A big reason I've enjoyed several of NIS's releases is that the series have usually showcased character-based storytelling over action sequences. There have been a few notable exceptions, but most focused on developing interesting characters rather than people shooting massive lasers from their hands or wielding giant swords with the deft of a knife. House of Five Leaves: Complete Series Premium Edition falls on the character development side of the fence. By the end of the series, the show's cast of characters morph from a random band of thugs to an interesting group of guys with diverse backgrounds and their own unique motivations.
The core of the show revolves around Akitsu, a "Shakiest Sword in the East" type who has the skill buried somewhere in him, but can't seem to get out of his own way. His confidence is shot; he lacks the ability to stand up for himself and avoids conflict like the plague (despite being a master swordsman). After Akitsu's laundry list of problems gets him fired from another job, he ends up taking a job as a bodyguard for Yaichi, the leader of a kidnapping group calling themselves "The Five Leaves."
Akitsu and Yaichi instantly become interested in one another, particularly after the pair is attacked by a group of thugs one night. Akitsu has a hard time believing Yaichi - the closest friend he's had in a long time -- is really a hardened criminal, while Yaichi is interested in knowing what makes the awkward swordsman tick.
While most of the show involves these two characters figuring each other out, it also spends a lot of time slowly introducing new characters into the mix. Several episodes include flashback vignettes of each character's past. These are really cool, but also lend a slower pace to the entire series. On top of that, flashbacks happen with little warning. One minute you're watching a character in action, only to have the entire show shift into the past. Unless you really pay attention, it is very easy to get lost in the series. Recovering from a missed story beat is sometimes difficult.
I did, however, like how relatable characters are. I think a lot of viewers will be able to see at least a part of themselves in Akitsu. If not, everyone will find at least one character that, in some way or another, mirrors his or her own lives. This is what makes the show so satisfying.
The focus on backstories, however, doesn't leave much room for lots of action.
I've amassed a healthy collection of NIS artbooks over the last few years, but have to say the one included with House of Five Leaves is by far the best of the bunch. As with other art books, the House of Five Leaves book includes character profiles and synopses of each episode included in the set. Each section is accompanied by full color stills as well as illustrations of the characters.
Both are interesting, but the conceptual artwork is what makes the books stand out compare to others released by NIS. The book is printed "in reverse" of Western books (meaning, from cover-to-back the binding is on the right side, manga-style), but when reversed and read "normally," you'll see concept sketches for various locations, as well as other behind-the-scenes images like storyboards, paint data shots, key and in-between animation shots and even timing charts. As an animation fan, I pored over the shots and enjoyed checking out the smaller details in each. The anime is enjoyable, but these are a great addition to the set.
House of Five Leaves is, otherwise, bare of any noteworthy extras other than a trailer and clean versions of the opening and ending sequences. Regardless, House of Five Leaves is still a reasonably enjoyable series. Anime fans that want big, over-the-top, boisterous action may be disappointed; fans of low-key, plot-heavy shows with strong characters will want to give it a look.