Manga: House of Five Leaves ends

by dm00

All in the family

Viz’s Ikki imprint recently finished their run of the eight-volume manga series House of Five Leaves by Natsume Ono.

The series tells the story of an Edo-era gang of kidnappers, who ransom members of rich families. Masanosuke is a mostly honest, but disgraced ronin who reluctantly becomes involved with the gang when he meets the enigmatic Yaichi, their leader. Others in the gang are Ume, the sake-house owner; Otake, a geisha whom Yaichi redeemed from bondage in a brothel; Matsukichi, the distrustful burglar and spy. They’re not Robin Hoods — the proceeds go to various purposes, though in at least one case the victim stays his vengeful hand when he discovers where the money went.

Like most of Ono’s work, it is a slow, subtle character study. Many readers may have found it too slow, especially in volumes five through seven. I think that frustration at pacing has been aggravated by the wait between volumes. The wait is over: now is the time to pick up the series, so you can read it all through from beginning to end, with no need to wait for the payoff.

The final volume wraps up the story nicely, providing a wonderful conclusion to the subtle development that’s gone on in the past few volumes.

In the end, the manga is about family. It weaves its story with threads of several (mostly) dysfunctional families — kidnapping victims, Yaichi’s past and his ghosts, Masanosuke’s trouble with his brother, to the various gangs past and present. The Five Leaves may be the healthiest of the lot, even if we’ve spent the last few volumes wondering if Yaichi is going to betray them all in order to escape the past that is catching up with him.

The past several volumes carry the story beyond the end of the anime, introducing a new major character (a foil for Yaichi) In them, Masanosuke grows to accept his lot (and to achieve a good deal of nobility in the process): he teaches his brother a lesson about duty, he sacrifices to save his friends, he becomes Yaichi’s path to redemption; we learn the story of Yaichi’s past and the reason the Five Leaves works through kidnapping; we see the retiring of some old debts, and the forgiveness of others.

Ono’s art is a little like deliberately-crude CLAMP: her characters are long and lanky, drawn with heavy lines with dark voids for eyes. An acquired taste, perhaps, but a refreshing change from BESM cliche, well-suited to the subtle play of expression on her characters’ faces. Melancholy CLAMP: her characters have made mistakes and are living with the consequences. Adult CLAMP: there’s not a pretty boy to be seen, but Otake would be fine company for XxxHoLic’s Yuuko.

I like the presentation of the series, with the paperback covers folded over like dust-jackets, with page-sizes large enough to do Ono’s artwork justice, and inks and paper that gives the contrast and weight that her line-work demands. Viz might be better served by re-releasing the series as a pair of omnibus volumes.

4 Responses to “Manga: House of Five Leaves ends”

  1. 1 Zikos November 23, 2012 at 4:38 am

    It sounds like a good story .

    • 2 dm00 November 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm

      I think it is — it’s a little slow, which can be frustrating when its serialized, but when you have all the volumes there to read from beginning to end, it goes well.

      Thanks for reading!

      • 3 Metal November 25, 2012 at 9:37 pm

        Yea I read a few chapters and thought the same, very slow. But if you say it goes well, I guess I’ll try and finish it. Thanks for the review of the manga!

        • 4 dm00 November 25, 2012 at 9:41 pm

          The middle volumes are the hardest, I think, as the groundwork for what follows is laid (though tension is slowly building around Yaichi and his pursuers). I think the last couple of volumes pay off well, and I really enjoyed what happens to Masa in those volumes, and I thought the ending was great (but I don’t want to say much about why, because I think it comes as a nice surprise).

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