House of Five Leaves
It's no secret that when it comes to releasing anime on DVD,
region one is going through a bit of a rough patch.
Sales are down and there are fewer companies
chasing a smaller pool of anime-purchasing fans. The
upshot is that fewer series are being
released than there were several years ago, and to save money a lot of
shows that are coming out are subtitled only.
One company that has done a really great job in these difficult
They've decided to compete by putting out
solid show in high quality, very attractive packages that include nice
hardcover art books. Case in point: House of Five Leaves a very good drama that's
enhanced by the excellent care that has gone into the release.
A young boy is shunned by the members of his household.
The illegitimate son of the head of the clan
and his mistress, he's been legally adopted by his father because his
not been able to provide the family with an heir. His
adopted mother, feeling shame at his very
presence, makes his life miserable and the boy's only friend is a
is kind to him. But then, there's an
announcement that the leader's wife is pregnant....
In Edo a man named Akitsu
Masanosuke has trouble holding a job.
He's a ronin, a masterless samurai, and a very good swordsman. He looks for work as a bodyguard but he can't
seem to keep a position for very long because he just doesn't have any
spirit. He's very timid and doesn't like
conflict, which is the reason that he had to leave the service of the
the first place.
Barely managing to earn enough money to feed himself, Akitsu
agrees to take a job as a bodyguard when Yaichi offers it, even though
a little seedy. Yaichi's a carefree
fellow, never worrying about the past that seems to haunt Akitsu and
some ready cash at hand. The two spend
the day walking around the city, eating and meeting some of Yaichi's
friends. There's Matsukichi, a secretive
man who makes jewelry for well to do clients, Umezou, the owner of a
tavern, and the attractive and seductive Otake.
That evening Yaichi and Akitsu wander out into a nearby
forest. Yaichi is supposed to meet
someone there, and he's expecting the man to bring some bodyguards,
reason for Akitsu.
Yaichi was right and when the man and two thugs show up
Akitsu instinctively leaps into action, disarming the guards and
running without hurting them. The man
then gives Yaichi a large sum of money and leaves.
It was ransom for the boy Yaichi's group, the
Five Leaves, has kidnapped.
Akitsu's can't believe that the friendly man he's spent the
day with is a criminal, and Yaichi makes no bones about it. Though the man they had targeted was a crook
himself who was cruel to the people around him, Yaichi makes it clear
not kidnapping people to make the world a better place; he's doing it
money. The people that he introduced
Akitsu to that morning were the other members of the Five Leaves. He offers the timid warrior a place in the
but Akitsu can't quite decide. He
doesn't want to be a criminal, but these people are the first friends
had in a long time.
This show was something unexpected. Being
only 12 episodes long, I wasn't
anticipating a lot of character development or an involved story, but I
wrong on both counts. The plot, such as
it is, also unfolds in a rather unexpected manner.
Over the course of the series the Akitsu gets
to know the members of the Five Leaves (with the exception of Yaichi
remains a mystery until almost the end).
I was expecting this experience to ennoble him and unleash the
fighter that hides within. That's not
what happens. That's what would take
place if this was an American TV show.
Instead the tale follows a different path and arrives at a
that's both satisfying and believable. Sure,
the swordsman does grow and change due to his association with the
ring, but not in the ways that one would expect.
The series is filled with vignettes of some of the main
characters pasts. They go into more
detail showing some people's lives than others, but all of these back
are just as interesting as the main story, and more so in some cases. These aren't included just to fill time
either, they're an integral part of the story, and not only how
everyone got to
where they are, but explain why the make the choices that they do.
Another thing that made this series so fun to watch was the
way that it played with time. Some stories
were told through flashbacks, but they didn't always make that clear. Sometimes a scene would change and viewers
would be watching an event from the past with no warning.
It was only through the context of what was
happening that a timeline could be pieced together.
There were several enjoyable "ah-ha!" moments
when pieces fell into place and events became crystal clear. Having said that, the show is not confusing
is it hard to follow. The colors in
flashbacks are muted to give viewers a visual cue that the story is
taking place in the past, and the narrative never really gets too
convoluted. Though there are a
few places were you'll be wondering just who a character is, if you sit
and keep watching things will reveal themselves.
I really like the way NIS America
their Premium Edition releases. This
12-episode series arrives on two discs, each in its own thinpak case. The pair is house, not on top of each other,
but side by side, in a beautiful sturdy board case that's nearly 8 in X
in. The case is covered in textured
paper (a very nice touch!) and attractively illustrated.
In another nice touch that shows a fine
attention to detail, the UPC code in hidden inconspicuously on the side
case so that the artwork isn't marred.
Included with the two DVDs is a very nice hardcover art book. Scroll down to the extras section for more
details on that.
was a mix up during production and only a mono track ended up on the first pressings of this set. Never fear, NIS is going to take care of it. If you have one of the mono sets (or what to
how to determine if you do) just click here to access NIS
The original Japanese
stereo soundtrack sounds fine. Dialog is clear, the sound effects are mixed at an appropriate level, and the background music comes through nicely.
There are optional English subtitles, but there is not a dub
track, which is fine with me. I prefer
watching anime in Japanese since that was the way it was created to be
The 1.78:1 anamorphic image looks very good. The
colors are purposefully muted, but
they're accurately reproduced and come through clearly.
The level of detail is very good and the
lines are tight. There was a slight
amount of very minor banding in just a couple of scenes but aliasing,
often plagues anime, wasn't a problem.
The discs themselves include a clean opening and closing,
something I really enjoy seeing, and a series of trailers for other NIS
In addition there's also a very nice hardcover book included
with the set. Reading right-to-left the
way it's done in Japan,
this attractive full-color book includes large images along with a
from each episode, story board sketches a glossary of terms used in the
and more. It's printed on high quality
glossy paper, and is really very striking.
This is a high quality release all around. From
the packaging to the menus to anime
itself, everything about this set was top notch. An
anime that I really enjoyed and one that
I'm sure I'll rewatch soon, it is well worth checking out.