At its core, Honey and Clover is a story about unrequited love. From Yamada’s pining for Mayama to Takemoto’s hidden feelings for Hagu, the pain of unfulfilled love resonates throughout the series. But there’s an even stronger sense of longing that isn’t romantic in its nature; rather, it’s about the love between friends. Honey and Clover perfectly captures the bittersweet sorrow of lost friendships. The theme of past friendship is threaded throughout the series by Takemoto’s poignant narration. The series seems heartbreakingly nostalgic, yet Takemoto isn’t simply looking back at his past through rose-colored glasses – instead he is commenting on the present, aware that one day the fun times he’s experiencing with his friends will one day be precious memories for him. At first, I never got why people loved Honey and Clover so much. The manga is funny, but it’s not the most hilarious series I’ve ever read, nor did I find any of the characters to be amazingly special (although I do like Ayu quite a bit). It wasn’t until recently re-reading the manga that I finally realized the magic of this series: I cared about the characters as a group of friends because they mirrored my own friendships, and I became emotionally invested in them staying together. The first time I ever felt like I connected to the series on a personal level is in volume three, when Takemoto and the others are enjoying their Christmas party. While the gang enjoys cake and roast chicken, Takemoto observes everyone, and suddenly comes to the quiet realization that this would probably be the “last Christmas we’d all spend together.” And in volume nine, the gang talks about going to the beach together and Takemoto wistfully notes that they never made it there, but instead they all imagined themselves there, carrying the image in their memories as though it were a photograph. It’s hard for me not to relate to this scene’s sense of nostalgia for a moment that never was.
The most iconic scene in Honey and Clover for me comes in during volume two, when Hagu, Takemoto, Mayama, Yamada and Morita all search (to no avail) for four-leaf clovers to give to Professor Hanamoto before he leaves for his trip to Mongolia. Takemoto’s narration is beautiful because it shows that even though the passage of time may separate friends, the bonds between them were definitely genuine and always will be: “I know the day will come when all of this is past, and it all becomes a memory. But I know I’ll remember it, over and over. You were there, and everybody was there…and we all looked for the same thing. That blue sky and the smell of the wind…and that endless carpet of clover.” Takemoto’s bittersweet narration reminds me of when my friends and I went to a park the day before our graduation from high school. As much fun as I had that day, I remember thinking that in the future this would become a memory I’d fondly look back on, and that it was probably going to be the last time my friends and I would all be together. I’m sure most people in high school and college are acutely aware when they form their friendships that there will be a day they will have to go their separate ways, and in Honey and Clover that moment inevitably comes when Takemoto and Hagu graduate from art school. Although he considers staying in town for Hagu’s sake, Takemoto realizes he simply has no purpose there, and moves away to begin a job restoring temples. But upon boarding the train to leave town, Hagu bestows Takemoto with one last gift: sandwiches filled with honey and four-leaf clovers. I think I’ve re-read this scene more than any other in the series, and it makes me cry every time. Honey and Clover is probably the only manga I’ve read that realistically portrays past friendship so well, to the point that incites reflections of my own experiences with a bittersweet fondness.