Review: Saraiya Goyou

House of Five Leaves

Mimi: Saraiya Goyou is about a gang called “Five Leaves” during the Edo period in Japan. There is very little action, the artwork is nontraditional, and the story moves at a snail’s pace. So why should anyone pay attention to this? Actually, I’d say that those points work to Saraiya Goyou’s advantage, resulting in a well-written, mature story.

The members of Five Leaves make their money through undercover jobs such as kidnapping, but they are not the usual rough and tough gangsters. Most of them appear to be friendly, thoughtful people who spend their time lounging around in a relaxed environment, discussing personal issues until their next job. The gang includes a charismatic leader, a shy swordsman, a shop owner, a metallic ornament craftsman, and a woman. Their varied personalities make them an unlikely group to hang out, but they manage to work together on behalf of Five Leaves.

This series is completely character-driven and wastes no time in exploring the member’s personal backgrounds, revealing each of their motives for joining the gang in the first place. Perhaps the most intriguing member of Five Leaves is the leader himself, Yaichi. He is admired for his calm demeanor, yet he is perceived as mysterious because he seems to hide a lot of information about himself. The show delves into how the other members feel about Yaichi, particularly the shy swordsman who is new to the group.

The scenes move slowly and quietly as you watch the characters contemplate about things, plan their missions, and embark on a few short travels. You won’t see a lot of sword fighting or other eventful action here. Even when the members carry out a job, it is more about information gathering and sneaking around places rather than fighting. That is not to say that the show never has its intense moments though; it masterfully weaves in tension and drama just at the right times.The characters are so down-to-earth and believable that the pleasure of this series comes from observing their close interactions, facial expressions, dialogue, and the subtle changes in their personalities. If you don’t particularly enjoy concentrating on such details, this series might be perceived as a bit dull.

I know a few people who thought that Saraiya Goyou was quite interesting, but they couldn’t continue watching it because they were distracted by the character designs. -cough-ALEX-cough- They’re distinguished by having dark, gloomy eyes, pointy noses, and low, wide mouths. Some people just say “frog faces.” Even though they are a little odd, I find the designs to be personally fitting in the context of this series. I’ve also known them to grow on viewers who have given them a chance.The amount of detail in the animation is very impressive. For example, I appreciate how well they animated the momentum of water in a cup while it was being swayed or tilted, the breeze effect on a lighted candle after a door was just closed, and the fluid movement of the characters. The artwork is finely detailed as well and really captures the look and feel of the Edo period.

There always seems to be a dark cloud looming over the characters. Their minds are heavy with thoughts of their pasts and current responsibilities. Some viewers say that the show is merely all about “gloomy people,” and they are right to a certain degree. The characters aren’t that upbeat, but despite that, the atmosphere doesn’t feel depressing all of the time. I found that there’s also a lighter air of relaxation and occasional amusement which adds to the enjoyment of watching.

Without a doubt, Saraiya Goyou is a must-see. Rather than relying on action to tell its story, the show excels in rich characterization, detailed animation, sound, subtleness, and realism. Saraiya Goyou is an example of maturity in anime at its best.

Mimi’s Score: 9 Meeps out of 10 (Great)

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