Saturday, August 25, 2012

Manga Review: House of Five Leaves (volume one)

Another series which I was introduced to when I saw it's animated version that aired during the noitaminA timeslot (and has also been picked up by NISA for Region 1 distribution) and it's also rather character driven. That last pat isn't so surprising though, typically shows that end up on noitaminA are more character driven than plot driven which is hardly a bad thing, although as this title shows off it's not to everyone's tastes.

House of Five Leaves by Natsume Ono 

Summary: Masanosuke is an unimposing ronin who, even though he's so meek he can barely hold down a job, still retains his pride and refuses to take day labor jobs even though he really needs the money. So when he's approached with the offer of being a bodyguard for a few days he readily accepts, only to find that the people he's helping are the kidnapping group "Five Leaves". Initially he rejects helping out the group even more but as time goes by and as he slowly gets to know the other members he discovers that they all have difference reasons for getting involved and Masa is drawn further and further in.

The Good: This is an entirely character driven show and has very solid, well-paced, character development and balances it's small cast well. It is going to have a very limited audience because of this, frankly I'm amazed that the anime clicked with me in the first place and even more so that Viz published the entire series here. But, if this series ends up being anything like the anime was, there will be huge payoffs for all the characters and already the story has begun to hint at what some of their deeper reasons for the kidnappings are. 

The Bad: I was surprised that none of the flashbacks I remembered from the anime were included in this first volume and I was a bit sad since those were a great way to add some more mystery to the show (so kudos to the director for thinking of rearranging the story in such a way). As I mentioned earlier, this story is only going to appeal to a certain niche of people and it has rather deliberate pacing, ie it's on the slow side so if someone who doesn't read more character-driven stories tries this one out I'm afraid they're gonna be turned off. 

The Art: Ono has refined her art style since Not Simple and now, rather than feeling like she's simply a beginning artist, the art has flair and is eye-catching in a rather odd way. Much like the plot I feel like the art style gives the series a limited audience, I can't think of any similar art styles to compare it to, but I'm really happy that Viz published the first few pictures in color (since she also has a rather distinctive coloring style it turns out) and that the volume is slightly larger than your average manga volume (both because it shows off the art better and also because I thought it fit into my hands a little nicer as well).

One of the downsides of non-plot-driven stories is that there's simply less to talk about (without getting into very detailed/spoiler territory that is) so there's not much for me to say here. I still recommend the series in any case and plan on buying the rest of the volumes since I believe all (or almost all) of them are out in the US now (and planning on picking up the anime as well when I get a chance, it's not selling as fast as Bunny Drop however so it's lower on my to-buy list). 

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