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For the past couple of years, birthday present money from my parents has gone toward funding some sort of life necessity. This year, however, that wasn't the case and I actually got a couple of birthday presents in the form of manga, Blade of the Immortal vol. 26 and House of Five Leaves vol. 8.

They're a marvelous contrast to each other: the back cover of House of Five Leaves features a fat cat; the front page of Blade of the Immortal features a starving dog, and that sums up the difference really. Here are my quick impressions:

Blade of the Immortal 26
Series summary: a young woman, Rin, seeks revenge on the group of swordsmen who killed her parents in 18th-century Japan. To that end, she hires a bodyguard, Manji, who is has been infected by mysterious "worms" that make him nigh impossible to kill.

This is one of those volumes that is mostly an extended battle scene, but it's a reasonably interesting one and the end segment brings to a head an important moral plot thread that has been winding along since the early volumes. Overall, it's a good volume but lacks the plot and character development of the best.

Spoilers follow )

House of Five Leaves 8
Series summary: A timid samurai, Masanosuke, gets taken in as a member of a gang of kidnappers, led by Yaichi, and discovers he quite likes them (in 18th-century Japan).

This is the final volume of House of Five Leaves, and I must confess it's the only one I've read, the rest of my knowledge deriving from the anime. However, I wanted to see how the manga ended, and I was not disappointed. Though different from the anime's ending, this conclusion feels thematically and emotionally similar. It's a happy ending--very happy really, but understated and earned enough to make me root for the characters and their continued well being.

Spoilers follow )
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I was going to write a review of House of Five Leaves now that the anime has concluded, but I find that this review sums it up better than I ever could.

This is truly spectacular anime that is likely to fall under many people's radar because it is comparatively short at 12 episodes, very contemplative, and unconventional in its art. It is definitely one to see more than once. I rewatched the first couple of episodes recently and understood reams more than I did the first time around.

There are many ways to express what makes HoFL so unuusal, but perhaps none as iconic as Masa. This is a "samurai" anime in which the samurai almost never fights and only draws his sword a couple of times. His power lies not in being a warrior but in being a friend.

Go watch it. It's on Hulu.
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Now that we are within a couple of episodes of the end of House of Fives Leaves, airing on Hulu (subbed not dubbed, thank God), I feel I can make some preliminary comments. This will be non-spoilery to the best of my ability.

In brief, this anime is about a samurai, Masa, who keeps getting laid off by various employers for having a conflict-avoidant personality. He gets hired as a bodyguard by a group of kidnappers, the House of Five Leaves, and must deal with his own uncertainty about becoming a criminal and his desire to learn more about the people he's working with. The story unpeels the life histories of the various kidnappers, most notably their leader, Yaichi, who is an enthralling mystery to Masa from the start.

It's a very good anime! Even if the end proves weak, I can say now that it has been a good ride. Personally, I found some of the side stories and tertiary characters rather boring and a waste of story time, which was probably exacerbated by only seeing 25 minutes per week. But I know others really enjoyed these stories. And the central few character stories are riveting.

This is perhaps the slashiest anime I have ever seen, in the old-school sense of the word. It is not BL; it just has an incredible chemistry between its leads, who are clearly emotionally impacted by each other. Not infrequently it has "subtext" (as they used to say) such as Yaichi showing a bit of knee whilst chatting with Masa or certain lingering looks. I find the story very fun and rather refreshing on this level, probably for much the reason that fangirls got into slash in the '70s and '80s. The rejection of overt romantic text in favor of a subtle kind of UST and natural chemistry between characters or actors allows relationships that are not stereotyped or overdetermined. It lets personalities mesh the way they naturally want to. I'm enjoying it. And yes, I do want them to have sex (but I accept they probably won't).
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Simultaneously reading Blade of the Immortal and watching House of Five Leaves has prompted me to write one of the shortest crossovers in history. Here 'tis. (I disclaim everything.) Essentially no spoilers but behind a cut just in case. Rated G.

A Very Frightening Encounter )


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