According to ghostlightning, his wife, sybilant, hates tragedy. Apparently she enjoyed Honey & Clover all the way through, up until the ending—and apparently the ending was too much for her. When ghostlightning related this to me, I thought to myself, “was the ending… tragic?” I recalled lots of tragedy throughout the course of the show, be it in flashbacks (Morita’s family’s past) or in the present (Hagu’s accident), and compared to these instances of tragedy, the ending just didn’t measure up for me.
It was essentially the same as the ending of Bokura ga Ita, with more sympathetic characters and better execution. But still, it’s the same: it’s just a moving on. Bokura ga Ita wasn’t a tragedy, and its ending wasn’t tragic. And I think the same statements could be applied to Honey & Clover.
Now, I understand that the entire premise of this post is a technicality. sybilant is welcome to enjoy what she enjoys and dislike what she dislikes, and if the ending of H&C is too sad for her, it’s too sad for her. But still, the thoughts started pouring out once I considered the question: “was the ending… tragic?” And now, I’m writing a post about a tragedy known as “the passage of time.”
Before we plunge too deep into H&C, I want to introduce you to the final scene of “5 cm/s.” First, an admission: 5 cm/s is laughable. The story goes something like this… a boy, thirteen years old, gives up on a childhood love and his soul is subsequently crushed. There is an extremely depressing sequence wherein this boy, Takaki, no longer a boy, expresses his dissatisfaction with the world, and it is followed by a long montage of past scenes mixed with the oppression of the working world. At the end of this montage comes the final scene: Takaki sees one final reminder of what he has lost, and as he walks away, he smiles.
It’s not a broken smile. It’s not a deranged smile.
Takaki smiles as he walks away. No, he hasn’t mended his rent soul; no, he hasn’t found happiness. But he has something to smile about.
Now, back to H&C: as Takemoto leaves Tokyo, forever abandoning his friends and love, he opens the sandwiches given him by said love (Hagu). He sees what they’re made of—honey and four-leaf clovers—and he begins crying. I will not equate his sorrow to Takaki’s despair, but the similarity comes as he puts the sandwiches back together and begins eating.
Takemoto eats the sandwiches, tears streaming down his cheeks.
To me, Takemoto taking a bite out of the sandwich Hagu made is equivalent to Takaki’s smile. The question, then, is what does it express? What does this equivalence mean? In pondering this question, I remembered another scene in which a character dramatically takes a bit out of something—and no, I’m not thinking of Yagami Light and his potato chips.
It’s another boring night in boring space and Spike and Jet have just been abandoned by their buddies Faye and Ed. After spending twenty plus episodes growing accustomed to having companions, suddenly they are alone again. They eat the hard-boiled eggs—a parting gift from Ed—in knowing silence.
What are Spike and Jet feeling? Why can Takaki smile? What is Takemoto thinking of as he speeds away from his happiness and toward an uncertain future?
One answer that makes sense to me is this: nostalgia.
It’s pretty clear to me that Takemoto isn’t thinking of the future as he cries into his honey and clover sandwich. He’s thinking about Hagu, and how his desires fell through. More important than his romance, however, is that the four-leaf clover evokes his memory of the river bank on the day that he, Mayama, Yamada, Morita, and Hagu all “looked for that one thing”—the four-leaf clover is everything that he did and was for years. That one moment on the riverbank was the purest moment for the group—peaceful and lacking in the usual tensions—, and possibly the most tragic, if only for the fact that it was never relived.
It seems realistic to me that as he eats the sandwich, Takemoto’s time in college is playing itself out in his mind.
As Takemoto cries into his sandwich, I see a wish for more time, a longing for the happy memories of the past. That’s what nostalgia is, and we see it in the other examples.
What Spike and Jet are exhibiting as they stuff themselves with hard-boiled eggs is more than resignation. Resignation is definitely part of it, but it’s not all of it. To an extent, they miss the boisterous days with Ed and Faye. Their reserved silence is more than an appreciation for Ed and Faye, however: as they eat the eggs, they are undoubtedly both remembering the previous time women walked out on them, and perhaps thinking back further to how things were before that “last time.” My dictionary has the word “wistful” in the definition for “nostalgia,” and “wistful” is an adjective I might employ if you were to ask me to describe the manner in which Spike and Jet eat those god-damned eggs.
Likewise, Takaki is doing more than merely steeling himself against depression as he smiles at the end of 5cm/s. All four of the shows mentioned thus far share the act of reminiscing and thinking back at the end; Bebop and H&C are simply more subtle about it (they don’t pile on the flashbacks like 5cm/s and Bokura ga Ita do).
But now a question: why nostalgia?
Takemoto has the answer to that one. In the final scene of H&C, as embedded above, he asks a question. “Is something that will disappear the same as something that never existed?” He asks this specifically in the context of his failed romance with Hagu, but again, I feel it applies to his entire time in college. The importance of this question is that it can only be answered in two ways. The response is a negative one. The other is a positive response—and that response resides in reminiscing. It resides in nostalgia. It can’t exist unless you think back on the pleasant memories.
Without nostalgia, Takaki would be an empty husk. Without nostalgia, Spike would have no reason to take the only real action he takes in Bebop (leaving to settle things with Vicious). Without nostalgia, Takemoto would be departing Tokyo with nothing but his architecture degree.
Takemoto doesn’t just leave Tokyo with nostalgia. He arrives with it.
Here I am going to talk about something I will name the “Takemoto Lens.” We see through it many times throughout the show, too many times to recount them all. I’m going to make vague references to a few of them and you’re going to nod and say “ahhh.”
- the scene on the riverbank, when they search for the clover
We see Takemoto, again and again, making prophetic statements akin to “this is the last time we’ll all do x, y, and z together.” He says them with a bit of a sigh, but also with certainty: he is not merely speculating. It seems he knows the future. And here we thought he was telling the story in the present tense.
He’s not telling it in the past tense, either. Whether the information on which he bases his prophetic statements comes from the past or present or sheer clairvoyance is unimportant; what is important is that he allows us to have an emotional reaction we wouldn’t have if certain scenes weren’t seen through his eyes. If we watched the group search for the clover, and if the group didn’t find the clover, and if we never gave the clover search a second thought, would it have been the powerful moment it was? Hagu’s waterworks after the fact are hardly impressive; they’re bathetic to say the least.
Thanks to Takemoto’s lens, we can appreciate the future consequences of things in real time. We feel something like what Takemoto feels, perhaps some combination of dread, celebration, realization–and in some cases, an overflowing of love.
Feeling the consequences of the present in real time: is this not what Spike and Jet both feel as Cowboy Bebop diminuendos toward its ending? Their final scene together, reminiscent of so many melancholic Sengoku Basara yaoi tributes, is one in which nothing needs to be said. Both see the present unfolding into the future, and are reflecting on that future in real time, though neither is omniscient or Mikuru.
Spike and Jet are mere humans. This adds credibility to Takemoto’s prophecies, and, with that, credibility to the emotion behind them. It’s human—it’s real.
And with reality comes the axiom that there is a spectrum of grays between black and white.
And with that axiom, the proposition that the ending of Honey & Clover isn’t tragic.
This has been a couple months in the coming, and I apologize for its tardiness (and for the roughness of the last few paragraphs). Up next: “That one Episode of Morita’s Past wasn’t Compelling: You Fail at Analysis” and “Akari Mizunashi isn’t a Character, she’s a Lens.”
these notes are like lelouch's head to the boot of this post's suzaku
it is moist & delicious meta
and it's not even a lie!