House of Five Leaves, Complete Series Premium Edition – DVD Review

Review by: Faith McAdams

Publisher: NIS America
MSRP: $59.99 US
Running Time: 274 minutes
Genre: Drama
Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

Sometimes the past can cut deeper than the sharpest blade.

As not only a fan of Japanese animation and comics, I also have a profound interest in Japanese history so I certainly love a good series that takes place in a time when samurais roam the streets of an impressive city then called Edo. Of course, this means I have seen my share of anime and read more than enough manga titles that take place in this fascinating period so imagine my complete delight when I heard that NIS America was bringing the anime version of Natsume Ono’s critically-acclaimed manga. Oh yeah, the Premium Edition of the Complete Series of House of Five Leaves is everything a fan of the series could ask for and one that shouldn’t be missed.

The 12-episode series begins with introducing us to a child named Seinoshin who might be the adopted heir to the Saeguso family but he feels no love from his mother because he has an unusually shaped burn scar. Just about the only friend the boy has is the family retainer who comes to learn a shocking bit of news concerning the boy’s mother.

Meanwhile, a young ronin named Masanosuke Akitsu has come to Edo looking for a job that suits his talents seeing as he was fired by his employer who considers the young samurai as “undependable” for some very obvious personality reasons. With no jobs available, Akitsu decides to accept a job offer from a handsome young man with white hair who needs a good bodyguard to accompany him. As it turns out, this man named Yaichi needs a bodyguard to oversee a ransom delivery. You see, Yaichi is leader of a band of kidnappers for a group of criminals calling themselves the Five Leaves.

Now Akitsu wrestles with his conscious to join Yaichi and his band or take on different employment that doesn’t quite suit his excellent sword skills. He comes to meet the rest of Yaichi’s band including Ume, who runs a tavern with his daughter, and the beautiful Otake who has a gentle kindness that Akitsu finds overwhelmingly charming. Then there’s Matsu who helps investigate and set up each kidnapping. While they are criminals, they are far from criminal scum that Akitsu has met in his life.

Akitsu not only finds employment with Yaichi and the Five Leaves but also a friendship that means for to him than money. However, he becomes curious to learn more about the mysterious Yaichi who doesn’t exactly reveal much about himself to the inquisitive young samurai. What he does find out is that Yaichi lives in a brothel in the seedier side of town and he keeps his past a secret even to the Elder, a most respected ex-criminal known as Soji the Saint, who Akitsu befriends after getting what the Elder calls “Edo disease.”

We also learn a bit more about Akitsu, mainly his social problems that become a big problem when Akitsu is challenged by a young ronin looking for trouble. However, we discover that he is the kind of guy who sends money to his family and takes his young sister, Saohi, around town when she visits him. He’s also the kind of guy who sees a job through and defends a friend with his life even if it means getting injured, which is what happened when a gangster comes to pay the Elder a visit.

Then Akitsu meets and befriends an older man who Yaichi doesn’t trust. Little does he know, however, that this man named Yagi will make Yaichi come face-to-face with his own past and the mysteries involving him and the boy named Seinoshin. Oh yeah, better believe things get very interesting as the plot thickens and the truth is finally revealed.

House of Five Leaves has its warm and humorous moments and each of the characters are actually intriguing despite the fact that the series reveals very little about them. Still, what we do learn about Ume, Matsu and Otake make them all the more likeable in the long run. It’s also great to see that the series managed to capture the visual presence that Natsume Ono brought to her manga. Her art is rather crude at times but that’s what makes it different and different can be a very good thing.

Add a beautiful soundtrack and some great voice acting from an impressive cast that includes Daisuke Namikawa and you have a series that not only looks good but is also easy on the ears. However, the best part is that Director knew how to tell this grand story well enough that if you’ve read the manga you will see how close it is to the source material.

The Complete Series of House of Five Leaves is an unforgettable and deeply engaging anime series that is unique from other Edo period stories we have seen before as it not brings Edo to life but also tells us a brilliant story. Like the manga that inspired it, the series is filled with appealing characters, fantastic animation and a wonderfully written story that makes this one a real Must Have for any anime enthusiast or a fan of Natsume Ono’s manga.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
In Edo period Japan, a young ronin named Akitsu who is looking for work as a bodyguard finds employment with the handsome and mysterious Yaichi who is leader of a band of kidnappers called the Five Leaves. Despite what they do, however, Akitsu finds friendship with the members of the Five Leaves and a mystery that surround Yaichi whose past returns to haunt him.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The animation is faithful to Natsume Ono’s unique and original artwork and that’s a very good thing seeing as it makes for a visually interesting anime series. Although it’s not available on Blu-ray, the series still manages to shine on DVD either way.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The original score in the series is a feast for the ears and you will absolutely love the opening theme song, “Sign of Love” by immi that has become a favorite in the halls of this office. On top of that, the voice acting is simply stellar with Daisuke Namikawa, Takahiro Sakurai and Fuyuko Ohuro standing out among an excellent cast. There’s no English dub just in case you were wondering.

EXTRAS: A+
The Premium Edition set not only includes the awesome double-sided box with great artwork but also a 36-page hardcover book that contains great artwork, storyboards, episode synopsis, character profiles and glossary of terms that is worth a glance. The second disc comes with some extras such as a few trailers and the clean opening and closing animation.

OVERALL: A+
An deep and utterly engaging anime series from intriguing start to satisfying finish, the Complete Series of House of Five Leaves deserves to be in your collection especially if you have been looking for a series that brilliantly captures the feel of a good manga series. This series definitely deserves to be in your growing anime collection.

Review copy provided by NIS America

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