On the surface House of Five Leaves and Biomega don’t seem to have much in common aside from both of them being published by Viz’s Signature imprint. But both titles rely on distinctive art to create stories that rely more on mood than plot. While House of Five Leaves continues to explore a samurai falling further into a den of thieves in a meandering slice of life style, Biomega’s dystopic world grows even more stylized but still features plenty of decapitations.
House of Five Leaves Volume 2
Hapless samurai grows even more hapless when he’s stricken by illness and starts to lose sensation in his legs. He isn’t adjusting well to living in a brothel with the charismatic House of Five Leaves gang leader Yaichi either. Masa goes to live with Goinkyo in an attempt to recover and begins to learn more about the origins of the group of people he seems to have fallen in with. Very much like Natsume Ono’s series, revelations are made through people talking to each other, sitting in the same room watching the day go by, or sharing a meal. Masa still seems to retain a measure of dangerous naivete as he thinks of his new friends as kind. Goinkyo warns him that his new acquaintances are all criminals and Masa says “those whom you do wish to involve yourself with…those friends and companions with whom you wish to share feelings and experiences…I believe they just are as precious as family.” I’m not sure if the House of Five Leaves feels as deeply towards Masa as he feels towards them.
Even while absolutely debilitated, Masa still attempts to defend Goinkyo when a gang member from his past shows up to his house. But when Masa is feeling better and accidentally bumps into a local tough guy, he starts shaking and runs from battle. Masa’s skill is overpowered by his anxiety, and his weakness makes him an interesting character when thrown into the criminal underworld. Masa encounters a possible mentor, but I think it’ll be a long time before he’s able to summon up the confidence within himself that he admires in Yaichi so much. I think I enjoy this series a little more than Ono’s restaurant centric books like Gente and Ristorante Paradiso, because I enjoy the contrast between Ono’s modern art style and the historic setting. I have more patience for most of the story being expressed through the characters just talking to each other, because the backgrounds and period details like the type of malnutrition that Masa is suffering are a little more interesting to me than her more modern works.
Biomega Volume 5
It wouldn’t be another volume of Biomega without some striking visuals and absolutely insane moments. The visual aspect of this volume that blew me away was the new setting of the cord world. With the organic tendrils and insect-like carapaces covering everything, the background illustrations looked like Nihei’s take on Miyazaki’s ruined world in Nausicaa. The crazy moment came when a disembodied womb gave birth to a tiny doll-like girl named Funipero, who is the heir of evil matriarch Niarudi. So action hero Zoichi is now wandering around yet another alien landscape accompanied by two tiny females his artificial intelligence avatar Fuyu and scarily intelligent Funipero, who seems to be eating a lot and exhibiting strange powers. I always put down Biomega feeling simultaneously bewildered and transported. I might not always understand what’s going on, but it is always interesting to visit the strange world that Nihei creates. There’s probably only one slot in my reading list for “post-apocalyptic insane yet strangely beautiful seinen manga”, but Biomega fills that spot very well.
Review copy provided by the publisher