A Thief With a Heart of Gold

And a shy, cowardly and somewhat clumsy ronin.

There’s something charming about House of Five Leaves and it starts with the funky J-pop OP. Nothing comes quite as expected in this anime. The muted, washed-out palette and somewhat ghoulish character designs don’t exactly match up with the soundtrack. Even so, however, there’s a pleasantness to the show that matches its period setting.

Away from the hustle and bustle of modern society, the narrative saunters along like a poet amongst the fallen leaves of autumn. By the time the ED rolls around with its upbeat tune, odd is about all I can say about House of Fives Leaves.

The visuals are striking. The backgrounds, in particular, are full of details and little touches. Most importantly, this allows the stylistic character designs to stand out even more. Their faces are very angular with sharp chins and noses.

The mouths are drawn low on the face, rendering everyone a gloomier disposition.

The fish-like eyes dominated by giant black pupils only seem to enhance this effect. If anything, Manglobe has produced an interesting anime to look at.

Akitsu (also known as Masa) is a samurai whose timid countenance (even stares manage to frighten him) prevents him from excelling at his own job despite being a skilled swordsman. He fails at hard labor as well and soon find himself (and his cat) starving for food. Perhaps taking pity on Akitsu or just finding him amusing in general, Yaichi approaches him with a job offer as a bodyguard. Soon, Akitsu is drawn into Yaichi’s world of noble robbery and kidnappings.

We go through all the obligatory story developments. At first, Akitsu is suspicious and wary of the Five Leaves organization, but he soon sees that it doesn’t operate with ill intentions. At first, some of the members are distrustful of Akitsu, most notably Matsu and Ume, but then again, the latter doesn’t trust the leader Yaichi either.

So goes another day in the organization of thieves. Last but not least, Otake, the only woman of the organization, takes an interest in our ronin for no particular reason. Despite the lack of trailblazing originality in the narrative, it’s not exactly a story you see very often in anime.

Although the anime seems to operate at a slice-of-life pace, many questions are raised and unanswered right from the start to keep things uncertain and thus interesting enough.

What are Yaichi’s motives? Does he plan on being just a petty thief who just happens to target wicked people or does he have a greater goal in mind? If the latter, how does Akitsu fit in or is he just there because he’s “omoshiroi” (there’s that word again)? Yaichi seems close to all-knowing, like a masterful schemer. What’s the extent of his influence, knowledge and abilities?

I’m assuming that Yaichi’s the morose child at the start of episode one and the end of episode three.

How did he survive after the fake killing? Why did he take his servant’s name? I’m sure most of these questions will be answered in due time, of course, but it keeps the anime from getting too dull.

To be frank, I’m a little surprised at all the watchable anime this season and this show joins the unexpectedly long list. House of Five Leaves doesn’t blow me away, but it keeps me watching.

I initially thought it was going to be some sort of supernatural anime when I first saw the promo art featuring the deep crimson red background and the pale-looking humans in front. After watching about five episodes, however, I’m getting a slightly darker Robin Hood feel. Although I do enjoy the anime, House of Five Leaves isn’t without its flaws. My knowledge of pre-modern Japan is cursory at best so I can’t really testify to the veracity of its period setting. Whether or not the historical accuracy of the anime is flawed, I wouldn’t be able to tell. So moving onto the flaws…

First, the pacing can be languid at times. Even with a slice-of-life feel to it, however, we’re dealing with thieves and robbers and not precocious teenagers so this doesn’t bother me too much. Secondly, Akitsu is arguably just another shy anime lead but in cosplay. He’s so unsure of himself, sometimes he wonders if he’s tired or not. There’s also a moment when Akitsu’s about to go to sleep only to find that a woman had tucked herself into his bed. Naturally, this causes Akitsu to freak out and huddle in a corner. Still, I don’t find him annoying due to his understated personality and it’s not like he dominates the screen time anyway. Last but not least, the soundtrack can be really out of place at times with its muzak-like compositions. For the most part though, the music seems about right.

Imperfect, but the overall anime seems more intriguing than the sum of its parts and that’s enough to keep me watching.

10 thoughts on “A Thief With a Heart of Gold

  1. Topspin

    @anonymous
    They’re by the same mangaka, so that makes sense :)

    I find Five Leaves nice and menacing in a “real life” kind of way. It seems to just be about regular people getting caught up in the underworld of their time. It’s nice to see something that shows a down-to-earth take on the Edo era, and not a giant samurai action-fest but rather about how normal people would cope with the stresses of getting caught up in such things. A little slow, yes, but it lets you focus on the meat of the story and the wonderful attention to detail.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I think the flashbacks are incorporated really well. We learn about each member of Five Leaves at a good pace. If anything feels a little slow, it’s the present day scenes.

      Reply
  2. KizukuKanshi

    Once Masa gets to actually fighting, his timidity seems to go out the window. I like that about his character. Even if it may be a common trait among shy characters, it just seems so different because of the setting and the way that the characters aren’t meant to be immature. The show’s mysterious, but not “in-your-face” about it. That’s what I like about it. It seems so slow, yet it’s still suspenseful in its own way.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      It’s just five episodes for me, but I can only remember him fighting once. Still, he’s not whiny so at least he’s just introverted.

      Reply
  3. A guy from /m/

    I completely forgot about House of Five Leaves. While it’s not bad in the slightest, it felt very forgetable (the aesthetic look feels refreshing though) from what I’ve seen. I’ll check it out once it’s completed since aside from that horrendous show called The Sacred Blacksmith, I pretty much enjoyed and liked everything Manglobe has produced.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      There’s just not a lot of slice-of-life anime about thieves and ronins. I think it’s a nice change of pace.

      As for The Sacred Blacksmith, I thought it at least ended on an upward swing, but you may not have stuck around that long.

      Reply
  4. 2DT

    It’s surprisingly faithful to the Edo period in some small ways. I’m thinking of the layout of Edo (namely the presence of a “high” and “low” city), and the fact that most of the women’s names begin with “O,” which was indeed how it was done in those days.

    Reply
  5. KizukuKanshi

    By the way, do you intend on doing episode based coverage of different series again? (This is less of a request and more of a question.)

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Because of the hiatus, most of my time is spent marathoning these series. As a result, episode one is usually as fresh in my mind as episode five or six. I’m still not caught up on any of the spring anime to tell the truth; I’m about six or seven episodes into most of them. In the past, there was (obviously) a week between each episode of an anime so my mindset was more in examining each episode than looking at the big picture.

      So long answer short, episodic coverage will probably return when summer anime rolls around.

      Honestly, I just write whatever comes to mind. I can’t speak for the others (well, Nyoron has been too busy to even think about writing), but personally, this blog is just a way for me to experiment a bit.

      Reply

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