Honey and Clover represents absolute perfection when it comes to the use of music. Okay, maybe I’m being too excessive, but it really is a shining example of music, both vocal and score, done right. Before Honey and Clover, I paid very little attention to vocal music of any kind or language (I mostly listened to classical music, film scores, or similar), but Honey and Clover really showed me how powerful vocal music can be when used properly (although I am referring more towards the opening and ending songs – insert songs just don’t do it for me).
Anyways, as I said, both the score and songs in this series are top notch. Although many people go on and on about the insert songs, personally I think the opening and ending songs are far more important to defining the story. Dramatic and Waltz are Honey and Clover, period. Everything about the series is manifested in these two songs, and you cannot help but connect the two immediately. Of course, some people will say this about any anime series, but I don’t usually find that OP and ED songs affect me in any real way. Honey and Clover is the only series which held my attention from the very beginning of the OP, through the episode, until the final note of the ED. Everything is so seamless that these songs feel like a part of the series itself, not just bookends. And no matter how much I heard them over and over, they never became repetitive in that context, because they just became a necessary part of the show.
I’ll delve into the instrumental background score later, but first let’s go through the vocal music:
I think this is a song which really has to grow on the listener. The first time I saw it, in the original episode, I thought it was mildly interested, but by the final episode it had become such an important of Honey and Clover that I can’t imagine it being replaced by anything else. A lot of people complain about the singer’s slightly mousy voice, but it never really bothered me. In fact, the way that the singer puts so much effort into delivering the vocals (almost screaming, technically) gives the song a very nice touch. There’s also something rather unique which I enjoy about this OP, and that is the way that the vocals give way in the end for the strings to come to the forefront. As if reinforcing the lyrics and general theme of the sing, the strings follow the vocals to close the song, soaring up to the high registers and providing a burst of hope and optimism. It’s a nice change to the typical formula, where after the vocals end, the song simply fades away or concludes, here, the instrumental actually forms the climax of sorts, and the vocals build to it.
The opening song never changed in the first season, but the visuals did. At first, it was a changing series of clay-like animations of food. It was certainly unique and a great representation of the art themes in the series, but it was also very satisfying when the OP changed to a more general collage of various images (including real-life shots). That’s because the visuals finally could really soar along with the audio – plus, the ferris wheel and cycling imagery were reinforced.
While it’s hard to make this decision with Dramatic being such a strong contender, Waltz in my opinion is the song which is most strongly identified with the series. In fact, I would say that the relationship between the song and the anime represents the strongest use of vocal music in an anime I have ever seen. There is such a dreamlike and expressive quality to this song, both the music and lyrics. “sore wa waltz, no you dane, fushigi sa….”. And what is not to like about the charming and optimistic (I need to buy a thesaurus, eh?) musical accompaniment? H&C viewers will fondly remember the way the sudden appearance of those opening chords of Waltz at the end of each episode, signifying the end of another chapter of this story. This allowed the song to really become an inseparable aspect of the show. Those fans will also remember the phenomenal ending. Many people complained about how Waltz was replaced with Mistake for the second half of the show, but in my opinion it only strengthened that wonderful effect in the final episode when that nostalgic song returned once more and we reflected on everything that has changed – and so the wheel turns.
It’s hard to objectively discuss this song without comparing it to Waltz, and without noting the fact that it took the place of Waltz. Indeed, many people hate it for that very reason. My opinion? Musically, I think it is an enjoyable and fitting piece of music. The lyrics though, simply don’t do anything for me. They’re kind of superficial, the sort of trivial stuff that was the reason I never had much interest in vocal music in the first place. It’s kind of a shame because I think the actual music here has great potential, especially in the middle portions where there is a very distinct, almost ethereal quality. And I think the opening is wonderful, meandering along lazily, a slight hint of the seventh chord.
Like with Mistake the trouble here is trying to objectively evaluate the song without referencing Waltz. They are somewhat similar, but Split is a bit more sober, without the overt enthusiasm of Waltz. An overall theme of H&C, 2nd season, was the idea of coming to a crossroads in life, where you would have to say goodbye to things you know and approach the unfamiliar. A bittersweet feeling is expressed in this song too, and the gently “walking” rhythms make me think of moving forwards without wanting to stop for regret – well, I might be stretching a bit here. It isn’t Waltz (darn, I did it again), but I think it is very fitting.
And now, the instrumental music of Honey and Clover:
Honey and Clover is a slice-of-life comedy/drama. Obviously, you will not find any grand symphonic themes. But there are some wonderfully nostalgic and introspective pieces of music which play throughout the series and truly do add to it’s atmosphere in tangible ways. Many series simply use stock music – the same old wandering piano themes. While Honey and Clover also has plenty of piano music, it never feels as standard or dull as what I typically hear. The best and most representative piece of score is the Waltz Piano Version, which for some crazy reason never appeared on the OST, though you can find a version I uploaded right here on my blog. This piano version played many times throughout the series, and it simply has a fantastic, bittersweet but hopeful tone. It is, of course, based on the Waltz ending song which also gives it an added weight.
Mawaridasu Sharin is a very simple piece, and a great example of how Honey and Clover uses score so well. Composing for film or media isn’t like composing art music. When you compose art music you are trying to engage your listener with the music alone, and it needs to be meaningful and sophisticated enough to do so by itself. With film or anime, you need to compose music that will reflect and heighten the audience’s reaction to what is on screen. So many anime composers completely ruin emotional scenes by padding them with arpeggiated piano phrases with overtly sugary melodies on top, most of which sound similar. Here, instead, Yuzo Hayashi uses a very simple soundscape – soft pads which envelope a soft piano which slowly descends the scale one note at a time. Simple, yet effective in producing some of the most memorable scenes in the anime.
Yotsuba no Clover gives us a lovely melody, one of the “themes” of Honey and Clover in my opinion. It is such a sweet and idealistic melody, carried by a cello over a piano accompaniment. It makes me wish I knew a cellist so we could reproduce this fine music. Yamanai Ame plays during several of the more sympathetic moments – again, a simple piece musically, used in an effective way to underscore scenes and bring out the emotions when needed when being overtly sugary or sentimental.
Yawarakana Jikan…..is it even necessary for me to write about this piece? This piece embodies the yearning of all the characters so well. Note the use of the major seventh chord – which also plays a role defining “Waltz” and “Fuganaiya”.
I think I’ve rambled on long enough, haven’t I?
Just like the series itself, the music of Honey and Clover hits all the right notes when it needs to and never lets itself wallow in excess melodrama.
Sometimes I wonder if I will ever enjoy an anime as much as Honey and Clover.
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