Honey and Clover remains among the most mellow depictions of quarter-life confusion I've read in comic form. At it's heart is Yuta Takemoto, whose life journey took a more literal turn in volume 6 when he hopped on his bicycle and road it as far as he could. Trying to escape the feelings of "emptiness" threatening to overwhelm him, Takemoto's cross-country journey settles into the easy, steady rhythm that has characterizes the rest of the series.
Creator Chica Umino has never seemed particularly interested in capturing the urban bustle, preferring to to place her Tokyo art school next to open fields, bubbling streams, and rolling hills. So the Takemoto storyline plays into her strengths as an artist. Moving away from the city gives her ample opportunity to not only illustrate scenes of natural beauty, but also of small-town Japan. Takemoto visits many quaint-looking convenience stores run by little old ladies. In one amusing scene, a store manager generously cooks him lunch while regaling him with stories about visiting Los Angeles. A shocked Takemoto is forced to reflect on how little of the world he's actually seen, compared to his host. Early in the book, Takemoto resolves to visit as many temples as he can afford to enter. This happens after he marvels at the craftsmanship of a window in the Zuiganji Temple. in that sense, Takemoto's road trip takes on aspects of a pilgrimage. There's nothing overtly religious, as the inspiration is artistic in origin. But there's still something pleasantly nostalgic about Takemoto's desire to see as much of old Japan before the summer is over.
Of course, Umino brings Takemoto down to earth not long after. His bike breaks down, forcing him to seek shelter at a nearby temple. Falling asleep after talking to a resident cat, he wakes up to discover the building undergoing restoration. He negotiates with the foreman to work for them part-time in order to earn the money to repair/replace his bike. He finds the manual labor emotionally rewarding, and even considers staying. But all too soon he's on the road again, facing the same doubts and anxieties that first motivated him into leaving Tokyo.
Takemoto's journey is mirrored by Hagu Hanomoto's own inability to find artistic inspiration. Failing to meet the demands of her professors, Hagu only begins to find her voice again after witnessing the struggles of an even younger student put in her charge. It's an appropriately tender, cute and funny scenario. It's also a little obvious. It doesn't resolve everything. But it's emblematic of Honey and Clover's proclivity for small-scale incidents over big, melodramatic confrontations.
Speaking of confrontations, it didn't occur to me that's it's taken this long for distant romantic rivals Ayumi Yamada and Rika Harada to finally meet. The meeting itself is less interesting than the resulting consternation it causes among the other characters, particularly Takumi Mayama and friends. While they assess the percieved "damage" and debate the next course of action, they're suddenly interrupted by Yamada. What happens next is probably the best comic moment in the book.
With only a few volumes left, the series has quietly reached a turning point, particularly with Takemoto, who now seems to be crossing into adulthood. Studiously keeping away from excessive displays of angst, Honey and Clover shows no hint of abandoning its wistful, warm, low-key approach.