Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Honey and Clover, vol. 9

The story
: It's the beginning of the end in this penultimate volume—graduation is just around the corner for Takemoto and Hagu, while Morita and his brother will finally have their peace, or so they think. Even Mayama's life is changing when he moves to Spain to be closer to Rika.

While the gang begins to see the light at the end of the tunnel that has been their college experience, they’re still wistful for days gone by. Can they leave their carefree existence behind and tackle the real world?

Reaction: This is by far the best volume of the whole series, with a tragic accident consuming the dreams of one of the main characters and creating a ripple effect of self-exploration throughout the group. Without revealing too much, it calls into question everything the person affected thought they would do following their departure from art school. I found myself tearing up at times, astounded at the character’s strength and Chica Umino’s sheer brilliance in creating said character's reaction to the very tough situation they're presented with.

There’s raw emotion, too, especially in explaining the reason for Morita’s crazy work schedule and standoffish behavior. So much is revealed about why he is the way he is, and showing all the sacrifices he’s made over the years despite all outward appearances. While no definitive romantic choices are made, the book moves towards resolving the two love triangles that have consumed this series thus far.

Deep thoughts: What I’ve especially appreciated in this series is Umino’s skill in surrounding panels with a character’s inner monologue. Interspersing beautiful imagery and the character’s spoken words amongst black spaces filled with near-poetic prose draws me into this world that is so downright beautiful, even in its jarring tragedy.

There’s also the clever little details in Umino’s text. In the beginning chapter, Hagu expresses interest in someday carving a statue out of marble. In a later chapter, Umino loops back to this scene, noting the look of her face—“white as marble.” It’s a detail easily overlooked, but speaks to the poignancy with which Umino has created her characters and the world of Honey and Clover.

Artwork: There’s a certain artistic balance between innocence and its loss in this volume. From playful scenes during Morita’s childhood to Mayama’s sheer joy at being invited to join Rika in Spain, there’s an optimistic lightness afoot. But, this is balanced and tempered by the darkness and conflict approached in the volume’s second half. There’s blood, tears and dark emotions illustrated, providing an intimate look at the pain and turmoil bubbling up. In visually telling this story, Umino builds the main conflict up to a boil slowly, but surely. At volume’s end, it was all I could do but sigh at the perfectly simple last panel.

The verdict: Highly recommended. There’s just so much raw emotion here, like clay pots waiting to be fired. It pours out of the characters in a way that never feels forced and in words that never become stilted. It’s just real. While what happens next will no doubt be sad, there’s a sense of closure at hand. All I know is that despite my connection to these characters, I'm looking forward to seeing them move on. Honey and Clover is available in the U.S. from Viz.

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