Wednesday, March 21, 2012

House of Five Leaves Review

House of Five Leaves is an Action/Drama anime based on the manga by Natsume Ono. The seven volume manga is from Shogakukan and licensed by Viz Media. The 12 episode series from director Tomomi Mochizuki is from Manglobe (Samurai Champloo, Deadman Wonderland) and is currently licensed by FUNimation, though with no English dub. It ran in Japan in April 2010.

Masterless samurai Akitsu Masanosuke is a skilled and loyal swordsman, but his naive, diffident nature has more than once caused him to be let go by the lords who employ him. Hungry and desperate, he agrees to become a bodyguard for Yaichi, the charismatic leader of a group calling itself “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.

Oh, where do I begin with this... this... animation? The art style of each character reminds me of L from DeathNote... but on crack… through a circus mirror… in a cave. This is because L didn’t have natural looking eyes and seemed kind of empty or make him look like he’s blind. House of Five Leaves has ALL of their characters with eyes lacking, or having huge, pupils, making it really weird. However, it makes it even more interesting as a whole because it’s only a small, yet extremely noticeable, part of the art style Ono used. If I could only use one word to describe it, historical is what comes to mind here. Every little thing about this anime is very detailed in it’s historical aspect. Character design, setting, color; even the music is historically accurate (even though for some reason, I swear, I heard some accordion in there). Every bit of it just works really well, making the series as a whole, technically anyway; really unique and interesting to watch, despite the Pinocchio style noses you also see constantly.

Earlier I stated that House of Five Leaves is an Action anime. Do not let the genre deceive you, because the story is in no way full of action in the least. Did you see the sub genre: Drama? THAT’S what the actually genre should be for this story. All the story is about is Masa diving in to the Five Leaves and learning all about Yaichi and the other members. Not much else to it. The story is very slow moving and a bit time consuming to even get into it, if you watching it for some action. If you’re looking for a good drama story, however, the slow pacing adds a bit more to the series itself. Yes, the Five Leaves are a band of outlaws, but even their crimes aren’t thrilling or exciting because you never really see it happen on screen. They just end up happening off screen, and then all of a sudden... INTRIGUE! Literally, there are a total of two action scenes; and even those have minimal action to begin with. Bottom line: Drama series, not action. Don’t come for a Samurai-James Bond crime thriller.

The characters are... Well... I guess, as a whole, underdeveloped. Out of the five members of the Five Leaves, only Yaichi seems to have the most development. You would think this is really really bad, however, if you look into what the show is about it makes sense. The biggest plot line of the series is Masa trying to figure out Yaichi and his intentions. And, even though it doesn’t seem like it, they actually explore Yaichi’s past throughout the series through flashbacks of a little boy. Making a useless moment into a light bulb one later on in the series. As for Masa and the rest of the Five Leaves, development is there, however, its just information given to you through other characters. The one person with the least amount of development is Otake. All we know is she was the one who came up with the name Five Leaves. I guess if you’re going with a historically accurate depiction of this time period, you gotta focus on the men rather then the women… but if you wanna make a good cast, you need to spend some attention to the rest of the cast too.

Of course, there’s no English dub so, we’re gonna be talking Japanese voice acting today. This cast is simply well done and well put together, making the story’s flow even better. Daisuke Namikawa (Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle) as Masanosuke was a perfect fit to the character because of the personality this samurai has. Yuya Uchida (Ghost in the Shell: SAC) as Matsukichi was a good choice as well. As for Umezou and Otake, Masaya Takatsuka (Level E) and Fuyuka Ooura (Umineko no Naku Koro ni) are ideal fits. Probably the most memorable role in the series is Takahiro Sakurai (Princess Tutu) as Yaichi. Certainly the veteran of the cast, Sakurai is the most ideal person for the role and was very enjoyable to watch!

Where it fails in the cast depth department, House of Five Leaves has a very big thing going for it in the drama department: use of tension. In any good drama, tension helps to not only make things more compelling, but also help move the story along as well and hook your audience. In this series, the tension is there and even grows as the series progresses, taking it to the highest level of intensity by the story’s final episode. Once that point is reached, it doesn’t completely flop and die when things are resolved. What House of Five Leaves does is merely turn the stove down to simmer, helping the story end on a sad but rather satisfying note. I kid you not; I could taste the tension in my mouth at the story’s climax. That’s how good the series had me! It’s one of the few anime that I’ve seen, so far, that make good use of tension. The only other series, I think, use tension really well are DeathNote and Monster. Both are more Horror/Psychological series, however, so Horror/Psychological is the name of the tension game..... I guess.

At the end of it all, House of Five Leaves is an interesting looking series with a very decent story line for different kind of drama series then what we’re used to nowadays. The characters are mostly there in development, and it gives off one man who, in the end, just can’t let go of his past. House of Five Leaves is a very good product from Ono and Manglobe; and is a series that can be considered one of those underdog anime. If you want a better samurai story with tons more action, then Samurai Champloo is the way to go. It's in no way historically accurate, but it's filled with action and has tons of laughs.


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