Title: House of Five Leaves
Author: Natsume Ono
Publisher: Viz Media (Sig IKKI)
Volume: Volume 5 (of 8), $12.99
Vintage: 2006 by Shogakukan in Japan, December 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Historical drama
Things started unraveling in the previous volume, and that continues here. The Machikata (the local police force) are snooping around more than usual, and the Five Leaves are at risk of being discovered. Tachibana, as a regular at Ume’s restaurant, has been ordered to investigate the intermediary Ginta. Yagi himself has also been showing up at Ume’s from time to time, making things quite uncomfortable for the Five Leaves who regularly gather there. Particularly Yaichi, who has stopped coming by all together. Wanting to be cautious, Yaichi even halts their jobs for the time being. Eventually, Yagi’s investigating leads him to Katsuraya, the brothel where Yaichi lives. Masa, meanwhile, begins searching for a new job. Yagi takes him once again and leads him to a local dojo, where the master has recently injured his sword arm. Masa is hired to teach the students in his place. When he returns home with this news, Ginta warns him to watch his mouth so he doesn’t accidentally reveal information about the Five Leaves to Yagi (the superintendent of the Machikata). Yagi’s probing begins immediately, when he asks Masa if Yaichi has a scar on his shoulder. Masa doesn’t know, but just dropping that information is enough to get Masa’s wheels turning, as Yagi is well aware. Masa journeys to Katsuraya to warn Yaichi, but instead he is told by the Madame about when she first met Yaichi. She is concerned that Masa’s presence is driving Yaichi back to the closed off person he was when he first arrived, but she does reveal the presence of a rather unique scar on Yaichi’s body. Masa has no intention of asking Yaichi about this, or informing Yagi, but his gentle nature inadvertently confirms Yagi’s suspicions about Yaichi’s true identity. Yagi approaches a fed up Yaichi, who finally gives in and has a drink with the last person he wants to talk to. Yagi has a long talk with Yaichi about a family from Yagi’s past, ending with a resignation that should come as good news to Yaichi. After having hounded Yaichi for so long, it seems Yagi is at last content with his resolution. The story switches gears for a chapter to highlight Masa’s family back home. The remaining son, Bunnosuke, does not desire to bother his brother with news of their situation, and continually intercepts letters that their sister, Sachi, tries to send to Masa. Bunnosuke thinks his brother is a useless coward, and is doing what he can to restore his family’s name on his own, but also wants to make Masa suffer for disgracing their family to begin with. However, as an unusually large amount of money arrives from Masa, and Bunnosuke discovers some expensive gifts in Sachi’s room, he begins to wonder just what it is his older brother is up to. As the story shifts back to Edo, things are obviously strained. Without any recent work, and Yaichi’s frequent absences, the Five Leaves members are becoming worried. The fate of the group is unclear, and Yaichi has been acting like the group means little to nothing to him, and in fact has mentioned to some that he will be shutting the gang down after one final job.
The series is heading towards its end, but what that end will be remains a mystery. Yaichi is just too hard to pin down, and his motivation have never been crystal clear. He acts like a loner, but in reality I think he likes the family dynamic the Five Leaves provides. The other members certainly do. Ume makes a nice comment in this volume (and Masa echoes it later), stating that he doesn’t care when their next job is, as long as everyone keeps coming to his restaurant. It’s clear he cares more about the friendships they have built than the work that first brought them together. Whether or not Yaichi feels the same is something that could be debated from dawn to dusk. Sometimes he acts like he enjoys the company of the others, but at other times his temper flares and he creates more distance. It’s unclear if he simply doesn’t care, is conflicted about whether he cares or not, or is protecting those around him. He distances himself while Yagi is snooping around, but he ends up going for some soba with Masa. He takes the time to check in on Ginta, but almost gets violent when Matsu asks after his well being. Yaichi’s never been one to talk about himself around the others, but I can’t tell what his real reason is for pushing everyone away. Especially since he seems to waver now and then, which makes me think that not even Yaichi is sure about Yaichi. He really is a wonderfully complex character. Yagi takes more form in this volume. He has befriended Masa, both because he likes the man and because he knows he can get to Yaichi through him. But why he has been investigating Yaichi was unclear. He appeared to have a connection to Yaichi’s past, which has been slowly revealed piece by piece since his appearance. He’s obsessed with this person from his past, and he can’t get over the fact that Yaichi seems somehow connected to that person. What he really wanted out of Yaichi starts coming together this volume, though the underlying motivations remain a mystery. If all Yagi wanted was just to see the boy he once knew grown up, or to get Yaichi to visit the graves of their mutual friends, he’s gone through quite a lot of trouble. From his words, it seems he’s no longer concerned with the dark and unfortunate events of the past, though that may also be because there’s nothing he can do about them (legally at least, in his position in the Machikata). If I’m interpreting his words correctly, he’s giving Yaichi a release from the past, by saying that he won’t pursue the events surrounding the odd incidents that took place. That Yagi cares that much is a testament to his character, but I’m still not sure what he’s really after. As for the Five Leaves, they can all feel the end coming. Masa returns to the unemployment house looking for a new job. Matsu has felt things changing for some time now, and he no longer understands what the Five Leaves is supposed to mean. None of them understand what Yaichi feels about the Five Leaves, or what he intends to do with the group. Not even Ume, Goinkyo, or the Madame of Katsuraya. The reader doesn’t know either, of course, but we’re sure to learn before the end. Yaichi’s past is not just catching up to him, but is about to overcome him, and it could destroy everything in the process.
By the way, unless it’s particularly desired or needed, I’m going to skip this month’s Diamond Previews manga highlights post. Got a late start since I was sick when it came out, and I have a huge back log of reviews to get to as it is. Hope no one minds too much.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.