House of Five Leaves, Volume 1

Creator: Natsume Ono
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421532103
Released: September 2010
Original release: 2006

My introduction to Natsume Ono and her work was through the 2010 anime adaptation of her series House of Five Leaves. Since then, I have been devouring her other works available in English, so far all a part of Viz Media’s Signature line, but House of Five Leaves remains my favorite. Ono completed House of Five Leaves in eight volumes which were initially published in Japan between 2006 and 2010. It was also in 2010 that Viz Media began releasing the English translation of the series. Currently, the first four volumes are available; the fifth volume is scheduled to be published in December 2011. Although I haven’t been reviewing the individual volumes as they have been released, I have been reading them, and rereading them, as soon as I have a copy available. But because Ono was the focus of November 2011’s Manga Moveable Feast, I decided to be a little more vocal in my love for House of Five Leaves.

Akitsu Masanosuke is a highly skilled swordsman although most people wouldn’t expect it to look at him. Often they are surprised to discover that he’s even a samurai at all. He’s extremely shy, embarrasses easily, and is not even close to being intimidating. Masa’s unfortunate personality makes it difficult for him to keep a job. His lord let him go as a retainer and no one wants to hire a timid bodyguard, and so Masa wanders Edo as a hungry rōnin looking for work. At least until he meets Yaichi, who is looking for a samurai in name only. Yaichi, perfectly capable of defending himself, simply needs a bodyguard for show. Preferably one that is easily controlled. Masa is glad to have the work, not realizing at first that Yaichi happens to be the leader of a kidnapping group known as Five Leaves. Despite his misgivings, Masa slowly finds himself drawn into their circle.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Ono’s manga is her art. I have never mistaken her illustrations for anyone else’s, nor have I ever taken another artist’s work to be hers. Admittedly, Ono’s style is not one that everyone will appreciate. I wouldn’t describe it as pretty, but the loose, deliberate lines have a certain attractive elegance to them. I have become quite fond of Ono’s artwork. The style seems to be particularly well suited to the story of House of Five Leaves, especially in the portrayal of the characters and their personalities. The droopy-eyed melancholy fits Masa’s timidity perfectly while at the same time the artwork also easily embodies Yaichi’s lazy, slightly unsettling intensity. My only real complaint about the art in the first volume of House of Five Leaves is that it is difficult to discern what is happening in the few action-oriented sequences.

House of Five Leaves is not a quickly paced manga by any means. It’s strength lies in its characters and their interactions, and especially in the relationships developed between Masa and the members of Five Leaves. Probably most important is Masa and Yaichi’s strange sort of friendship. Yaichi is fascinated and intrigued by Masa and his unusualness. In return, Masa admires Yaichi’s confidence and is curious about him. Yaichi is a charismatic, enigmatic, and intensely private man. Not even the members of Five Leaves know much about him. At this point in House of Five Leaves, not much is known about any of the characters yet, but Yaichi is the most guarded. The groundwork for the story has been established in this first volume and the major players have been introduced. Masa still isn’t quite sure what he’s gotten himself mixed up in or who these people are, but that will all be revealed as the series progresses.

My Week in Manga: November 7-November 13, 2011

My News and Reviews

Okay, here we go! I posted a couple of reviews last week. The first was Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Yashakiden: The Demon Princess, Volume 1 courtesy of Digital Manga. I had some problems with the first volume, but I do plan on reading more of the series. The second review I posted was the first in-depth manga review for November, Death Note, Volume 10: Deletion. After a few bumpy middle volumes, the series is starting to get really good again.

Ed Sizemore of Manga Worth Reading and my favorite podcast Manga Out Loud is saying goodbye to reviewing manga to the same extent that he’s doing now. I understand his decision but am still sad and will definitely miss his voice. My best wished go out to Ed and his future pursuits.

Over on, Ron Hogan has an interesting essay about Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and why those who read speculative fiction might get more out of it than those who don’t—Genre in the Mainstream: Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. I’m currently reading 1Q84 and should have a review of my own posted within the next couple of weeks.

Once upon a time, June 2009 to be exact, Digital Manga published Osamu Tezuka’s Swallowing the Earth. Since then, the book has gone out of print. However! Digital Manga has created a Kickstarter project to bring the manga back. I’m particularly excited about this venture because if it succeeds it could establish a workable publishing model to bring niche manga to English-reading audiences.

And finally, this week is the Natsume Ono Manga Moveable Feast! I’ve got a bunch of quick takes here for you featuring some of Ono’s works (plus a couple that are completely unrelated). Later this week I’ll also be posting an in-depth manga review of House of Five Leaves, Volume 1. I am quite fond of Ono’s manga, so I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone’s contributions to the Feast.

Quick Takes

The Drops of God, Volume 1 written by Tadashi Agi and illustrated by Shu Okimoto. While I like the drink, I am not by any means a wine connoisseur. Still, I enjoyed The Drops of God probably even more than I expected to. I will admit, I’m actually a little jealous of the characters and their passion for wine. For them, it’s not just a drink but a way to express themselves. The characters’ experiences and the mental images elicited while drinking are brilliantly captured in Okimoto’s artwork. It makes me envious that I’ve never had such visceral and emotional reactions to wine. The Drops of God reminds me a lot of Oishinbo, which I don’t think is a bad thing. I’m looking forward to reading more.

Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso, Volumes 1-3 by Natsume Ono. Ono has a superb talent for drawing marvelously sexy…pardon me, distinguished…older gentlemen. I don’t think that Gente always stands very well on its own, but as a companion series to Ono’s one-shot Ristorante Paradiso, it’s wonderful. The manga is a series of short stories and vignettes featuring characters from Ristorante Paradiso. It’s really nice to be able to get to spend more time with them and learn a little bit more about their pasts and personalities. The first two volumes take place before for the events of Ristorante Paradiso while the final volume takes place during the same time period and perhaps a little bit after.

House of Five Leaves, Volumes 2-4 by Natsume Ono. As much as I enjoy all of Ono’s work, House of Five Leaves is my favorite series by her. I saw the anime adaptation before the manga was available in English, so it’s difficult for me not to compare the two. The fourth volume is the first volume with a significant amount of unique content, including a character that doesn’t even appear in the anime. However, the heart of the story remains the same. The manga reveals some of the characters’ backstories in greater depth and explores their personal turmoils in more detail. In particular, the vicious side of Yaichi’s nature is shown more than it is implied. I’m greatly anticipating the release of the rest of the series.

La Quinta Camera: The Fifth Room by Natsume Ono. La Quinta Camera was Ono’s breakthrough work. It was originally published as a webcomic before being picked up by a publisher. The manga is a slice of life story focusing on the lives of four men who share an apartment in Italy and their relationships with the constantly changing tenant of the fifth room which is rented out to exchange students. Each chapter, six in all, brings a new student and reveals just a little bit more of the residents’ lives. Some of the tenants are only there briefly while others stick around even after they’ve moved out, but they all leave a lasting impression on the men. I prefer Ono’s later work but I did enjoy La Quinta Camera. Although it’s fiction, the manga has a charming sense of authenticity to it.

Dragon Head directed by George Iida. While I can safely say that I, for the most part, prefer the Dragon Head manga, the live-action film is not that bad of an adaptation. It just doesn’t translate the character’s struggles with fear quite as well. Nobuo’s descent into madness seems a bit rushed at the beginning (granted, it happens pretty quickly in the manga, too), but that is somewhat understandable since there was a lot of material to fit into a two hour movie. Certain plot details of the story have been changed, some for the better, and an excellent job was done making the whole film coherent. The special effects are pretty decent and the devastated Tokyo landscape was particularly well done.

House of Five Leaves directed by Tomomi Mochizuki. House of Five Leaves may very well be my favorite anime series; I am absolutely crushed that a Region 1 DVD set hasn’t been licensed. I’m glad that I can at least stream the series, but watching the show on my laptop is less than ideal. It’s a story that profoundly resonates with me for some reason and I continue to think about the series long after I’ve finished watching it. It’s not a anime that will work for everyone. It has a sort of art house feel to it, retaining much of Ono’s style, and the drama relies entirely on the characters. The music also creates an odd, but I think effective, sort of atmosphere, mixing traditional Japanese instruments with modern beats and what sounds a lot like a French tango.

My Week in Manga: June 27-July 3, 2011

My News and Reviews

Okay! You only have a couple more days to enter my most recent manga giveaway. We’re talking about samurai manga, so head over to Manga Giveaway: Rorouni Kenshin Contest to enter for a chance to win a new copy of the first Rurouni Kenshin omnibus. The winner will be announced Wednesday, July 6. And for those who are interested in what sort of manga and other goodies I’ve managed to recently procure, I posted the Bookshelf Overload for June. Not much else to report right now except that I’ll be going on an extended vacation pretty soon. Hopefully, there shouldn’t be any interruption to my normal posting schedule. That’s the plan, anyway; I’m still in the process of working things out.

I’ve made some updates to the Resources page. Unfortunately, Manga Views no longer seems to be running, so I’ve removed it from the list. But, I’ve also added three more resources: Manga Connection, Japanamerica, and Comic Attack. Comic Attack isn’t specifically about manga, but they do have a regular feature called Bento Bako Weekly (although it’s often more than weekly) that is worth keeping an eye on.

Quick Takes

Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun, Volumes 3-9 by Shin Mashiba. Nightmare Inspector is mostly episodic except for the ninth volume which ties everything together and reveals the truth behind Hiruko. The final volume is just about perfect. I don’t want to spoil the ending but I will say it is highly appropriate for a series that’s all about nightmares. The series is very dark and genuinely disconcerting. Knowing each story will end with some kind of grim twist doesn’t make it any easier. Hiruko gives each dreamer what they ask for and the results can be terrifying. There are a few humorous episodes, but their tone is so different from the rest of the series that I find it difficult to consider them part of the main story.

Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! by Fumi Yoshinaga. I found Not Love to be a charming little collection about friendship and the love of food. Each chapter features an actual restaurant in Tokyo, complete with locations, recommendations, and how much you should expect to spend for a meal. With plenty of self-deprecating humor and quirky “characters” (the manga is fairly autobiographical), Not Love is also delightfully amusing. Despite the obvious importance of food and eating, I’m not sure I would actually call Not Love a food manga. Instead it seems to me to be more about the relationships people develop around the table. And not just their relationships with the food, either, but their relationships with each other as well.

Not Simple by Natsume Ono. Not Simple is a tragic tale. A really, really tragic tale. Made worse by the fact that despite some melodramatic elements, it’s actually a fairly realistic story. Not Simple was the first of Ono’s works to be made available in English. It’s also one of her earlier works, so her distinctive art style was still in the process of maturing. The narrative is interesting in that the story is framed within another story, leaving it up to the reader to interpret the ambiguity and determine how much is true and how much has been embellished. But either way, it’s not an easy read. Ian is a very pure and innocent character. He’s a little odd, but he’s certainly not at fault for the way things turn out.

Your Love Sickness by Kuku Hayate. Okay, I’ll admit it. I picked up Your Love Sickness because it’s boys’ love and had a dragon in it (specifically, the story “Disappearing into the Dew.”) The title story features kitsune in love, or at least in devoted infatuation. And if anthropomorphism doesn’t float your boat, Hayate turns from the supernatural to the more mundane in the final two stories. “Cheeping” finds a model and the local bento shop owner locking eyes (as well as a bit more) and “Cross My Heart” sees two friends reunited only to find their developing relationship to be rather problematic since one has grown up to be a detective and the other is yakuza. Your Love Sickness is a fun collection with interesting stories with interesting character designs to fit.

Cowboy Bebop, Episodes 1-26 directed by Shinichirō Watanabe. Cowboy Bebop holds a special place in my heart. It is the very first anime series that I saw in its entirety and I frequently re-watch parts of it. I even have the opening theme song, “Tank!,” set as my ringtone. (The music, by Yoko Kanno, is actually one of my favorite things about the series.) It has been a while since I’ve sat down and watched the whole series through from start to finish, though. I’d forgotten how odd some of the episodes were—at times, Cowboy Bebop can be a rather eccentric series. But there’s also plenty of action, with dramatic gunfights and theatric hand-to-hand combat, humor, and a good overarching story.

Manga Giveaway: Oh, Ono! Winner

And the winner of the Oh, Ono! Gente manga giveaway is…ochaako!

I was very happy with the turn out for this month’s giveaway! A huge thank you to everyone who entered this month’s giveaway (which was unfortunately plagued by technical difficulties.) I particularly appreciate those of you who took the extra effort needed to enter the contest. As the winner, ochaako will be receiving a brand new copy of the first volume of Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso.

For the Oh, Ono! giveaway, I asked people to tell me a little about how they discovered Natsume Ono’s work and which was their favorite. There were some great submissions made, so if you’re interested please check them out: Oh, Ono! giveaway comments. I found it interesting that the two most common introductions to Ono seemed to be either encountering Not Simple in the bookstore (which was her first manga published in English) or through one of the anime adaptations of her work. As a reference, here is a list of Ono manga that is currently available, or will soon be available, from Viz Media:

La Quinta Camera
Not Simple
Ristorante Paradiso

Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso
House of Five Leaves

Manga Giveaway: Oh, Ono! (Gente Giveaway)

It’s getting close to the end of the month, and you know what that means, right? It’s time for another manga giveaway! This time around I have a brand new copy of the first volume of Natsume Ono’s Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso from Viz Media for one lucky winner. The giveaway is open world-wide, so I hope you’ll enter!

I first heard about Natsume Ono at a panel called “The Best Manga You’re Not Reading” at the American Library Association’s 2010 Annual Conference. It was a marvelous panel and among the manga mentioned was Ono’s Ristorante Paradiso. Gente is a related series which saw its third and final volume released in English earlier this month. But what made me fall in love with Ono and her work was House of Five Leaves. I first saw and adored the anime adaptation. (I really hope it will see a DVD release in the States. I’d even be perfectly happy with a sub-only set; I just want to own the series!) And now that the House of Five Leaves manga is being published in English, I’m buying the each volume as soon as it is released. Recently, Ono was one of the featured guests at the 2011 Toronto Comic Arts Festival and she also made an appearance at New York City’s Kinokuniya Bookstore, meaning even more people are beginning to recognize her name. Many of Ono’s works are already available in English, but I would love to see some of her boys’ love manga, written under the name basso, licensed as well.

So, you may be wondering, how can you win the first volume of Gente?

1) In the comments below, tell me about how, when, or where you first learned about Natsume Ono or any of her works.
2) Also in the comment tell me which, if any, of Ono’s manga you have read and if you have a personal favorite. (If you haven’t read any, just mention that.)
3) If you’re on Twitter, you can earn a bonus entry by tweeting about the contest. Make sure to include a link to this post and @PhoenixTerran (that’s me).

And there you have it. One person may earn up to three entries for this manga giveaway. The winner will be randomly selected on June 1, 2011; you only have one week to get your comments in.

VERY IMPORTANT: Include some way that I can contact you. This can be an e-mail address, link to your website, Twitter username, or whatever. If I can’t figure out how to get a hold of you and you win, I’ll just draw another name.

Please note, Blogger is having an issue right now dealing with comment submission. If you try to leave a comment and it doesn’t immediately appear, please send your entry to phoenixterran(at)gmail(dot)com and I will make sure your comment is posted and you are entered in the giveaway. My sincere apologies for the inconvenience.

Contest winner announced—Manga Giveaway: Oh, Ono! Winner