A bit late with this review, but I wanted to put my two cents in on this series…
I haven’t seen universal agreement, but I think Spring 2010 is a pretty strong season, on the whole. It can’t compare with the ridiculously great spring season of ’07, but we have terrific comedy (Working), romance (B Gata), sports (Giant Killing), and experimental (Tatami Galaxy) among others – as well as the continuation of some very good series like FMA. But of all these entries, I think House of Five Leaves is my favorite of the season.
I love slow-paced anime. The “filler” eps in the middle of Seirei no Moribito that everyone complained about? I loved ’em. This series put me in mind of Mushishi when it first aired – perhaps due to the physical resemblance Yuichi bares to Ginko, but also due to the narrative and BGM. The director’s connections to the hugely underrated Zettai Shounen are obvious in the relaxed pacing as well. That’s one of my favorite things about this show – nothing happens in a hurry. And even when we have real “drama” and dangerous situations, they still play out rather calmly on screen.
Episode 9 continues a recurring theme to the show, where the major characters’ pasts are slowly unpeeled like layers of an onion. It’s happened to just about everyone now, one by one, with this week continuing the exposition of Matsu, revealed to have a child living with her mother and another man. Matsu’s life seems to be controlled by the debts he owes to others, which has led him the his current predicament (kidnapped by a candle merchant). Apparently, candle merchants in the Edo period were the badass yakuza of the day, like cemene companies in Jersey.
Masa, seemingly well over his Edo disease, displays a new energy and forcefulness this week, using Yagi’s help to land a job as a bodyguard to the merchant holding Matsu, who was captured trying to steal back the merchant’s tags of the candle merchant who had loaned him money in the past. Masa engineers Matsu’s escape, only to find upon his return that another layer of his past is about to be revealed – his younger sister Sachi has fled to Edo to avoid her arranged marriage. One assumes we’re about to hear more about why Masa is so eager to avoid going home, but the central drama is twofold. Yuichi has apparently decided on Yagi as his next target – though there is still reason to suspect they have a connection deep in their past – and appears quite peeved that Masa has gotten close to a policeman. At the very least, target or not, Ichi wants Masa to steer well clear of the officer. Masa, who was only starting to feel a sense of happiness at his expanding circle of friends and comfort in the Five Leaves, is forced into a difficult choice. And we have a hint of more violence at hand, as revenge for a past betrayal is hinted at.
As always, this show is in no hurry to explain what’s happening – you just have to sit tight and wait for it all to unfold at a leisurely pace. And what a joy it is to do that.