Rumiko Takahashi is a hugely successful and influential manga creator who’s penned numerous beloved, smash-hit series, such as: Ususei Yatsura, Ranma ½ and Inuyasha. Maison Ikkoku is an example of one of her earlier works (originally published from 1980-1987) and this seminal manga has been adapted into an anime, several OVA’s and multiple live-action versions. Despite it’s popularity, I somehow missed out on this series and never read it, but Viz’s new Collector’s Editions has given me the perfect opportunity to change that.
Godai failed the college entrance exams while he was in high school and has spent the past year studying to retake the exams. Or, he’s been trying to, but the other residents of the boarding house where he lives are all eccentric busy-bodies who fill his days with a never-ending string of distractions. This, coupled with his weak will and lack of focus, mean that his chances of passing any of the fast approaching exams are looking grim; so much so, that he’s considering moving out of the building and finding some place quieter to live. Then Kyoko Otonashi, a young widow, moves in as the new building manager and Godai is instantly smitten. She’s poised, beautiful and competent, the woman of his dreams! But what could an immature kid like Godai have to offer a woman like that? Can Godai get his act together enough to woo Kyoko? Or is Kyoko still too dedicated to the memory of her late husband to even give him a chance?
How to describe a series like Maison Ikkoku?
Is it a Comedic Masterpiece?
Yes and No.
There’s a comfortable familiarity to Rumiko Takahashi’s brand of humor for me. Godai’s over the top reactions and Kyoko’s deadpan responses reminded me a lot of Inuyasha and Kagome and the types of humorous misunderstandings that stymied any progress in the would-be love-affair between Godai and Kyoko is also very similar to how the romance played out in Ranma ½ and Inuyasha. I was flooded with feelings of nostalgia as I flipped through the pages, even though this is my first time reading this series.
Even if you’re new to Rumiko Takahashi’s works, I think there’s a lot to enjoy in this manga. The humor employed in Maison Ikkoku centers around the absurd behaviors of the other building residents, as much as it does on Godai’s flailing attempts at appearing desirable. There’s the waitress who’s also something of an exhibitionist and walks around the building in skimpy negligée, the middle-aged creep whose job is a mystery, the nosy housewife whose husband we never see and her precocious son. Their wacky antics, as they alternately try to help and hinder the progress of Godai and Kyoko’s relationship, is consistently amusing. They’re so wrapped up in other peoples lives, it’s a wonder that any of them have time to get any work done!
That said, not all of the humor has aged well, and some of it can even be a bit upsetting. For starters, Godai’s middle-aged neighbour has created a peep-hole in Godai’s closet so that he can spy on one of the female residents of the building and, while Kyoko fixes the hole, there isn’t much done to address the actual behaviour besides a few disapproving looks and a bit of finger-wagging. There’s also the ubiquitous scene where Kyoko trips and someone accidently grabs her boob while catching her and other such fan-servicey moments that we’re supposed to find funny and/or titillating. Similar scenarios aren’t exactly uncommon in modern romance manga targeted at adult audiences, so I imagine that not everyone will be bothered by them, but I found them to be annoying or, in the case of one scene where Godai gets drunk and carries a struggling and protesting Kyoko up to his bedroom while all of the neighbours watch and do nothing, unsettling. Godai passes out as soon as they reach his room, so thankfully nothing happens, but the incident is treated like it’s no big deal and it’s disconcerting to see the topic of sexual assault treated so cavalierly in a story like this.
Is it a Romance for the Ages?
Kyoko feels like an iconic leading lady. She’s gorgeous, mature, caring and she has a good sense of humor. I can see why a generation of men and women alike fell in love with her and it’s completely believable to me that Godai would become so quickly and completely enamored with her. She’s all that and a bag of chips!
The problem with the romance part of this romantic comedy is our leading man.
And I don’t mean that he sucks in the standard way that male-leads in romantic comedy manga/anime frequently suck. The problem isn’t that he has no real personality, so that the, presumably, male audience can project themselves onto him, the problem is that his personality is terrible.
Godai is unreliable, whiny and a horndog. He frequently gives up or runs away from his problems and will blame others for distracting him from what he should be doing, instead of taking responsibility for his own choices. People, usually Kyoko, will make comments about him being a good guy, but we never see any evidence of this in the text. Whenever Godai does something helpful, it’s always with the ulterior motive of impressing Kyoko or to have an excuse to spend time with her. He’s… whatever the opposite of a bag of chips is… a half-empty, luke-warm can of pop that’s gone flat and tastes kind of off. Yeah, that sounds about right.
While I completely buy Godai’s attraction to Kyoko, there’s no compelling reason why she would be interested in him and, so far, what interest she has shown seems more like motherly or sisterly concern then anything else. Of course, all of the neighbours act like this is a clear indication that she has the hots for Godai and won’t let it go. It ends up coming off like their constant teasing is indoctrinating her into believing that she has feelings for him, not like she’s genuinely falling in love with him. Hopefully Godai will start to grow-up as the series progresses and a relationship between him and Kyoko will begin to seem more feasible. Right now, I think she’d be better off with sexy tennis instructor who’s Godai’s main rival for her affections.
Is it an Endearing Classic?
For all it’s faults I enjoyed reading Maison Ikkoku. Maybe it’s the nostalgia factor, maybe it’s the colourful cast of side characters or the light-hearted story-telling that never lets a dramatic moment or melancholy mood linger for long before serving up a joke.
Whatever the case, I found this to be a fun read and I plan to continue collecting it. I’d recommend that fans of Rumiko Takahashi’s other series check this out and it’s also a decent place to start for those unfamiliar with her other manga, but who are curious about her work. At 15 volumes, it’s one of her shorter series and these Collectors Editions are lovely.
Final Score: 7 out of 10.
For more information on this series, visit Viz Media’s website.
What did you think of this manga? Which of Rumiko Takahashi’s series is your favourite (Mine’s Inuyasha)? Let me know in the comments!