Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anime review: "House of Five Leaves"

After finishing "Towers of Midnight", I decided to take a short break of reading. I have read four books in a row and while I like reading better than anime or movies and TV series, I can't read all the time. One reason is that I don't have money for buying more than one or two books per month. And even though my private library counts more than sixty books now, that is not enough unless I want to reread half my books every year. Second reason is more important: I tend to neglect everything else when I am reading books I really like. So combining work, PhD and multiple hobbies gets hard sometimes.

Anyway, after ToM, I started watching "House of Five Leaves". I have been waiting long for this anime, since last spring. I haven't watched a good samurai anime for long time. In the end, it turned out this is not a samurai anime, not in the way most consider as such. It's true; there are samurai in this series. Also, it's true that there is swords-fighting here and talk about honor and samurai code... Just not in the way I would expect it. But nevertheless, this is one of better anime I watched this year.

Masa is a young ronin staying in Edo. He comes from province and he is totally unsuitable for samurai; he is shy and unimposing, which results in him being easily pushed around. By coincidence, Masa gets employed by member of criminal group called House of Five Leaves. The group is composed of four somewhat peculiar people and is centered on charismatic young(ish) man Yaichi. Yaichi gets intrigued by Masa's straightforwardness and innocence and invites him to join them, just for fun of it. Rest of anime consist of Masa's deciding to join or not while he explore past and motives or other members, but especially Yaichi's.

As I said, there IS swords-fighting here; I think there are three fights: one is off-screen and two consist of two or three moves. This is very infuriating, because it is implied on beginning (and orally confirmed later) that Masa is "unparalleled with his swordsmanship". Well, I don't actually object this, but I would have liked being able to see it. There is talk about honor and samurai code, but it consists of Masa musing whether he should join House of Five Leaves or not. He comes to see that these are actually good people (well, in some degree), but they are doing bad thinks and he is not sure can he incorporate being a professional kidnapper in his system of honor.

Personalities, pasts and motives of other members are gradually revealed by smaller arcs where they get in trouble and Masa tries to help them (and vice versa). Yaichi's story is implied throughout the series and finally revealed in last few episodes. Setting is historical and I would say mostly accurate: medieval Edo, wages in rice, whore-houses... Important motive in series is adopted children in richer houses. Main strength of anime is character-growth and unexpected turns this anime takes (I really didn't expect most of this anime).

Anime features very original animation. First two episodes I thought that characters are quite ugly, but now that I finished it, I get used to this design. Although I think that character are intentionally done a bit rougher in the beginning, just of the effect. I can't say anything on music and sound effects, but I am pretty sure they are decent.

In summary, "House of Five Leaves" is one very good short (only 12 episodes) anime with historical setting. It includes a bit of action, lots of mystery and anticipation, but mostly concentrates on exploring its eccentric characters. Definitely a treat for all seinen fans.

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