House of Five Leaves 3
November 19, 2011
Natsume Ono – Viz – 2011 – 8 volumes
This month’s Manga Moveable Feast is Natsume Ono-centric, and the host is Alex Hoffman over at Manga Widget. Check out the archive, because there’s a lot to say about Natsume Ono and her rather diverse body of work available in English.
I’ve had good and bad experiences with Natsume Ono, but House of Five Leaves does endear me to her quite a bit. I enjoy the series as a sort of strange period piece. Not quite a drama, not quite noir, not quite crime, maybe a little bit of a slice-of-life story… it’s a lot of things, and it’s very easy to enjoy.
In this volume, things get a little more serious and story-centric when the most important agent of the Five Leaves, Matsu, disappears. Turns out that he heard something important was stolen to a man he was indebted to. Matsu went unasked to get the item back, botched the robbery attempt, and was captured. Masa enlists the help of his new acquaintance, Yagi, to free Matsu and set things right.
Yaichi is somber the entire volume, sliding into a foul mood after he lays eyes on Yagi. The end of the volume suggests a connection between the two, and the story begins to fill in some of the details of Yaichi’s past. Things are still pretty confusing by the end, but we’ve only heard half the story, so I imagine the next volume will be more clear. Yaichi also suggests that Yagi, despite his aid in the Matsu situation, is a bad friend to have after several members of the Five Leaves confirm he’s a Magistrate, or some sort of law figure. Masa can’t help who he is, though, and his attempts to try and shut out Yagi meet with a kind of sly knowing, since Yagi can tell he’s been told to stay away. Then again, Yagi doesn’t seem like he’s trying to track down the Five Leaves, or really trying to crack down on crime at all. Yaichi’s the one that discourages Masa, so the link between Yaichi and Yagi might actually be the main factor in staying away from Yagi, rather than the fact he could arrest the kidnapping group.
Later, Masa’s sister shows up in Edo and gets to know the members of the Five Leaves. She helps bring the story back around to its slightly voyeuristic, slice-of-life roots, and her chapters are charming ones. After she leaves, the last chapter in the book takes a darker turn when another kidnapping group is up to more sinister activities than the Five Leaves.
One thing that bugged me a little in this volume was the faces of the characters. Ono uses a very nice sumi-e style of inking that suits this series well, but lends a rough quality to the drawings. Unfortunately, the rough quality makes it difficult to tell the character’s faces apart (they lack distinctive details), and I began to get confused in some of the flashbacks and sudden changes of scene. Unfortunately, none of the characters wear very distinctive clothing, either, so I can’t use that to help me follow along. Going back over certain parts of the story and trying to contextualize them usually helped me identify the characters, but the fact that I had to frequently re-read segments to figure out what was going on doesn’t really bode well.
But overall, I’m still enjoying the series quite a bit. I’ve got volume four with me, and I might try to read these volumes back-to-back to see if immersing myself in a bigger part of the story makes it easier to distinguish the characters for me.
This was a review copy provided by Viz.