House of Five Leaves episode 12 – Sad Gangster in Snow

Here we have the finale, and the resolution of Ichi’s past catching up to him. It’s a resolution that does not have much action but is still very satisfying, though I realize that it might not be to everyone’s tastes (ghostlightning being one of those whose opinion differs from mine.) Ichi, Jin, and Yagi come together forming three parts of Ichi’s life, and how he deals with the self that each of them represent was a great conclusion to his character. And that’s really what House of Five Leaves is about. Not so much about a plot that moves forward, but about the people involved and the lives they lead. And from this perspective, it’s quite a satisfying series.

Using closeups on a few detailed, meaningful objects as in previous episodes, the cups and sake vessels serve as an effective contrast to Ichi’s life with the Five Leaves and the past that Yagi brings him out to discuss over drinks. The present has a much cooler color set and a unified blue design on the cups, and the past is rough, chipped, and red in its color palette.

Yagi shows up to finally have that drink with Seinoshin. For some reason, Yagi’s appearance reminds me of Shotglass from the original Wing Commander.

A neat rotating pan up captures Ichi as he staggers back from the bar. Staggering possibly from having an extra bit of sake, but mostly from having come face to face with his past. Though he didn’t run from the meeting, even when he had the chance when Yagi went for a refill.

And now the other part of Ichi’s past come stalking back.

The rest of the Five Leaves come together at Ume’s, each of them worried in their own ways for Ichi since he hasn’t come back. Otake, Ume, and Matsu also speculate about the future of the group, and it’s brought up that Ichi is planning another job but this time asked them if they’d be interested instead of telling like the leader he is. He’s still out when Masa leaves to go to Katsura-ya, and he’s not their either as Masa finds Matsu waiting outside the windows looking for him as well. Ichi wanders the streets with Jin following him, giving him some time before trying to kill him. His intention is clear, but he starts talking with Ichi, telling him that one of their old gang members is dead, implying that Ichi killed him after turning in the rest to the police. Then near the bridge where Ichi initially gave his recruitment pitch to Masa, Jin tells him that the agent from Ichi’s family wasn’t Yaichi. Ichi’s composure has been steadily fading over the last few episodes, but now it breaks. While it’s never spoken directly, what I took from it was that Ichi killed Yaichi or had him killed in the suspicious well accident, but now knowing that he really cared for him he feels even more intensely betrayed, but by Jin. There aren’t many moments of swordplay or combat in this show, and they’re always short and realistic, and this is one of them as Ichi charges and fatally stabs Jin. He kills him and obtains a hollow justice, but more important to him now is wandering to the graveyard and finding Yaichi’s grave to make what amends he can.

The shot and conversation are set up just like the ones between Matsu and Ichi, and showing Masa in a role like Ichi’s happens again in this episode.

I knew that cat was getting fatter as the series went on!

Fighting is brief and simple in this show, something I really appreciated given the tone. It’s violence is realistic and a means to an end, not the focus of the show. While that might have disappointed some people expecting a show in the Edo period to feature it more prominently, more of it or more stylized combat wouldn’t have been a good fit for this show in my opinion.

This is the only show I’ve ever watched where I’ve had to stop playback several times each episode to just admire the art. And it serves up lots of brief shots like this one to really show off how good it looks.

And another.

There are no words spoken other than a single utterance of Yaichi’s name, and it’s all that’s needed. I think that any more would have been too melodramatic given the atmosphere of House of Five Leaves.

Dawn comes as Masa finds Ichi in the graveyard, and kneeling there he sees Ichi still crying over Yaichi’s grave. Again mostly wordless, Ichi then moves and cries on Masa’s knee. It was pretty touching how he felt able to turn to Masa for help like that, and with his past so unsettling, it’s only Masa’s friendship that can really show him a way forward now that he knows what he’s done. With no ill words for the other members of the Five Leaves, they themselves didn’t have the right mix of curiosity, candor, and initiative to connect with the side of Ichi that he kept hidden. But they are very important in forming a sense of place for both characters, and on Masa’s return to the bar he’s greeted by the warm friendship and camaraderie of the others. Ichi isn’t at the bar though, so Masa goes out again to look for him at the shrine. There in exactly the same position, geographically and emotionally, as Masa at the start of the series, Ichi sits slumped against the stone lantern despondent. And then, playing the role of Ichi again, Masa shows up offering some dango, and quotes the same words that Ichi used back to him: “when you’re hungry, anything tastes good.” And with that he’s pulled out of his downtrodden thoughts and smiling, eats one of the dango without even taking the stick first.

Ichi is broken down after having the foundations of his past revealed as false, but now Masa is the one who helps him out. It was a touching scene, though I’m sure in a way that would spawn much doujinshi, heh.

Somewhere to come home to. And who wouldn’t want to with smooth Otake and DDAAAWWW Okinu to greet you?

Bringing everything to a close, we’re back to where everything started but with roles reversed and a solid friendship between them.

Final Thoughts: – You’ll here a different perspective from ghostlightning after this, but for me I greatly enjoyed the show and how it ended. I didn’t feel that it needed much of a progressing plot, or more action than it had. At its core it’s about the characters, getting to know them, and getting a feel for their lives and emotions. And it was done very well. Pasts, temperaments, motivations, and values were shown in detail for almost all the characters. I’m perfectly fine with ‘nothing happening’ as seen from a plot progression viewpoint. The characters and their lives were well presented, and using the visual and musical presentation, felt like the show just seeped into my mind as I watched it. It’s hard to explain, but instead of one moment or event striking me like in most fiction, the entire experience flowed over me like a wave.

- Ichi existed and developed almost as four characters. There was Seinoshin, the dejected, unwanted heir to a family that would later die out. Kidnapped and told to be killed by someone he greatly trusted (or so he was told), he became Sei, an unhesitating killer and bandit. Sei was ruled by vengeance. Direct in his hunt for Yaichi, and indirect in the violence he quickly dispensed to those around him. Betraying his gang and moving to Edo, he became Ichi when he started the Five Leaves. Here he still acted on a desire for revenge, but time had cooled his temper and now he hid his motivations for kidnapping under a desire to leave the past behind, have fun, and make money. And now that he knows the truth about his past and has found a true and close friend in Masa, he’s become a fourth person, a sort of New Ichi who has had some closure with his past and can now open up more as a person. His smile and jovial attitude when Masa brought him the dango seemed to show a new phase in his life. It was a splendid thing to witness a character developed in such a way, changing several times over his life.

- As I mentioned earlier in the post, for me there really are no shows that come close to the art in House of Five Leaves. I’ve watched plenty of other shows where I’ve appreciated the style and shot composition, but it’s no exaggeration to say that this is the only one where I’ve stopped playback several times per episode, every episode, just to take it in. The overall design, the details, the thematic use of objects, the shot composition, the use of colors and textures, all of it.

- The only thing I would have changed was to add more time for Otake, and maybe on Sachi and Okinu. The women unfortunately didn’t get enough time devoted to their characters independently, though they did have some very good moments with the group. Otake should have had an episode to herself, if not two, and I think that could have been accomplished even with the 12 episode timeframe. In an ideal world I’d have liked Okinu and Sachi to have an episode or two of their own, but given time constraints I would have at least liked a bit of delving into their personalities, lives, and pasts as a side point to the main characters.

ghostlightning’s thoughts and commentary

I felt like I spent half the show dealing with flashbacks, which would be fine I suppose if there was some kind of precipice that the characters are on the edge of, and they need to either leap courageously across the ravine or plunge to their dooms.

There was none. The payoff is what? Friendship? Understanding? Tolerance? Masa’s character all but ensured this from the very beginning.
The structure was the would be savior was the one saved (Yaichi) in the end by Masa. Everyone else put up barriers that were eroded by the tactless charm of the earnest bumpkin swordsman.
In any case, the payoff is an understated epiphany that leads to… more of the same kind of life for them. There wasn’t a change in direction, there was no real choice made.
This would be all fine, if I didn’t feel cheated of my time. I didn’t feel entertained. I waited and waited and waited. What was I waiting for? Maybe some kind of violence, maybe a well-animated swordfight.
I too watch anime precisely because it is animated, and an act of violence is something I expect fluidity and effort from the production. I didn’t get it from Yaichi’s knife fight, and I certainly never got it from Masa.

This entry was posted in House of Five Leaves. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Posted July 3, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Loved the comparison image. I totally knew that cat was getting fatter as well. Most well treated character of the show.

    • Posted July 3, 2010 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, when I saw it I recognized the similarity, but only when I looked at the image from episode one did I notice how exact they were in making the scene look similar. Even the branches and the area of visible sky are the same, minus the shadow on the near side of the lantern due to the time of day.

      Indeed, and the cat knew right from the start how to suck up to everyone. Which is a pretty funny contrast to Masa, who was starving and falling over early in the series, but kept the cat fed.

  2. frog212
    Posted July 4, 2010 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    Great review.

    • Posted July 4, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Thanks, I’ve really enjoyed writing about this show, even if it’s been far from the most watched this season.

  3. Chronolynx
    Posted July 4, 2010 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    I thought Yaichi’s utter speechlessness after his revelation was well done and appropriate (and not something you see as often as I’d like). If he’d said anything, it would have ruined the scene.

    This is definitely a show I’d like to watch again, because it seems like there’s a good deal of planning behind the structure of the narrative. Like that scene you picked out, or the flashbacks. (I remember being confused by one in an early episode, but maybe it’d make sense now.)

    • Posted July 4, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      Looking back on it, given all the flashbacks they were put together really well even though they were so spread out. Though I wouldn’t have minded if they stated it a little more clearly how Yaichi died since the viewer had to recall three different flashbacks from two or three different episodes to piece it together. Still, the fact that they can be pieced together shows how well the timelines were thought out in advance.

  4. Ana
    Posted July 4, 2010 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    You know, this is the show that wasn’t getting my atention in this past season.
    In fact, my favorites were Arakawa and Angel Beats.
    Since I started to disagree with the opinions about AB over here, I stop coming to the site.

    But the reviews are just… too great. You guys are really honest – sometimes harsh, yeah, but still deep in your thoughts and commentarys.

    And it was thanks to the site that I am now completely in love with House Of Five Leaves. Reading everything that was written here about the show opened my eyes – ’cause things need to be said, the anime was very, very, VERY slow at the beginning.

    But anyways, I’m enjoying it now, and congrats for the review.

    Cheers from Brazil!

    • Posted July 4, 2010 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      It’s too bad that House of Five Leaves hasn’t been getting nearly as much attention this season, but I’m always really glad to hear from someone else who appreciated it. It’s pretty far from the mainstream of anime in atmosphere, theme, and character design, but I’d like to see more series that break from the norm like this did. And even though I loved it, I understand why it’s not for everyone.

      Thanks for the compliments, I’m glad to hear that our honest passion for the shows comes through our posts. It really makes my day to hear from someone who picked up or kept watching a series in part because of what I’ve written on it.

      Angel Beats seems to have been a pretty divisive show from this past season, but know that Mystlord’s and my opinions on it were often tough because we really did like the show’s premise and wanted it to do better than we felt it did. It’s good to have you back with us, I hope to see you around more :)

  5. onaname
    Posted July 6, 2010 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    I’m embarrassed to admit that after seeing a hobnail teapot in one of the early episodes, I was so excited by the historical accuracy and attention to detail that I began looking for more teapot appearances as Easter eggs and completely neglected to search for meaning in them. Haha. I like your interpretation. Teapots in Japan carry a lot of meaning to them (the shapes, the colors, the symbols), and now I think I need to rewatch and pay better attention to the atmosphere of each situation as they sit and drink.

    If I had to describe HoFL in one word, it would be “subtle.” Its aesthetic, its characterization, its themes—all of them subdued, but executed with great care and precision. Subtlety is often not appreciated in any medium, but especially in anime, which is dominated by the over-the-top antics of shows like Gurren Lagann and Haruhi Suzumiya. It’s a shame ratings of both noitaminA shows this past season were so low as to make the news, considering they are, IMO, two of the best series in terms of narrative and innovation to come out in recent history.

    As for the artwork, I was so fixated on the character designs that the background art made little impression on me. Looking at your screencaps though, the artwork is indeed gorgeous. Again, subtle. The amount of detail is astounding: all that wood and granite, even the dirt. It doesn’t resort to grandiose landscape shots like Miyazaki, nor to an extensive and brightly-mixed color palette like Shinkai. Both men are great artistic directors with acclaimed styles, and for good reason, but then you take a look at the artwork in HoFL. It’s beautiful, of course, but so humble and unassuming. I can’t think of any other words for it at the moment. No crazy colors, no outlandish angles, just simple scenery drawn meticulously and without pomp. Sadly, too easy to overlook.

    I guess before I go into rant-mode over the things I enjoyed about HoFL, I’ll cover my disappointments.

    The character designs took a while to get used to, but they weren’t so bad (honestly, I’m much more disconcerted by moe-blob designs). My main complaint about the design is that all the minor characters looked alike. All the prostitutes looked like less sleepy-eyed versions of Otake. All the old men looked like Souji. Many a generic bystander looked like Matsu. A number of scenes confused me because of this.

    I didn’t mind the slow pace, but like ghostlightning, I felt a bit misled and cheated in regards to action. There was so much praise of Masa and Ichi’s abilities, but really, there were no fight sequences, just bright slashes and poses. Many tense confrontations petered away into nothing e.g. Masa vs. Ichi, Masa vs. Jin. I realize this isn’t an action series, but at the same time, there was too much talk of fighting and preparation for fighting that never happened.

    I agree that development for the women was more or less overlooked. After the time devoted to each of the male characters, one would expect a fraction of that time devoted to at least Otake, who is supposed to be a founding member of the Five Leaves. Not only does Otake have little development with Ichi (he bought her out of prostitution, which was expected and cliché), but she has virtually no development with Masa either. In fact, except for stabbing Ichi when they first meet Matsu and lingering about drinking all the time as an excuse for the others to gather, Otake may as well have not been in the series.

    I enjoyed Matsu and Ume’s stories, and though Ichi’s backstory was also interesting, I thought it was too transparent. I don’t fancy myself the kind of person who has any talent for guessing endings before they happen, but I do enjoy a good mystery with well-laid clues and cues. Unfortunately for Ichi’s story, it was painfully obvious after the first couple of episodes that he was Sei who, out of self-loathing, adopted Yaichi’s name, and continued reliving his own kidnapping trauma. (But perhaps this was obvious to me because I obsess over traumatized and psychotic characters?) As such, I never felt any pressure from his story arc. Even Jin’s final revelation that it wasn’t necessarily Yaichi that night was anticlimactic (since he says he never asked the man’s name, there is still the possibility it was Yaichi, but the point here is that the past is dead and gone and Ichi will never be able to truly reconcile what happened) because Jin’s lie was apparent from the manner he spoke it (sorry about this incredibly awkward sentence!). This particular transparency I don’t fault them for; rather, it seems deliberate. What I did mind was how much unnecessary suspense was placed around it. Ichi’s story in general was dragged out a little too long with too few events.

    Now. For the wonderful things.

    The script is excellent. Clever without the ridiculous mind-games—none of Light and L’s “I know that you know that I know that you know my super-secret grand-master plot!” Masa may be the “tactless country bumpkin with a heart of gold” archetype, but he performs his role so well. He states what he thinks, not in an offensive and confrontational way, but simply as if he were always thinking out loud. A particular moment that comes to mind is when Masa says he doesn’t believe Ichi is kidnapping for the money because when asked about himself, Ichi was so secretive, and yet, he gave the answer of “money” so quickly. It’s this attention to consistency of character, both by the creators and the characters themselves, that makes HoFL such a great character-drama.

    Masa and Ichi’s role-reversal is also more complicated and delicately executed than a simple victim/savior swap. In the scene you capped of Matsu talking to Masa, I had the feeling that it was weird for the two to speak like that, but I didn’t make the connection that Masa had effectively replaced Ichi at that point. In Ichi’s absence, the other members looked to Masa. Both Masa and Ichi have great intuition and a straight-forward manner that attracts others to them. The difference is that while Masa begins the series bumbling and clueless, Ichi already knows how to use his charisma. Masa and Ichi’s frankness enable them to do things without considering the consequences. This is demonstrated mainly in the way both of them help Matsu, and Matsu pointedly understands his debt to them. Ichi, however, helped Matsu for his own sake, whereas Masa helped him out of good will. Early on, Masa says he would like to become a person like Ichi, and by the end, he has managed to emulate all that is good about Ichi without taking on any of Ichi’s dark intentions. They also parallel each other in their attempts to keep the Five Leaves together, but again, while Ichi manipulates the members into staying in order to use them, Masa holds the group together as friends and family.

    The last two screencaps you have of the first and last ep illustrate this parallel perfectly. While superficially, the actions and the words are the same, the difference of intent is as disparate as summer and winter. Pure poetry.

    Thank you for those caps. I noted the similarity of the situation, but seeing them side-by-side like that really shows how calculated the turn of events was.

    Though Masa’s maturation is important, I didn’t exactly consider Ichi’s development as a person to be central to the series, rather, I think it focuses more on uncovering the cruel intentions underlying his actions. Have you seen or read Monster by Urasawa? Ichi reminds me of Johan, though more smaller in scale of course: he’s sadistic, but not to the point of slaughter; he’s destructive, but not to the society as a whole. Johan is charismatic and manipulative, drawing out the darker side of those around him. Since Monster focuses on the people trying to stop Johan, we’re shown only glimpses of his activities and only briefly introduced to his cohorts, but I’ve always wondered what their extended interaction was like. Though not nearly as drastic as Monster’s scenario, the cast of HoFL slowly comes to realize that their ringleader’s antics are more nefarious in nature than they thought. It would be as if Monster shifted its focus to Johan, with the main tension arising from his accomplices trying to figure out his true intentions (except that everyone in Monster is nuckin’ futs). Both characters also derive their derangement from a fundamental confusion of childhood events, and as adults, seek to wreak their own existential pain on others.

    In short, I found Yaichi’s personality captivating. Throughout the series, various characters act in villainous ways—stealing, lying, killing—but many of them are shown to be ultimately good-hearted people. This is contrasted with Ichi, whose actions, good and bad, are selfish and malicious in nature. Whereas Jin lied to Sei in order to save his life, Ichi contrived kidnapping situations purely for the purpose of hurting others. Though the FL members speculate that the last kidnapped child may have been from an illicit affair, and therefore, not wanted by the family, it may very well be that the child is legitimate, but the family is unable to pay, and rather than risk a scandal, regretfully yielded their heir. Ichi did say, after all, that they demanded much more than usual. Usurping the boy’s beliefs about his position (even if it was with lies), and watching his grief was Ichi’s goal. He believed Yaichi had heartlessly betrayed him and so, assuming Yaichi’s identity, he wanted to bestow that betrayal upon others.

    If I’m not mistaken, you’re under the impression that Ichi had Yaichi killed, correct? I think the flashback where a young Sei asks about Yaichi suggests that Sei had returned from the bandits and tried to ascertain the truth about Yaichi, only to find that Yaichi had seemingly committed suicide. This may have solidified his belief that Yaichi betrayed him and killed himself out of regret afterward. With no way to find out the truth, instead of giving Yaichi the benefit of the doubt, he settled on the worst case scenario. The first-person POV at the end of the flashback drops to the ground, as if disappointed. That’s why, when Yagi proposes that Yaichi was killed for discovering the truth, Ichi is shocked—he may have never even considered that possibility. But as Yagi says, the truth is forever lost, and there’s no point in figuring it out now. Both Sei and Yaichi are dead after all.

    In the end, when Ichi finally realizes that his whole life had been misguided, he is distraught.

    And here, as Ichi had offered Masa a new life, Masa extends the invitation in turn.

    I’m done! It was a great series. Thank you for the screencaps and your insights. I hope my own rambling was interesting.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

It sounds like SK2 has recently been updated on this blog. But not fully configured. You MUST visit Spam Karma's admin page at least once before letting it filter your comments (chaos may ensue otherwise).

Current ye@r *

AWSOM Powered