Based on a popular, award-winning josei manga, this 2005 anime version of Honey and Clover has been licensed by Viz Media for more than two years but only this autumn has it finally started to make its way out on DVD. Fans of the manga or anime who have waited impatiently for Viz to get their act together should be quite pleased with the result, which includes 13 episodes spread over three DVDs and a solid set of Extras. Even the English dub, courtesy of the relatively new Salami Studios, should not disappoint much, as it casts its actors reasonably close in vocal style to the originals and features competent performances. (The English script does put certain terms in more American context, while the original Japanese context remains in the subtitles, but this is never a problem.)
Those not familiar with the manga might assume from the above synopsis that there is not much of a plot to the first half of this first series, and they would not be mistaken. However, the first dozen regular episodes are not so much about laying out a linear plot progression as they are about showcasing its core cast's activities and relationships and how they evolve (or not) over time, beginning with the heart of college days and, in some cases, extending beyond. The writing is at its best when detailing the flowering of artistic inspiration, the way different characters approach and pursue emotional attachments, and the way the characters bond with each other in ways that can transcend love; in fact, this content commonly comes across with a different and more sincere feel than most anime attempts to explore such things. Anime is replete with romances involving unrequited love, and this one handles it better than most.
The series struggles much more with its pacing and humor. Most who are not familiar with the manga will probably find the first couple of episodes to be a directionless collection of scenes which serve only to introduce the principle cast members and their basic relationships and idiosyncrasies; the series gives no sense of a bigger picture or that there is even a picture. Towards the end of episode 3 the series finally starts bringing things together dramatically, and from that point on it becomes apparent that those early scenes were (mostly) necessary for laying the groundwork. Still, the series starts slow enough that it could lose some viewers before they reach the critical mass point. These episodes also struggle to find the right style of humor which works for them and to blend it smoothly in amongst dramatic components. Granted, these episodes can occasionally be very funny - especially certain parts of episode 11 and Ayumi and Hagu's odd notions about what constitutes tasty cooking - but all too often the humor is just blandly ridiculous.
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