A Thematic Analysis of Honey and Clover

by eternal on July 28, 2009


Ayumi Yamada
Ayumi’s arc slaps the viewer in the face early on, and it doesn’t stop until nearly half way through the second season. The problem is, it’s a story that deals with something uncommonly seen in fiction, anime or otherwise, and so it can be hit-or-miss depending on your tolerance and personal experience.

Taken from the fifth episode, under a ceiling of rain, as she sees Mayama running toward Rika to offer his umbrella…

Why…? All I want is for the person I like the most to like me the most. Why? It feels like it’ll never happen. Forever…like this, forever…

Ayumi has her fair share of melancholic gazes out the window as well, and for good reason. And let’s not forget the ultra-quotable scene from episode twenty…

I wonder why, on TV or in magazines, love seems fun. So why is my love so sad and despicable?

Simple, and painfully true. Ayu’s arc tells the story of unrequited love right up to the end, complete with all of the self-reflections and angsty monologues and tears that come bundled with the package. She cries, a lot, and it’s perfectly fitting because that’s the only thing she can do. In a sense, she has an advantage over Mayama – as he said, girls become more beautiful when they’re in love, but what can a guy do it that situation? However, her tears earn her sympathy, not affection, and despite all of her efforts to look good for him during the summer festival, nothing could avert his faraway gaze. It’s like watching the second part of 5 Centimeters Per Second all over again: an utterly hopeless, yet completely unavoidable one-sided love.

Ayumi appeals directly to the viewer’s emotions, which is perhaps the exact opposite of what Mayama does, but her arc really hits home when it differentiates itself from other stories of unrequited love and deals with the aftereffects. We know that she loves him; we know that he doesn’t love her; we know that she can’t do much about that. So now what? Aside from using several practical examples to illustrate her pain – the summer festival being among the most effective – she also begins to question, and despise, her own situation.

The broken stem metaphor in episode thirteen marks the beginning of the questions that romance anime never ask the viewer.

I planted basil and beefsteak plants on my balcony in the beginning of summer. They grew quickly under the summer sun, but during one of the July typhoons, one of the beefsteak plants snapped in two. My mother looked at the plant and said, “that won’t return to normal, so tear it off where it broke. If you do that, a new stem will grow from there and new leaves will grow from it.” But I couldn’t help but hesitate, because the small leaves on the end of the stem were still healthy. They didn’t change at all after the stem snapped.

She still had hope at that point, but her hesitation became something far more painful by the end of the series. She couldn’t bring herself to break the stem, which was perfectly natural when you think about it: she really did love him. Destroying her own feelings like that would be a betrayal to herself, and there’s no guarantee that another stem would even grow in its place. And so she suffered, receiving the support of her friends – most notably Morita – until another person came along.

Very little needs to be explained about Nomiya; his actions are painfully obvious to everyone except Ayumi herself. Put simply, he was interested in her, and so he did what he could to work his way into her heart, attempting to heal her wounds. Much to his dismay, he realized how deep her scars ran, but being possibly even more mature – and certainly more smooth – than his coworker Mayama, he worked his way in without her even realizing it. But the most important part, and arguably the most interesting, occurred at their story’s conclusion in the second season.

I ran out because it felt like he saw right through me. I honestly wanted to call him. I wanted him to listen to a lot of things. And I wanted to ask him so many things…but I hated myself for thinking that. I mean, if I thought that, all of my feelings for Mayama would turn into lies. I don’t care how pathetic or embarrassing I look in front of everyone. My feelings for him…only that…was my bittersweet treasure…

And so we are introduced to another aspect of love: an unrequited love that is somehow self-sustaining. It causes its victim no end of pain, and yet, it came to feel natural to her, as if that was the way things should have been. Ayumi was not meant to be happy; she was meant to be lifted up and torn apart by Mayama’s most minute actions, she was meant to cry her eyes out while he was working into the morning with Rika. It wasn’t happy, but it was natural, something that had come to be a part of her life. Her “bittersweet treasure”, as she called it. However, Nomiya’s appearance was something incalculable, and with more than a hint of reluctance – fear that her years of bittersweet longing would evaporate into nothing if she abandoned them and broke the stem – she gave in to her true feelings and acknowledged the person that was standing beside her all that time.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Dop July 28, 2009 at 7:55 am

Thanks for that, I thought it was a very well written look at what is still my favourite anime series.


IcyStorm July 28, 2009 at 8:12 am

I love you for writing this.

And I’m going to go rewatch Honey and Clover.


ghostlightning July 28, 2009 at 8:21 am

But what does it mean “It’s right there in my heart?”

Does this statement establish existence vs. non-existence? What difference does that make, in the context of the narrative?


ETERNAL August 1, 2009 at 5:03 pm

I meant it more figuratively than philosophically. You’ve seen the show, so as you know, Takemoto’s final dilemma is about whether or not his painful experiences were worth anything. That can also be applied to the other characters: did Ayumi gain anything from waiting for Mayama to return her feelings? Did Morita’s efforts pay off, even though Hagu would never be interested? And the answer, according to the show, is that there is a difference, but it’s something only you can feel. It changes something inside of you: you grow based on your experiences, and they remain in your heart as bittersweet memories, even if everything didn’t go as planned. We don’t know if Takemoto is a better person because of his unrequited love for Hagu, but we do know that he’s a different person because of it; we know that there’s a difference between something that didn’t work out and something that never happened at all.


zzeroparticle July 28, 2009 at 11:50 am

An excellent post to start my morning.

I’ve always seen Takemoto as sort of the everyman character, which is why a lot of people are able to identify with his struggles so much. Taking a journey like what he did is something that’s looking really good right now based on where I am in life at the moment.


Mike July 28, 2009 at 11:57 am

Stunning. Absolutely stunning, insightful, and spot on article. You nailed the central dilemmas of the main characters right on the head and really brought out why this is one of anime’s best written series ever.

This was pretty much the article I always wanted to write about the show; now I don’t need to. It’s bittersweet for me to realize that fact (just as it was for so many of the characters in H&C!), but like Takemoto I am glad to have experienced it and I am a better person for it. Bravo, bravo.


slpless July 28, 2009 at 12:44 pm

You know I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading Honey and Clover analysis and this is certainly one of the best I’ve read. However, what really sticks out for me is how you mentioned that Honey and Clover isn’t something that really needs critical review to be enjoyed. This is something I feel many people forget about as to what make Honey and Clover so great, the blending of an excellent narrative, comedy, etc in addition to its themes. This is also why I feel the sequel isn’t as good as the first, as there was too much focus on the themes and its introspective nature.


ETERNAL August 1, 2009 at 4:50 pm

True; if the story were more carelessly put together, we wouldn’t be talking about it. The minute details definitely add to it and make it a masterpiece, but I don’t think it’s a necessity to look too closely. It would be interesting, but it would also add a few thousand more words :P

As for the sequel, I liked it since the themes were my favourite part of the show, but focusing on the story is a double-edged sword. For lack of a better example, you could compare it to the ending of Kannagi: most people didn’t like the plot, so the focus on the serious side of it broke the balance between comedy and story. If you liked H&C as a typical slice-of-life/comedy/romance, then yes, I can see how focusing on the themes would hurt your enjoyment, in the same way that the second half of Toradora could be seen as too melodramatic. But, like I said, the risk paid off in my experience because the introspective nature is exactly what sets it apart.


kadian1364 July 28, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Damn. This post is like Hercules’ 12 labors, but more flowery and meaningful. Applause.

I’ll say more when I’m done reading.


kadian1364 July 29, 2009 at 5:07 pm


What can I say? My words fail to convey how tremendously moved I am. With absolutely no exaggeration, reading that was like the sky just opened up, the sun giving way to a brighter and more sparkling light, angels’ voices sang and heaven’s own gaze looked down upon me, and I could only stand in awe of the sheer brilliance of it all.

It’s the definitive piece on Honey and Clover, yet stands on its own quality of masterful writing and considerate craftsmanship. Bravo! T_T


ETERNAL August 1, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I know it sounds cliche, but I honestly think that the show itself wrote this blog post. There are times when a writer must look deeper and discuss things that are only implicit in the work of fiction, but sometimes, it all pours out naturally. This was one of those times. Honey and Clover really is a beautiful story, easily my favourite anime – favourite work of fiction, even – and I’m glad to have written something on it that has impacted even one of you.


Alastor August 3, 2009 at 6:27 pm


(and welcome back!)

This anime has been on my “To-Watch List” for some time; this tempting post doesn’t make it any easier! I’ve been searching it out but haven’t had any luck, but there is one place left that should have it ;-)

I began your H&C post but then realized that it might contain spoilers. Figured that I’d ask first and if so, then redouble my efforts to find it, and then read this ;-)

How safe is it to read? Since we seem to share a lot of common tastes I’m sure that the show will be thoroughly involving and enjoyable :-D


ETERNAL August 6, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Oh, it’s definitely spoiler-ridden. A lot of what I write contains spoiler unless I say otherwise, but I guess you must have noticed that by now. Anyway, it’s a bit different from the other stuff I like (being a shoujo series and all), but it’s still romance, and it’s the exact opposite of the soap-opera styled love stories like KimiNozo and School Days. If you like romance anime outside of the general moe category, then you should definitely at least try it.


Alastor August 6, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Funny you should mention… I’m in the midst of mini-marathonning it right now and *just* finished a Blog post recommending it LOL And of course I had to link to your article for those Visitors who are curious enough! Hope you don’t mind ;-)

Since I suspect that a lot of my Visitors aren’t hard-core, I steered them toward ANN’s encyclopedia entry where there’s a link to their streaming H&C eps. Since they’re only streaming 1-12 though, I kind of suggested that they might look into “other ways” to watch the rest should the become addicted. Heh.

After reading just your enticing Intro, I searched and searched and finally found the Solar subs in .avi plus the two OVAs. After just a few episodes I was hooked and realized that This Was Something Special :-D It’s really the “perfect” slice-of-life. I like very much how the focus is on those realistic movements of love, from those aching pangs of first love, to certain inevitable realizations about “the other”, to the realities of getting what you wish for and the consequences thereof. In a word, BRILLIANT.

I’m up through 16 now and expect to finish tonight. Watching as many eps as possible in a run is (for me anyway) the best possible way to keep the most intense and continual “feel” of an anime intact, rather than waiting between episodes. And “feeling” is what we’re all about, as human beings, human souls, and yes, beings with Heart…

So, once I’m finished I’ll be back to read the rest of these chapters; I’m anxious to see what you’ve written about what is sure to be a most memorable show, and what will become one of my favorites!

And then there’s the sequel…

Cheers :-)


ayame May 17, 2010 at 2:26 pm

WOW! big applause!


clover rollover July 26, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Completely and perfectly stunning anime ever seen!


Vitolha January 21, 2011 at 2:17 am

Great review.
H&C was the most beautiful history i’ve ever seen…I think it’s because it’s so much like our lives! Masterpiece!


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