Honey & Clover: Complete Collection Part 1 (of 2) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, September 25, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The lives of several art college students is examined in this series about relationships and figuring out what you wante out of life.

What They Say
What do you get when you cross creativity with self-discovery and unrequited love? Art school! Yuta Takemoto has no idea what's in store for his life when he enrolls at a Tokyo art college, but he find out right away it'll never be dull! Love triangles form as fast as friendships when both Takemoto and senior classmate Shinobu Morita fall hard for shy artistic prodigy Hagumi Hanamoto. And while architecture student Takumi Mayama secretly pines for an older woman, dazzling ceramicist Ayu Yamada pines for him! Confused yet? Welcome to the bittersweet world of Honey and Clover...

The Review!
Honey and Clover has a bilingual presentation with the English language adaptation done by Salami Studios, who I believe we last saw working on Prince of Tennis. Both the English and Japanese mixes are done in stereo and encoded at 224kbps. The series has a very straightforward presentation to it with some minor directionality across the forward soundstage, but nothing that's too noticeable. In some ways it feels like an older show than it is because there isn't all that much to it. A lot of the time there's only one character talking on screen at a time so it doesn't have a lot to work with. What it does do it does well though with a clean sounding mix for both language tracks that's free of dropouts and distortions.

Originally airing throughout 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The thirteen episodes here are split across four discs in a four/four/five format, though it's worth noting that the title setup on the third disc is set for 69 minutes and a second title for 46 minutes, which makes you question the number of episodes on the disc at first. There's plenty of space on each disc for a good looking presentation and we do get one, with smooth colors and a generally clean look. There are several night scenes where the skies show some blocking going on in the background, but they're not regular and they don't distract all that much unless you're sensitive to it. Overall this is a good looking show, but it gets some seriously dropped points for the amount of hard subtitles used in it for background signs and on screen thought-text from the characters. DVD has been around for twelve years as of this writing and hard subtitles are still being done by Viz which is simply boggling.

Honey and Clover has a rather good digipak release here with a slipcover style design to it. The slipcover has a manga illustration for its front cover with Yuta, Hagu and Shinobu together as the snow falls outside of the ferris wheel which has a very somber feeling to all of it. The layout is simple with its design, almost too light in its feeling, but it definitely showcases itself as a shoujo kind of show. The back of the slpcover has a number of shots from the show spread about with a very light and almost loving feeling to them. The summary is a bit short, but works well enough, and there's a clear listing of the shows features and episode count as well as the extras that are included. I do continue to wish that Viz would make proper technical grids so that everything could be find easily.

Inside the slipcover is a well design digipak that doesn't have multiple foldout piece but rather just opens like a book. The front of the digipak uses the same front cover as the slipcover while the back cover is blank outside of a picture of the evil dog that shows up briefly in the show. Inside the digipak, it opens up to two disc holders, the one on the right holding two discs, while underneath there are numerous shots from the show that highlight the episode that they represent with the title and episode number below it. The overall design is good and the set has a bit more of a firm feeling to it than the sets like Naruto, so this set has left me feeling pretty pleased.

The menus for Honey and Clover play the name game a fair bit with several clovers spread around the otherwise generally static screen, though each disc plays it to a different color scheme for the background. It has a mildly upbeat tone to all of it and a clean navigation set which also includes the translation notes as a separate top level extras. Submenus load quickly and without any interstitial animation and the languages submenu does a nice job of actually showing what's active for the selections. The discs did not read our players' language presets though unfortunately.

Spread across the three volumes are cultural notes, though some have more than others, and they provide a mix of the obvious and some good cultural bits given in a simple form. On the third disc there are more extras, which include the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. There's also a round of production art but the best extra is an eleven minute video piece that shows what went into making the opening. It's cute to see how it was made and all that went into it, including the food wranglers. One thing I really appreciated on the final volume for the extras is a complete episode by episode breakdown of the credits, which means individually attributed roles for the cast as well. I wish every release did it like this, at least from Viz, instead of their one credits scroll serving every episode of a series.

Based on the manga series by Chica Umino, Honey and Clover is a twenty-six episode series that's been adapted into a live action movie as well. The central focus on a group of students from an art university that all live in the same apartment complex has gone over well in Japan, as the series has a sequel and the manga finished a solid run with ten collected volumes. The first half of the series makes up this thirteen episode collection, which has twelve episodes and a special “Episode L” between episode eleven and twelve that delves into a side character of sorts.

Honey and Clover is an ensemble cast show which is really its best strength, since none of the characters are all that engaging on their own. The group is initially made up of three young men and a favored professor. Yuta is the youngest of them who is attending the school for his architectural plans. He's a good natured guy that's easily taken advantage of most of the time by the older student, Shinobu, a sixth year student. Shinobu comes across as kind of flighty, easily distracted but also capable of acquiring lots of money in ways that are never clear. One reason he's still in school after all this time is that he tends to sleep a lot and misses the final exams that would allow him to finish. Part of it is that he simply likes the place he's at in his life, the friends he's made and what's going on.

Bringing a little balance to this group is Takumi, a serious fourth year student who is definitely into architecture compared to the uncertain interest that Yuta has in it. Takumi is looking to figure out his life, moving forward and getting a job so he can discover what he's really going to be. Like the others, he is in an uncertain stage of his life and really likes those he's with, as the group really does finish forming well as the series opens, but he knows he wants more than where things are at right now. One of those things is a very talented third year student named Ayumi who is considered one of the best by her teacher when it comes to the pottery she creates. Ayumi is very interested in Takumi, but his distraction by other things keeps it from progressing for quite a few months after we're introduced to the basics of the show.

The change in the group dynamic comes when Professor Hanamoto's cousin's daughter comes to the school, a young woman named Hagu. Hanamoto has always had an older brother feeling towards her and protected her, so he takes on the role very gladly when she comes to the school and ends up living with him. Hagu is... a difficult character to deal with. Hagu is eighteen at the start of the show and is one of those artists that surpasses all the others. The difficulty with her is that her appearance is that of a child, very small and she acts much like it as well. When she becomes a part of the group, it causes mixed reactions among the others. Ayumi slowly gets along with her and even lives with her at one point when Hanamoto goes to Mongolia for a project. Yuta has a certain affection for her that could develop into more while Shinobu is, at least to my interpretation, very interested in her but unsure how to broach it. So he instead treats her like a water sprite and builds a home page portraying her as a mystical creature become reality.

Over the thirteen episodes in this set, it's all about the setup of these characters lives within the apartment complex and on campus as they interact with each other. Each of them is certainly distinct enough, some more than others, and the growing interplay between the various relationships can be fun to watch as it goes on. But it does have a fairly laid back feeling to it that can be off-putting at times. Honey and Clover moves through quite a few months during these episodes which can be disconcerting if you don't realize time has progressed, but it also works in its favor as you don't have a lot of time taken up with useless stories nor do you have it all happening in a very short span of time. The overall result though is that there isn't a strong connection to these characters that some other shows give you, and the lack of that makes it difficult to really get into it fully. You simply don't feel invested in it.

With the animation, I've long been a fan of J.C. Staff and this show is no exception. It has a very soft design to it that is inviting with its natural feeling. There's a lot of detail to the backgrounds which allows it to feel like a lived in apartment complex or a real working campus. The animation has a very smooth feeling to it as well with a good sense of fluidity that adds to the overall realism of it. There's a lot of earth tones used that helps accentuate that natural feeling that a show likes this need. The character designs are quite good with some small changes along the way to account for the passage of time, The only element of the show I don't like keeps coming down to Hagu and even her design just makes her an unappealing character with how she's portrayed.

In Summary:
Honey and Clover has left me conflicted. On the one hand, it has one of the best opening animation sequences I've ever seen. On the other hand, it comes across as kind of bland with characters that are difficult to connect with overall. Prior to this, I haven't read the manga but I did see the live action movie and I have to say I've enjoyed the movie more than I have this first half of the series. There's still time for it to drastically change my opinion, since so much of this is working through a few relationships from different angles, but right now it's left me less than impressed and less than interested in the lives of these characters. There are echos of several other shows in here, especially Maison Ikkoku, except that it's played far more seriously. And that seriousness may be what's holding it back, as the main humor comes from Hagu or Shinobu's interactions with her.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Making of the Opening

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 16 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 59.90
Running time: 300
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Honey & Clover