It's the days of the samurai and a very timid ronin now finds himself employed by a gang who deals in some unsavory things.
What They Say
Masterless samurai Masanosuke Akitsu's life is changed after a chance encounter with Yaichi, who offers the timid swordsman a bodyguard job and invites him into the mysterious world of the Five Leaves.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Natsume Ono, which is set for release in May here in the US, House of Five Leaves is originally known as Saraiya Goyou and will run for twelve episodes. Ono gained some popularity in the last couple of years for the manga Ristorante Paradiso which has a distinctive art style to it and was adapted into an anime itself. FUNimation's stream of the House of Five Leaves is part of their new deal with Fuji TV to stream their NoitaminA block alongside Tatami Galaxy. The original source material for this has been running since 2006 and has gotten up to seven volumes so far, so there's a good bit of material they can work with for a twelve episode series.
The opening episode to this series is fairly laid back and relaxed, but with that edge of tension to it that's really appealing. The bulk of it focuses around a ronin named Akitsu who hasn't had any luck in finding a job recently. While he's physically something that can be impressive, he's also somewhat lanky in a way that can be off-putting. What has him standing out amongst others is that he's fairly tall, though his nature has it so that other people generally aren't intimidated by him. Where his luck changes is when a man named Yaichi comes across him and decides to use him for his own purposes. Yaichi is part of a group known as the Five Leaves, which is something of a group of "chivalrous robbers" as they put it. Yaichi needs a bodyguard in name and form only and Akitsu fits the bill perfectly, so he brings him into the fold slowly but surely.
If the show focuses heavily on the relationship between these two men as it progresses and we see the kinds of jobs that Yaichi deals with, this has a lot of potential. The two men have an interesting sort of relaxed nature around them, but one that's also slightly guarded. Akitsu has an attraction to Yaichi and what he's doing, but he's uncertain of whether they should really be doing it. Yaichi is a pretty smooth talker, but not in that salesman kind of sense. He has an easygoing nature about him that allows him to draw in people so he can get what he wants out of them, but there's the suspicion he may get more out of Akitsu that he may have guessed. Wanting him for a symbol, or even just a target, is just the start of this curious relationship.
Directed by Tomomi Mochizuki, someone whose been behind a lot of works I like, this Manglobe production has a very distinct look and feel to it. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Mushishi with its slightly off the norm character designs and the way it makes the world that they inhabit feel so alive and real. Much of this opening episode takes place in darker areas or run down homes so it has a very murky and earthy feel to it but also a real sense of life. When things of value are show, such as gold or particularly fine clothes, you realize that they are valuable because they stand out so well against everything else. I really liked the character designs as they speak so much about the personalities, from the way Akitsu has such wide open eyes and a large frame that's lanky and easily pushed around to Yaichi's calm confidence with its far more angular face that speaks of danger and cunning. The pairing of these two for much of this episode really highlights their differences but also shows how their personalities stand out.
This opening episode of the series was very relaxed and precise in its pacing and it wowed me over pretty well. The small cast, so far at least, is a big plus as I want to see the kind of relationship these two have as Akitsu takes on the role of the bodyguard and sees what the Five Leaves is all about. There's some great dialogue throughout here that keeps you paying close attention and wanting to see what kinds of potential twists and turns it may take. I also really adored the animation style and character designs as it's very moody and sets a distinct stage for the story to happen. There are a lot of highly appealing visuals throughout here and the character designs alone are worth the time to check out. I hadn't a clue about this show before watching it but I came away from it eagerly looking forward to next weeks episode which can't come fast enough. I want to know more of what kind of world that Ono created here and how the folks at Manglobe will bring it to life in this medium.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.