House of Five Leaves anime review

House of Five Leaves anime review
Akitsu Masanosuke is a timid ronin on his way to Edo from the countryside when he accidentally encounters a playboy named Yaichi, who asks him to be his bodyguard. But it turns out that Yaichi is actually the leader of a group of bandits called the "Five Leaves," and he's hoping that Masanosuke will join them. Masanosuke is reluctant to help them, but as he grows closer to his eccentric new companions, he learns to relate to them and grow as a person in the process.

Some of you may already know that I love the works of mangaka Natsume Ono, especially her “not simple” manga which I reviewed earlier this year, so when Beez Entertainment announced that they would be releasing the anime adaptation of her House Of Five Leaves series, I could not wait for this DVD release.

When House Of Five Leaves aired in Japan, it was part of the noitaminA program line-up – this was to present anime to a much wider audience. Eden Of The East was also a part of the line-up and is still running to this day, and the most recent series are Usagi Drop and [C]: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control. Most of the noitaminA titles have rarely disappointed me, so this one looked very promising.

Another interesting fact is that studio Manglobe animated this project; you know, the studio who made the awesome Samurai Champloo series, with its ridiculous sword fights and simple but entertaining plot. However, I already knew that House Of Five Leaves was the total opposite of Samurai Champloo, so I thought it would be interesting to see how the studio handled Natsume Ono's source material.

The series takes place in the Edo period in Japan, and focuses on Akitsu Masanosuke, a samurai who struggles to find a bodyguard job because of his timid personality which means he keeps getting fired. With no money and hunger starting to build up, he is approached by a man named Yaichi who offers the job he's been looking for, asking him to protect him at a meeting at night. However, he soon finds out that Yaichi works for the group called the “Five Leaves” and although the true purpose of the group makes Masanosuke feel uneasy, he slowly gets drawn into this small organization.

When you start watching the first episode, you find that the series can have a really slow pace that some people will find frustrating.  House Of Five Leaves isn't the usual fighting samurai show that you would expect from anime, instead it focuses on this mysterious group and its characters and, thankfully, all of them are well developed without resorting to quick generic back-stories. Yaichi is a great example of this; he's not a person who suddenly reveals all about himself, and his conversations with Masanosuke are always fascinating to listen to. There is smart dialogue involving all the characters of the “Five Leaves”: the tavern owner Umezou, professional thief Matsukichi, and local geisha Otake - all have interesting reasons as to why they joined this group.

The series also does a brilliant job of creating a believable picture of Edo Japan, with tales of families trying to make heirs to protect their future status, rival shops resorting to stealing anything, and the desperation of poverty. The plot dives into all these intriguing situations. It also feels refreshing that the series has a focus on older characters; it makes them wiser, yet unpredictable - in a good way.

To my delight, the character designs have made a great transition from manga to anime which gives the series its own unique and engaging feel. It also does a great job in showing us a very convincing Edo period, full of old Japanese traditions. I also want to praise its soundtrack that adds to the setting and makes it more memorable.

The Opening “Immi – Sign Of Love” is a very relaxing electo-beat theme that is strangely catchy; add to that the beautiful moving backgrounds and you have a winner here. The ED “Rake – All I need is...” is a strange way to end every episode with its J-rock disco melody, and while not that fitting, it's grown on me.

Nothing special in the Extras section, just the usual trailers and Textless OP and ED's

Better than review, is a Trailer video of: House of Five Leaves. Watch it now:
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