House of Five Leaves has done a good job keeping the larger story about the organization and the origins of Yaichi going in the background as the other characters have gotten their development episodes, but as we close in on the final episodes that narrative comes back to the fore. Yagi and the previously unknown Jin have been closing in, in an information collection sense, on Ichi through their connections. Ichi himself is getting increasingly uncomfortable and irritable about his past, literally in one case, catching up to him and it’s showing to his comrades. His background is revealed in these episodes in full, and we head into the last episode ready for the final developments.
Opening with the first person perspective of Seinoshin, complete with tilt down during a bow, as he tries to find out what happened to his former servant Yaichi.
Before heading home, Sachi and Masa have a day out on the town, taking in the sights. How cute.
I can’t quite put my finger on why, but any scene with Sachi in it always brings a smile to my face. Her character just brings a sort of energy to things.
Acting on Ichi’s instructions, and seeming suspicious to Sachi, Masa purposely loses his sparring match to Yagi. But for all of Ichi’s attempts to keep Masa from giving things away, Yagi is quite good at getting information, and Masa too easy to read when speaking.
Several shots done at this angle in both of these episodes, an angle seen often in traditional Japanese art that attempts to show a complex scene on a flat surface without using depth effects.
Yagi asks Masa in an offhand manner about whether Ichi has a burn scar on his back, to which Masa says he doesn’t know, and then goes on to say how he met Yaichi and Seinoshin at an estate nearby years ago. Yagi was known as a wild, undisciplined son and often locked out by his father, taking us back to the start of the series where a man is locked out in the rain. Yaichi brought him in and the two eventually became friends, Seinoshin joining them at times. The way he asks is almost nostalgic, and it makes me optimistically think that he’s less interested in finding Ichi for police reasons and instead more for personal ones. After Masa and Sachi leave she asks him to send a letter to Bun since he’ll have to listen, even if Masa isn’t exactly the most assertive head of household. Just before she leaves they stop by Matsu’s place and Sachi seems to go all dere dere towards him! The ornament seems really special to her, but then she throws it out there that she has a boyfriend back home, but blushes and false-coyly turns her back to him. Oh my, what a character. After seeing her off Masa does another nice deed, talking to and buying some gifts for the girls at Katsura-ya. When the mistress tells him to stop doing unnecessary things, he tells her how much Ichi’s words about enjoying the day have really left an impression on him, and that he wants the girls there to enjoy their days as much as they can in their situation. It’s a very open moment for Masa, and not the first in these episodes.
Seemingly good friends back then, and perhaps that bond remains on Yagi’s side.
Sachi seems to decide to leave after seeing Otake and Ichi talking in an alley one night. Though what exactly sets it off in her mind isn’t perfectly clear. She doesn’t seem like she’s being completely honest here.
We listen to Masa when Sachi wants us to! I think I know who the real head of the household is.
Matsu? Really? Maybe Sachi wandered in from B Gata H Kei.
Scenes with Masa and the brothel girls are always good times. And in this case not just entertainment value, but actual demonstration of Masa’s changes over time.
Ichi’s simple words have really been taken to heart by Masa, and exactly how much becomes clear in the early part of next episode.
Ichi has been increasingly apprehensive during all this. He’s more forceful in instructing Masa, hides out at Katsura-ya huddled under a blanket, and is now remembering how someone told him to kill anyone who got in his way. Very uncharacteristically nervous of him.
Ichi’s nervousness really comes to a head in the next episode, as we’re launched into the work of completing another ransom job. Masa is both respectful and thankful towards Ichi, and stands up to him during their initial conversation. He explains that he came to Edo to work at a retainer’s household but then actually chose to quit because he felt that he needed to develop himself as a person, and that the Five Leaves has helped him in that. The random meeting goes as planned, except that the Kanou house actually doesn’t want their son back, a bastard child that the head of the house would prefer to have killed. The next night Ichi bluntly and cruelly breaks the news to the child. Masa follows him outside and confronts him, and in their conversation Ichi admits that maybe he’s been in the kidnapping business for personal reasons relating to his past. As an bit of a sidelines reveal Ume and Okinu visit Soji and run across Jin, who is waiting for the other former gang boss and instantly strikes Ume as suspicious. And just that night Ichi and Masa run into Jin, who tries to attack but can’t persuade the better armed and trained Masa to leave. This prompts Masa to go to Soji to find out about Ichi, taking such direct action being something that he taught him. Ichi is still unnerved and even crazed looking and throws his smoking tray at Masa’s face, who remains unphased and continues his explanation. From Soji Masa gets the full story in the form of a flashback. Ichi/Seinoshin’s kidnapping was just the same situation as their most recent job, but instead he joined up with the criminals. In a case of a mistaken ambush of members of Soji’s gang, the Bakuro members wound one of them and are held to account by a conference of the gang bosses. Soji tries to display mercy and settles for a finger as compensation, but when Seinoshin/Ichi is told to resolve the issue he kills his sworn brother without hesitation instead. Jin was the head of this band, and now the stage is set for the final episode.
Masa showing more of his formerly uncharacteristic gumption in standing up to Ichi, and also displaying openly some more of his samurai pride.
The sad fate of the child is decided. But the release of the hostage may not be the whole story.
Though they’re not butting heads and disagreeing, Masa’s heartfelt concern for Ichi is very much apparent in his face, words, and actions.
Ichi hard pressed by the attack, but mostly by his past coming back to him.
The contrast is pretty striking and a definite reversal. Ichi is scared and quick to anger, a more hot-headed mirror of Masa’s usual lack of confidence, and Masa has gained some measure of confidence and unshakable calm because of what he learned from Ichi and the Five Leaves. The reveal that he quit his retainer job in Edo voluntarily really gave him a sense of purpose we didn’t know about before.
His composure, the way he barely even pauses when the tray is thrown at him shows how important Ichi and his words have been to him quite effectively. Masa is almost Buddha-like in his calm and lack of offense. He’s downright saintly at times in these episodes now that Ichi is experiencing such turmoil.
Ichi the killer? Or perhaps Sei-phiroth with that long hair and sword? *rimshot*
Final Thoughts: -Finally we get a basic backstory on Otake and how she met Ichi. Him meeting her at the brothel and then paying to free her was worth knowing, but I wish she had an episode to herself like the others have had. Too bad this is 12 episodes instead of 13.
-Speaking of characters that I wish had more time, Sachi’s time in the show was brief but very fun. Her reason for leaving, how she wanted to learn from Otake, her crush on Matsu, all of it was very interesting but not expanded upon much. Combine an episode focusing on her with one on Otake, perhaps one about those two spending a day together, and you’d have the perfect episode to round out the series.
-Yagi’s motivations so far remain up in the air, though I’m thinking he’s acting more for benevolent reasons. Jin has arrived and started acting on his vendetta, but the circumstances around how (or if) Ichi sold out the gang will be key to properly understanding their past. Given Ichi’s lack of hesitation in killing his sworn brother, perhaps he was playing some sort of long term revenge game against the gang that captured him? Or maybe Ichi wasn’t quite so much of a betrayer and the situation just made him the one who got the blame.