Manga Friday: Honey and Clover
Manga Friday tackles the thorny question of book-to-movie adaptations head-on this week, by comparing and contrasting the first two volumes of the Honey and Clover manga with the movie of the same name – which was adapted from the manga story.
Honey and Clover, Vol. 1
By Chica Umino
Viz/Shojo Beat, March 2008, $8.99
Honey and Clover, I am told, is one of the most popular shojo manga series in Japan in recent years, selling (in aggregate) over ten million copies so far. It focuses on a group of students at a Tokyo art school – in particular, on their love lives.
Now, no series about simple love-lives will last very long, and Honey and Clover ended its run in Japan a couple of years ago with more than sixty chapters, so you things are going to get complicated. But I’ll start out slow.
Our central character is Takamoto, a sophomore in a painting program who lives in an apartment building near campus – it doesn’t seem to officially a dorm, but it’s rented essentially only to male students. Two of his neighbors are also close friends – Mayama, a studious senior on his way to be an architect; and Morita, a seventh-year sculpture student given to long absences and odd behavior.
They’re all somewhat connected to Professor Hanamoto, and, in the first story in the first volume, the boys need a new student – Hagumi, a young, very small woman living with Hanamoto (who is an unofficial uncle to her) and who has immense talents. Both Takamoto and Morita fall in love with her at first sight, but Morita also torments her by calling her “koropokkur” (after a fairy-like spirit) and making all sorts of photographs and other objects of her koropokkur-ness.
Honey and Clover starts off as a bunch-of-wacky-kids series – with a particular emphasis on jokes and stories about how hungry young male students are – and finds its way through the first volume (the first nine stories).
By the end of this volume, two other major characters have been introduced. The first is Rika, the woman Mayama works for. (She runs an architectural firm, and has a tragic past: she and her husband, a fellow architect, were Hanamoto’s best friends, before the husband died and Rika was severely injured in a car crash.) Mayama has an immense crush on Rika, but she’s ten years older than he is, still grieving for her husband, and might not be interested in him anyway.
The last major character is Yamada, a young woman who graduated recently but is still hanging around the school as a postgrad. (Mostly due to a lack of good jobs, it seems.) She’s a former student of Hanamoto’s, and quickly falls in love with Mayama.
So the first volume ends with the premise fully established, but not much more – this is a story about two love triangles, one around a woman and one around a man.
Honey and Clover, Vol. 2
By Chica Umino
Viz/Shojo Beat, June 2008, $8.99
The second volume has only six stories – the first volume had nine – but they’re longer, and, except for the first (which sees Takamoto go home and deal with his bluff and manly stepfather, in a subplot that doesn’t go anywhere else so far), they focus on activities that the group of students are doing together.
And by “group of students,” in best small-group-of-friends-story manner, I mean “all of the people I named above – except usually Rika and sometimes Hanamoto – and nobody else.” That’s not how groups of friends, or any activities, actually happen in the real world – there’s always someone missing, or someone else there just this once – but we accept it for the purposes of fiction. They take a trip with Morita’s lottery winnings, go to a zoo and carnival, are battling the deadlines for their big end-of-year projects, search for four-leaf clovers, and play Twister.
But the story here is mostly a tightening, especially in the Mayama triangle, where all three know exactly what the situation is, but nothing seems about to change, (The Hagu triangle is odder, because she seems childlike or distracted most of the time, plus Takamoto is too young and flustered to do anything and Morita…well, Morita just never does anything normally.)
The characters are all well-defined – after that initial story, when it feels like Takemoto and an undifferentiated mass of other students – and the individual stories are fun to read. At this point, it doesn’t look like the relationships will shift much for a while, since the two triangles are the premise of the series, but they’re a solid enough base to hold it up for a while.
The manga Honey and Clover has a pleasant art style that doesn’t call a lot of attention to itself – except for those very bright pastel covers – and a quietly thoughtful narrative voice that I haven’t seen anywhere else in manga before. There are occasional moment of odd translation – phrases that aren’t quite colloquial in English or sentences that stumble over themselves – but the narration, most of the time, is a great device, another voice commenting of the actions of the characters and seeing the story as a whole.
Honey and Clover (DVD)
Directed by Masahiro Takata
Viz Pictures, May 2008, $24.99
The movie Honey and Clover condenses the story of the manga, but only in events – all of the characters are there, and are recognizably themselves. (I said to myself, “that must be Mayama” when he appeared on screen – and it was.) So it’s well-cast, though the differences between manga drawing conventions – everyone has big eyes, and half of the cast are apparently blondes – and the realities of a Japanese cast did make for a bit of mental adjustment.
This movie was directed by Masahiro Takada, about whom I know absolutely nothing, and features a cast of people I’ve never seen before – Yu Aoi, who plays Hagu, appears to be something of a star, and Sho Sakura, who played Takamoto, is a famous singer. (They’re both fine here; no one particularly stands out as being better or worse than anyone else, as often happens with a movie in a foreign language.) So there won’t be any deep examination of anyone’s career or regular motifs here.
This version of Honey and Clover does focus on the group of friends, and on the two triangles, making it essentially a condensed version of the manga. The movie doesn’t have a lot more closure than these two books do – it has some, but everything isn’t settled by any means – and it does use a lot of scenes straight from the manga or only somewhat changed. (Along with some ideas that were either new in the movie or came from later in the series, such as a big gallery show in which Morita enters a giant statue, and the stereotypically effeminate gallery owners “Mario” and “Luigi.”
As with the manga, the movie of Honey and Clover will most appeal to those who like coming-of-age stories, and stories about young love in general. It’s not a typical romantic comedy, since it doesn’t focus on one couple, but it’s a nice little movie – though it might be too slow-moving for some American audiences.
But, so far, all of the versions of Honey and Clover that I’ve seen have impressed me, which I certainly can’t say for every manga or foreign movie that crosses my path.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.