Masterless samurai Akitsu Masanosuke is a skilled and loyal swordsman, but his naïve, diffident nature has time and again caused him to be let go by the lords who have employed him. Hungry and desperate, he becomes a bodyguard for Yaichi, the charismatic leader of a gang called "Five Leaves." Although disturbed by the gang's sinister activities, Masa begins to suspect that Yaichi's motivations are not what they seem. And despite his misgivings, the deeper he's drawn into the world of the Five Leaves, the more he finds himself fascinated by these devious, mysterious outlaws.
This manga has everything I love; great characters, complex themes, plenty of conflict, and a mystery to uncover.
The story features social misfits who have found a family within each other. The main theme is forgiveness; forgiving yourself and being forgiven by others. The characters develop throughout and have to overcome their past in order to live in the present. While there are some comic moments, this is a serious drama that really speaks to the human condition. The message of friendship is an uplifting one though and the ending will leave you with a smile.
Natsume Ono is known for her unique style that
can be a bit jarring at first, especially if you're used to reading series that have beautiful and pristine art. Her work is more sketchy than streamlined and she uses big eyes and wide mouths to convey the powerful emotions of her characters. Quite a few times I found myself tearing up because of how well she draws facial expressions. You can really feel their despair.
I particularly love the use of shading. There are a lot of black and gray tones used for the dim nighttime scenes. This creates a slightly sinister environment that matches the tone of the story.
The backgrounds are very well done and you can tell that Natsume Ono has paid attention to historical accuracy of the Edo period. I would spend a lot of time taking in all the details. Each chapter page is drawn using a thicker pen or brush so that it almost looks like a painting, which further lends a historical feel to the work.
The story is about a kidnapping group, so the characters are morally ambiguous, but you still like them because Natsume Ono shows the motivations behind their behavior. Many of them have tragic pasts which makes it easy to empathize with them.
Yaichi- the anti-hero whose past is veiled in mystery. He is a study in contrasts; outwardly charming, but inwardly contemplative and depressed. Women are naturally drawn to his vulnerability.
Masa- an awkward ronin with a social phobia. He acts as the comic relief of the story, but he also says some pretty profound things due to his honesty. He’s a very loveable character and a personal favorite of mine.
Ume- an ex-gang member who got out of that life in order to raise his daughter Kinu. His bar is the meeting place of the Five Leaves. While he can be a bit brash, he has a good heart and takes care of everyone in the group.
Kinu- a cheerful teenage girl who serves the customers in her father’s bar. The Five Leaves was formed because of her, but she isn’t directly involved with the kidnappings.
Take- a former geisha who uses her physical beauty as a lure for the men they kidnap. She’s flirtatious and enjoys drinking sake. She has a past connection with Yaichi.
Matsukichi- a quiet man who serves as the spy for the Five Leaves. He used to be a solo thief, but is now an ornament craftsman. He feels indebted to Yaichi.
Ginta- a teenage boy who joins the Five Leaves as a negotiator of ransoms. Yaichi dislikes him because he comes from a similar background. He's the first to discover Yaichi’s past and true nature.
I ended up reading all day to finish the series and I loved every minute of it! This is something that I will re-read many times throughout my life.
This is a true masterpiece that I can't praise enough. I felt so many emotions while reading and really connected with the characters.
House of Five Leaves is licensed and can't be found online (except for a preview of chapter 1 on the the Viz site), so you will have to buy it. It’s absolutely worth the investment if you like samurai dramas, unique art styles, or character driven stories.
I am reviewing with only one volume read to give some impressions to future readers - will update as I read more.
This is a slowly developing, subtle story. Not an action or violence filled manga, pure drama. The main character is intriguing, a shy, unimposing, depressed samurai who has trouble holding a job. A change of pace from the typical samurai fare - and it makes it seem a bit more interesting - you know there had to be more than the honor bound fantastic warriors typically portrayed. I find myself curious as to what will happen next, and where the story will
lead, but not in a "can't put it down" type of way. Supporting characters seem to be rounded well, and generate enough interest to balance the main plot.
The art is a bit weak for my taste. I consider it blurry, where I prefer crisp. The one action sequence so far was ill defined, I had no idea what had happened, had to piece it together from subsequent panels.
A solid effort, will continue reading - I have the second volume on order.