Morita prevents him from giving up after all—but neither gets a happy ending. It seems possible that Ayu might, in time, be able to forget about Mayama and accept Nomiya’s feelings, but that’s still some ways off. The person closest to a happy ending is probably Mayama, who is making slow progress in his relationship with Rika. A lot of things are left up in the air, including the outcome of Hagu’s therapy, but this doesn’t result in the story feeling unfinished.

In the end, Takemoto achieves some measure of peace—he couldn’t have stood losing out to Morita, but to lose to Hanamoto-sensei’s “kindness and consideration” is somehow more tolerable—and takes the restoration job. Oh, how I cried when Hagu turns up at the train station with a bundle of ginormous sandwiches to bid him farewell. Each sandwich contains a four-leaf clover, and Takemoto realizes she must’ve spent ages searching for those, which brings to mind a memory (of the gang searching for clovers for Hanamoto-sensei back in volume two) that sums up the feeling of the series’ end quite well.

As time passes I guess the day will come that all of this is just a memory. But that day you were there and I was there and all of our friends were there. And we all looked for just one thing. In fact, that whole miraculous time in my life is going to keep turning nostalgically, somewhere far away deep in my heart, accompanied by a sweet pain forever.

Thanks for an awesome series, Chica Umino. I hope someone licenses Sangatsu no Lion soon.

Review copy for volume ten provided by the publisher.

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  1. Danielle Leigh says

    *sniffs* This made me tear up just thinking about that ending with the sandwiches. That whole scene just breaks me.

    It’s just so awful that nobody’s love is returned in the same measure that their own is given..

    Fantastic observation. It kind of breaks me that Hagu has to choose her work over a certain kind of “passionate” love, since surely she loves Morita that way (although god knows why). I also find the whole Hanamoto-Hagu relationship as deeply odd but somehow….right. I don’t know. It’s disturbing because it makes you look back at the rest of the series with new eyes, but this isn’t exactly a pleasant trip down memory lane. At least for me.

    One thing that I do fault the creator for is the fact there a number of characters who need to be smacked senseless for nurturing their unrequited loves long past the point of self-preservation (much less common sense). It’s childish and pathetic, and if someone doesn’t love you that way you *move* on. Still riles me up when I think about. I just don’t appreciate this, “Oh I’m so glad I loved you” anyway crap. It kind of infuriates me (as you can probably tell).

    • Yeah, the [spoilery] relationship is weird. I don’t think she is in love with him, and I don’t think there will ever be any consummation there. More like, he loves her so he’s willing to just be there by her side so she can have what’s important to her.

      I think there’s a difference between Takemoto being glad he loved Hagu and seemingly poised to move on from same and Ayu, who felt like giving up on her love for Mayama would be some kind of admission that she wasn’t sincere. Different levels of unrequited love, I guess, with Hanamoto perhaps in the mix as well.


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