House of Five Leaves is a very unique read, which will both benefit and hinder it. It's not a mainstream read, but it definitely has a niche.
Despite being about samurai, it's actually a very slow-moving story. Samurai stories mean action, adventure, and fight scenes, right? Well, not so much in this case. The lead character, Masa, is a timid and moping samurai in need of money. While he looks as if he'd be no threat, he is in fact a good fighter. He's trying to find employment, and ends up getting involved with the gang House of Five Leaves. The gang might try to think of itself as a group of chivalrous thieves, but when you get down to it, they kidnap. Masa is appalled, and yet this doesn't stop him from drawing ever closer to the people in this gang.
Taking place in the Edo Period, this manga is more about characters than it is about action. Masa seems to constantly look either sad or frightened, which can get readers to feel sympathy for him. On the other hand, it's kind of hard to get behind such a downer of a character.
It gets more interesting as some of the other characters get to be better known. There are some touching moments here.
The art style is most certainly not that of the average manga. Natsume Ono has her own way of doing things. She's a good artist, but the art is rough. Characters look jagged, scratchy and sloppy, as if they're early doodles and not the finished pieces meant to be published. It's an avant-garde way of drawing, but it's hard to get used to, especially if one is a fan of beautifully illustrated graphic novels.
House of Five Leaves is one of those stories that feels as if it's going to build up, but unfortunately its slow pace may have readers leaving it before it has a chance to get anywhere. It has a simple feel at the same time it has an artsy feel, in the sense that it's artsy by doing something different. It doesn't try to be bombastic like so many other books out there. It may not be for everyone, but it does have fans who appreciate the story's pace and the very unique take it has on the manga format.
-- Danica Davidson