Sunday, June 6, 2010

House of Five Leaves 4-7

The first three episodes of House of Five Leaves has Masanosuke acquainting himself with the less than savory life of his new friends. He's not doing so well as he waffles between two world views. On the one hand, his samurai honor and self-righteousness keep him from getting in too deep with Yaichi's gang, whom he suspects to be, if not cutthroat, then hardened criminals. On the other, he needs the money, and the gang members don't treat him too bad either. In the end, Masanosuke doesn't make a conscious decision to join the gang but ends up being absorbed by the group anyway.
With Masanosuke's membership in the gang pretty much set, the series next puts its focus on the backgrounds for each character. As expected, all the members of the House of Five Leaves have checkered pasts. The tavern owner, Ume, used to be a member of a band of thieves, led by the strongman Demon Spider and his charismatic partner, Saint Soji (the mysterious Elder whom Masanosuke meets on one of his trips with Ume to the countryside). But Ume was not fit for that kind of lifestyle and, recognizing this, Saint Soji allowed him to leave their group without consequence. Ume's fellow gang member, Senkichi, did not fair so well and Ume's sense of responsibility for this has him choosing to remain with the House of Five Leaves in order to financially help his former comrade. Later, Ume's past comes back to bite him in the form of Denshichi, another member of his former gang, who extorts money from Senkichi and even tries to go after the retired Saint Soji. Masanosuke proves a loyal friend, despite the fact that he is recuperating from Edo Disease, and protects both Saint Soji and Otake from the murderous outlaw.
The other character on whose background the series decides to shed light is the silent and elusive, Matsu, full name Matsukichi. He's not a former spy, as I fancied, but a former lone thief. Unlike Ume, who doesn't seem to trust Yaichi, Matsu is extremely loyal and faithful to the leader of the House of Five Leaves. The reason is revealed in a flashback of his past. It turns out that Yaichi literally saved his life when the authorities were alerted to his criminal activities and pursued a wounded Matsu all over the city. Since then, Matsu has worked for Yaichi, doing all his biddings without question. The perceived rivalry between him and Ume can be explained by the fact that one is a lone thief and the other is a member of a band of robbers; they inherently distrust each other.
Interspersed with Matsu and Ume's story are details of Yaichi's past, based on his own accounts and other people's accounts, which may or may not be true. Out of all people, Otake and Saint Soji are the only two who seem to know some truth to Yaichi's real identity. From Otake, we learn that she knows more about Yaichi than she lets on and that somehow the name "House of Five Leaves" is intimately connected to its leader. From Saint Soji, we learn something more solid: Yaichi used to be a follower of Kuhei, the leader of a band of robbers. Connect this to the flashback of young Seinoshin taken hostage by a gang of criminals and all evidence seem to point that Yaichi must be that boy Seinoshin and the kidnappers' leader must be the famed Kuhei. Somewhere along the way, Seinoshin must have joined Kuhei's gang and became the present Yaichi.
Aside from the obvious members of the House of Five Leaves, the other interesting character in the series has been introduced early on in the show though his presence was not immediately felt until Episode 7. He is Yagi, a son of a hatamoto who may or may not have an agenda against Masanosuke and his new friends. The interesting thing about it is that Yagi seems genuinely fascinated by Masanosuke, or his personality rather, a reaction that is also mirrored by Yaichi, although I suspect for entirely different reasons.

With all these players firmly in place, I wonder where this series is heading and how the story of Yaichi's past eventually unravels.