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November 22, 2010

Bento Bako Weekly: House of Five Leaves vol. 2

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: House of Five Leaves
Author: Natsume Ono
Publisher: Viz Media (SIG IKKI)
Volume: Volume 2 (of 8), $12.99
Vintage: 2007 by Shogakukan in Japan, December 21, 2010 from Viz Media
Genre: Period drama, slice of life

For my review of volume 1, click here.

Unlikely ronin Akitsu Masanosuke was going from job to job, trying to make enough money to send back to his family. He wants only to be a samurai, and is staunchly opposed to doing menial labor. Unfortunately, his timid appearance and mannerisms don’t give employers much faith in his abilities as a warrior, and it’s hard for him to keep a job. Then one day he met a charismatic thief named Yaichi, who hired him as a body guard. Impressed with Yaichi’s confident manner, Masanosuke decided to stay near the man to study him, in hopes of becoming more like him. This led Masanosuke to get tangled up with the kidnapping group Five Leaves. On the fence about officially joining the group, Masa decided to stay and watch the members to learn about their motivations and personalities.

Now living at the brothel Katsuraya as a bodyguard with Yaichi, Masa finds himself being drawn deeper into the Five Leaves. After being told by the women at the brothel that it’s rude to pry into someone else’s life, Masa tries his best not to seem too curious. But he is curious, and the conflicting stories about the group he is getting from everyone aren’t helping to settle his inquisitive mind. When Masa falls ill from a strange disease that seems to be targeting samurai in Edo, he refuses to return home, so Yaichi sends him to stay with Goinkyo outside of town. Ume comes to visit him to force him to eat, and Masa learns some interesting things about the kind restaurant owner and the elderly Goinkyo. He also bumps into a man connected to Goinkyo and Ume, a former fellow gang member named Senkichi, whom Ume has been giving money to pay off a local gang. While Masa stays with Goinkyo, the older man keeps encouraging him to quit the Five Leaves, telling Masa that he’s not cut out for the criminal life, but the ronin claims the Five Leaves are becoming his family in Edo. Meanwhile, Senkichi is getting pressured by the gang he has been paying off, and to protect Ume, he gives them Goinkyo’s name as the source of his money. Ume rushes to the rescue, but Masa, even in his sickly state, saves the day. As Masa recuperates, Yaichi finally comes to visit and meet Goinkyo for the first time since the man started helping the Five Leaves. As they leave, Goinkyo gives Yaichi a mysterious warning. After Masa shuts down during a duel, he is approached again by the samurai Yagi, who offers to train with Masa. As Masa listens to the stories of those around him, he ends up with more questions than answers.

I’m slowly falling in love with Natsume Ono through this title. There’s a nice simplicity in this book, but also sophistication. The art has a sketchy look to it, which works well with the sketchy characters. (Horrible pun intended; so sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Actually, it’s a perfect style for the slouchy Masa and the languid Yaichi. Masa’s unassuming and innocent nature tends to get people to reveal information to him without him having to pry too much. This leads to the best parts of this volume which involved Ume, as Ono revealed much about his past and his strong sense of honor and duty. His relationship with his daughter Okinu is explored a bit more, and Okinu is shown to possess a great deal of maturity as she voices her support to her father, revealing that she is far more observant that Ume believed. There’s definite love between them, which is especially evident as we watch the formation of the Five Leaves in a flash back, which we learned last volume started out as revenge against a noble who was mistreating Okinu. Ume’s own experience as a father also gives him sympathy for the troubled Senkichi. The pieces are falling into place regarding Yaichi’s past, but it’s a puzzle with many pieces. Making things more interesting is an intricate framework beginning to form that connects many of the characters (minor and main) to each other in their pasts. Lots of answers this volume, and many more questions. Plus a set up of things to come, as the ghosts of Yaichi’s past are coming back to stir up trouble. Another excellent volume of House of Five Leaves. Don’t forget that you can read chapters of the manga at SIG IKKI and watch episodes of the anime on Hulu.

There will be no Bento Bako Lite this week. Instead there will be a review of Star Wars Art: Visions. There will be a Bento Bako Bonus, a review of the anime Sasami: Magical Girls Club, a kid friendly show just in time for the holidays with the family.


Review copy provided by Viz Media.