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House of Five Leaves Volume 1

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House of Five Leaves Volume 1 by Natsume Ono, from VIZ Signature / VIZ Media

House of Five Leaves Volume 1

SARAIYA GOYOU © 2006 Natsume ONO / Shogakukan

The Bottom Line

Akitsu Masanosuke is an unemployed samurai who's timid to be an effective bodyguard, but too proud to take any work that he considers to be beneath him. But refusing to do day laborer work may prove to be his downfall, as Masanosuke is hired by Yaichi, the charismatic leader of The House of Five Leaves, a band of outlaws.

Drawn in a distinctive, deceptively simple style, House of Five Leaves is a character study that unfolds at a leisurely pace; perhaps too leisurely. This first volume does a lot of build-up without a lot of payoff. Will readers' patience be rewarded in Volume 2? We'll see.

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Pros

  • Ono has a distinctive drawing style that bridges indie attitude with traditional samurai drama
  • Her characters' expressions effectively capture the subtleties of their personalities
  • While the pace is slower than most manga stories, it allows dramatic tension to simmer

Cons

  • Slow pace and dialogue-heavy story makes reading this first volume a slog.
  • Where is this going? Is it worthwhile for me to stick around for more? I'm not sure.

Description

Guide Review - House of Five Leaves Volume 1

Unemployed samurai Akitsu Masanosuke is a skilled swordsman, but he's too naïve and is too much of a wuss to be an effective bodyguard. He's too proud to take work that he considers to be below his social standing, even though his pride often leaves him hungry and penniless. That's when he meets Yaichi, the charismatic and enigmatic leader of the House of Five Leaves, a group of friendly and decent, albeit morality-challenged outlaws.

Masanosuke is young and naïve, qualities that Yaichi takes full advantage of, as he uses the young samurai as an unwitting pawn in his kidnapping schemes. But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Masanosuke and Yaichi are fascinated by each other beyond just being employer and employee.

As Masanosuke meets more members of the House of Five Leaves, his curiosity is piqued: What are Yaichi's real motivations for his life of crime, and how does he command such loyalty from such a mismatched band of schemers? Meanwhile, Yaichi hints that he's keeping Masanosuke around because he wants to know "what kind of man he really is." It's a fascinating duality, as the corrupt and complex Yaichi introduces the proud but simple Masanosuke to a world of crime where honor is trumped by money.

Although it's set in feudal Japan, House of Five Leaves isn't your typical "samurai drama." In fact, there are few sword fights. Action isn't the main focus here and neither is offering readers a straightforward "good guys vs. bad guys" story structure. Ono is too clever and nuanced to settle for a predictable, formulaic approach to this genre.

It has kimono-clad women and men with swords, but House of Five Leaves isn't so much a historical story as it is a modern, dialogue-driven character study. Ono introduces a diverse cast in Volume 1, but mostly has them talk. And talk. And talk. Ono is setting the stage for something interesting to happen, but it ain't happening in this volume, or at least not yet.

Call me an adrenaline junkie, but this first volume of House of Five Leaves is a slog to read. Stuff happens, but this only becomes clear after reading what the characters say, and observing the subtle changes in their facial expressions. It's a very thoughtful, multi-layered approach to storytelling, but man, it's excruciatingly slow.

Maybe things will pick up in the next volume. It would be interesting if it does, because Ono has laid the groundwork for a story that may unfold in unexpected ways. I'll be picking up House of Five Leaves Volume 2 to find out how this will play out, but I can't say that I'm camping out at the bookstore, eagerly waiting to see what will happen in the next chapters either.

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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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