Nine times out of ten, when I discuss Honey and Clover with someone, their response is always something along the lines of, “Ah! That made me so sad! I wanted Shinobu and Hagu to end up together!” When I disagree, their reaction typically trends to one of extreme disgust. In the series’ defense, here’s a bit more insight into why Hagu chooses who she does, and why it’s actually the best, and most realistic, choice.
In the last episode of the second season, Mayama tries to explain to Yamada that romantic love isn’t everything for some people. It’s a nice scene between the two that, for possibly the first time in the series, is devoid of the awkward tension that permeates the majority of their interactions in the series. Yamada has finally come to terms with Mayama and Rika’s relationship, and begun to move on herself by beginning to develop feelings for Nomiya. It’s an interesting juxtaposition between Yamada’s personality, and inability to truly understand Hagu’s actions, because Yamada is a person who is ruled by her emotions, often to the exclusion of everything else.
Hagu is a person who is ruled by her desire to create. As she says several times in the second season, she had promised to give her life back to God if she was unable to draw anymore. Consistently throughout the series, we see how her extraordinary talent has nearly isolated her from the rest of the world. Fortunately, her father’s cousin, Shuuji, recognizes her talent and facilitates her eventual arrival at the art college, which leads to her finding a strong group of friends, two of which fall in love with her.
The first of Hagu’s romantic options is Takemoto, best characterized by Shinobu as a shiba inu puppy: loyal and faithful until the last. When Hagu injures her hand and may be unable to draw anymore, Takemoto expresses the want to be at her side at all times because he loves her, despite the fact that he knows his feelings aren’t reciprocated. This is in direct contrast to Hagu’s other love interest, Shinobu, who is drawn to Hagu specifically because of her overwhelming desire to create art. She ends up falling for him, in spite of his incessant teasing, because they are one in the same; two people driven to create art no matter what their situation.
The majority of the first season, and the latter part of the second, are dedicated to who Hagu will choose as a romantic interest. Her eventual choice, Shuuji, combines two things that Takemoto and Shinobu had to offer: devotion and financial means respectively. It’s especially heartbreaking in light of the fact that Shinobu returns from searching for his missing brother and offers to take care of Hagu instead, saying that it’s okay if she doesn’t create art anymore. This rings false for the audience, and Hagu as well, creating one of the most poignant scenes in the series where Hagu declines Shinobu despite the fact that she loves him (and that he could provide her with more than enough money to aid her recovery).
Had Hagu accepted Shinobu, it would have meant Shinobu giving up a key part of his personality: his own overwhelming artistic desire, which is what caused Hagu to fall in love with him in the first place. Recognizing this, because they are so similar, Hagu can’t possibly accept Shinobu’s proposal to give his life up for her and stay by her side. Effectively, if Shinobu were to give up art for Hagu’s sake, it would be as if the glass had fallen on both him and Hagu, incapacitating both of them. Yes he would have done it willingly, but at such a cost that it would take away the ambition and drive that made him who he was, and who Hagu had fallen in love with.
The gravity of such a decision is reinforced in the wording with which Hagu asks Shuuji to be with her; she asks him to “give his life to her.” Fully aware of what it will mean for someone to help her through the arduous recovery process, Shuuji is the only choice. He is financially stable enough and, more importantly, has been looking after Hagu for nearly her entire life. Shuuji dedicating his life to caring for Hagu will not compromise his personality as it would Shinobu’s, since Shuuji does not have that same ambition or drive to create art. His role has always been one of a facilitator or caretaker, going as far back as his own college days with Rika and Harada. While it’s heartbreaking to watch, Shuuji really is the best choice. Hagu may not love him with the same passion that she loves Shinobu; however, her passion for art will always be her first love, and with Shuuji, she has a significant chance to continue that passion without compromising anyone else’s wishes. Sometimes, as Mayama tells Yamada, there are other things that are more important than romantic love.