The first time I watched Honey and Clover, I was in my freshman year of college. My school was on the other side of the country from the city where I’d grown up, and I was having a hard time adjusting and finding my people. I knew they were out there, that I’d just had yet to encounter them, but those first few months were a lonely time. To me, Takemoto was having the ideal college experience: a quirky, tight-knit group of friends, some of whom live together, learning and growing, falling in love, and having misadventures together.
I got busy, as college freshmen often do, and by the time I picked it back up again in my junior year, my life bore a much stronger resemblance to the characters’. I had moved to a special-interest floor focused around music, not too far off from the art students of the series. Now I truly was living with a quirky, tight-knit group of friends, learning and growing, falling in love, and having misadventures together.
There is no single perfect college narrative that fits everyone’s experience – I, for one, never really related to stories that emphasized drinking and partying or Greek life – but Honey and Clover was the right one for me. It approaches college as a kind of adulthood with the training wheels still on, a time when you don’t really have it all sorted out, but you’re not expected to. Takemoto, Mayama, and Morita all live in off-campus housing, a run-down apartment building with cheap rent geared towards college students. They’re perpetually broke, never at risk of losing their home or starving, but they’re still learning to fend for themselves. Some of them work – Mayama has a part-time internship at an architecture firm, Yamada helps out at her family’s liquor store, and Morita occasionally disappears and comes home with pockets full of cash – but others are supported by their families. Either way, they’re mostly splitting their time between pursuing their passions and bonding with their friends.
That sense of freedom, of friends as surrogate family, spoke strongly to me. Creative people, both the characters in the show and my real-life friends, tend to have big personalities. Perhaps nobody I knew for real went gallivanting off for months at a time, only to resurface accepting an award on TV, but I did know people as brilliant and unpredictable and selfish as Morita, who barely passed their classes because they were more focused on their own pursuits than their grades. While Hagu’s childishness is certainly exaggerated, I had a friend who was a brilliant opera singer but could barely function emotionally. We were all figuring out who we were outside the context of our families.
Living in a dorm away from our families, like so many other college students, we leaned on each other for emotional support in the good times and bad. We were silly and weird, both with and without the assistance of alcohol, rarely getting into actual trouble but doing the sort of thing you can really only get away with when you’re young, like cramming nine people into a sedan to get fondue downtown only to discover the fondue restaurant is closed, having a mud fight during a spring storm, or starting up a brass video game cover band and performing at the on-campus cafe. We gathered together for holidays like Thanksgiving and Easter away from our family when it would be too expensive to fly home, forming our own traditions, much like the characters’ yearly Christmas parties.
All that was over a decade ago; now I’m in my mid-30s, married, and working full time. When I decided to rewatch Honey and Clover, I had no idea how it would still feel like it was addressing me directly, but in a completely different way. One of its most ingrained qualities, which I had never noticed before or perhaps just forgot, is that it carries in its heart a deep sense of nostalgia. Takemoto frequently pauses to reflect on how someday, his college years and relationships will all pass into memory.
What’s more, he’s right. It seems obvious, since for most people college is only four years, but it’s hard to truly internalize that as you’re experiencing it. To me, and to many others, for those four years, college was everything. It was my whole life. While there were plenty of bumps and bruises along the way, with messy breakups and rushed essays and bad hangovers, I could not conceive of a better way to live.
But it did have to end. I live on the opposite side of the country from my school, thousands of miles away from most of the people I had these experiences with – although one does live in the apartment next to mine. I love my job, my husband, and my friends, but it’s not the same as campus life. I’m happy, but it’s a different kind of happiness, and there are days where I long to return to the boisterousness of campus life. That’s impossible, though – even if I were to go back to school, I can’t live my life like a 20-year-old anymore. Like Takemoto says, those feelings and experiences, the sense of nearly unencumbered freedom, the only life I could imagine living, were all destined to pass into memory.
Watching Honey and Clover as an adult well out of college felt like having my own nostalgia reflected back at me, holding a mirror to the feelings I’ve never stopped holding deep inside and putting them on display. It makes me ache for those days again, while reminding me that moving forward to the next phase of my life was necessary. It is the sensation of healing, a reminder that the joy of those years, the grief of them ending, and the contentment of an adulthood I am more or less satisfied with can all exist within me at the same time.
One of Honey and Clover‘s most iconic moments is the scene where the group of friends who make up the central cast are all searching a field of clover for one with four leaves. When I think of that scene, I also see myself and my friends relaxing on the grassy hill between our dorm and the dining hall, the spring sky a bright and clear crystalline blue, taking our time together for granted.