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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.

Kris
kristin@comicattack.net
@girlg33k_Kris

Review copy provided by Viz Media.

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7 Comments


  1. Jade

    I really liked this volume too, it was cool to see more of the characters’ backstory unfolding and there was just enough happening in the present to keep things fresh. In a lot of ways, I want to see things really start to happen, but I could read plenty more volumes like this. Hee, you could say this puts the reader in the same situation as Masa, caught between wanting to know our footing and the desire to act.

    Sick Masa might have been a problem as a story device though, but I’m not really sure. I remember there was a lot of things going on with him as well, but if I just quick try to remember him from this volume, I only remember him laying around dying and listening to stories the whole time. I have to think a little further to remember he actually had anything going on. Then again, the sickness was a catalyst for really interesting things and probably represented the height of his indecision. Now, I think he’s even more on the fence about Yaichi, but he’s grown closer to everyone else.

    What do you think about the general ennui of the series and the sickness?


  2. Kristin

    I think Masa is a catalyst for a lot of things. He’s rocking the boat a bit here.
    As for his sickness….. Well, it just proved that Masa really does NOT want to go home, or can’t go home. We still don’t really know all about the circumstances of why he left. I think I remember something about him trying to pay off his brother’s debt, but it also looks like he may have embarrassed his family somehow (maybe it just has to do with the job he was fired from as a samurai?).
    He was sick…basically he was literally home sick (sick for home). The change in his diet to Edo food was wreaking havoc on his system. I think it just further proves his weak constitution. He can’t even take care of himself. At the same time, it showed that the others do care about him in their way, even Yaichi. They all care about each other in weird ways. Thinking back on Ume’s story, it was Matsu who did most of the work to help Ume (even if it was also to protect their new gang). Later on, Yaichi doesn’t move to go help Ume, knowing that Ume needs to take care of his own problems, and possibly knowing that Masa would protect Goinkyo (as he did). There’s a lot that can be speculated, and I think that’s part of the story’s charm. We’re just as confused and curious as Masa.

    I think you’re right to say that he represents the reader’s feelings. I hope that’s not all he’s there for. I really want to see him get to do something. I think he will in the next volume. The preview in the back of the book says that Matsu gets kidnapped, and Masa and Yagi go to rescue him.

    I don’t think his sickness was a problem as a story device. As you said, it provided some time to explore some back story, form some characters, specifically Ume. Hopefully the others will get spotlighted in similar ways as some point.



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  5. Jade

    Yeah, you’re right, there really was a lot going on and the sickness did have a good place in the story. You raised a really good point about it showing Masa’s incapabilities and unwillingness to go home. It’s also the nadir of the dread he felt in colluding with the Five Leaves and he comes out of it recognizing some good in the group where he only had hopes he was grasping for before…I think either you or Kate pointed that out before.

    On the other hand, a full volume of his convalescing really put the breaks on Masa’s involvement, demoting him from a quasi-participant to what could be argued as more of a guy sitting around listening to stories. It’s key to what goes on and it’s a good excuse for some of the lengthier flashbacks, but when you stack flashbacks against what’s actually going on in the story, I think the overall inertia may be affected a bit.

    It’s a minor nitpicky issue though, and I did read the volume over the course of months. I’ll just have to see how it reads a second time through one of these days.



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