Saraiya Goyou – House of Five Leaves: Final Thoughts

July 2, 2010

Otake, for almost the very last time.

I’m not going to comment directly on the final episode of House of Five Leaves. Instead my intention here is to provide my reaction to the series as a whole (hint: 🙂 ), and talk about the bigger themes (what does it all mean?). My intention is to remain as spoiler-free as possible.

At times the show was visually stunning.

House of Five Leaves was easily my favorite show, not only of the season, but of 2010 so far. The artwork was excellent, if unusual. In fact its unique sense of proportion and color palette gave the show a sense of elegance that the saturated colors and traditional proportions of most recent anime cannot achieve. The music was also interesting, and supported the show well. I really enjoy these shorter series when they feel like they have accomplished something. House of Five Leaves managed to create a rich atmosphere, develop some engaging characters, and tell a satisfying story. It did an excellent job living up to the expectations of the Noitamina block, and I look forward to an announcement about a DVD release from Funimation.

Otake (and cat) in lamplight.

One indicator of the quality of this show is that, instead of reveling in the the euphoric buzz of the conclusion, or feeling a pang of emptiness now that it is over, my thoughts turn to the question of what it was all about. To me, House of Five Leaves felt like it was about something, not just a vehicle for entertainment. I said before that House of Five Leaves is a study in darkness, in fact I wrote about this in the context of episode 3, The darkness operates on three levels: physical, social, and psychological.

Sources of light are very physical and localized.

The physical darkness is the simple absence of light. William Manchester wrote a book about the European pre-Modern period called A World Lit only by Fire; in House of Five Leaves we see what such a world looks like. Night scenes, of course, are pitch black, and lanterns and candles barely have the power to to illuminate the nearest surfaces, but even days are dark inside, where where only indirect light depicts a gloomy scene.

Masanosuke Akitsu and cat

Masa is finding out that it isn't easy to earn a living while holding fast to one's ethical standards.

The social world is just as dark. From home to city street, social relations are undependable. Parents show contempt for the lives of children. Business men rely openly on hired swords; they horde food to drive up prices and steal from their competitor. Honest work is difficult to find. Extortion is common. Simply walking down the street can lead to a fight. Even the social group at the heart of this show is shown as fragile and susceptible to shattering at any time.

In the end it’s the darkness within individuals, especially the darkness we impose on ourselves, that seems to drive this story. Several of the main characters are wracked by guilt. None of the main characters is without problems of some sort. But, however prevalent, this darkness is not an unalterable fact. This darkness is just as subject to banishment as physical darkness is subject to the power of the candle.

I found the potential for change in the characters compelling. Not only do we get a glimpse into the psychological wounds they are nursing, we also see several of them struggling against that inner darkness. Yaichi says at one point that he wants each day to be better than the past; even this optimism quietly acknowledges the darkness that engulfs yesterday. In the end, House of Five Leaves reminds us of the nobility of lighting a single candle and walking bravely forward into the night.

4 Responses to “Saraiya Goyou – House of Five Leaves: Final Thoughts”

  1. Chapbook Says:

    Very nice commentary. You made me wonder wonder if spiritual darkness is also encountered, or perhaps I am reading too much into “Saint” Soji’s title? Mmm. I might have to re-watch the show and get my hands on the manga before I could accept or reject that possibility.

    If I could have my way there would be at least a 13th episode, perhaps to flesh out Otake more and/or perhaps to allow Yaichi’s healing to progress a bit more slowly? Still I really enjoyed the quietness of much of the final episode, that heroic excess was avoided (tho’ the temptation to see Masa in action remains).


    Chapbook (first comment on your site)

    • Joojoobees Says:

      I don’t think you are reading too much, because I thought about that some myself. Although I think he might be a saint in a Buddhist sense.

      They did a great job considering they had to work within 12 episodes, but I agree that more on Otake would be nice. Psgels says there is still half the manga that didn’t get adapted.

  2. Labingi Says:

    Thank you for this very insightful commentary. You have given me a lot to think about and helped to illuminate why I love this anime so much.

  3. saltyavocado Says:

    Thanks for your observations on this show. I appreciated the intelligent comments and am glad to see that others like this show just as much as I do 🙂

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