House of Five Leaves (さらい屋五葉) by Natsume Ono
House of Five Leaves introduced me to the incredibly talented Natsume Ono. In this quiet and dark tale, she weaves together a character-driven story of family and morality with an unlikely group, a gang of kidnappers, during the Edo period.
Masa is a talented swordsman, but awkward and shy, who can’t keep a job despite his best efforts. One day, Masa meets the charismatic criminal Yaichi and before Masa knows it he is swept up in a kidnapping plot and the lives of the other members of the gang.
Masa’s dilemma and change over the course of the story has an odd air to it because his growth you want to applaud and yet the undercurrent is so dark. The story really began to weigh on me as Yaichi’s past slowly unfolds and things go from bad to worse for the Five Leaves. The characters all possessed such a pull on my heart and mind that when it came to its final conclusion I was emotionally exhausted.
Natsume Ono’s art style is always a treat, but with House of Fives Leaves it is particularly special. The brush work (reminiscent of calligraphy) combined with the flatness of her designs and shadows (reminiscent of woodblock prints) click perfectly with the time period. It actually seeps you even deeper into the setting.
Natsume Ono transforms a story starring a kidnapping ring into a compelling character drama that whispers suspense.