DRAWN & QUARTERED
‘Maison Ikkoku’ can sell a person on manga for life
To truly understand the impact of "Maison Ikkoku" on this columnist's life, one would have to go back to 1998.
A series of articles by anime contributors Jason Yadao and Wilma Jandoc spotlighting the work of Rumiko Takahashi, runs in "Drawn & Quartered" the second Sunday of each month:
This month: "Maison Ikkoku"
Next month: "Fire Tripper" and "Laughing Target"
February: "One-Pound Gospel"
March: "Rumiko Takahashi Anthology"
A group of friends who worked at the university newspaper, including yours truly, were e-mailing one another about hobbies and other assorted obsessions. During this conversation, one person mentioned that she went on the Web to buy, as she called them, "English translations of Japanese comics." Further questioning yielded two titles as her favorites, "Maison Ikkoku" being one of them.
Now understand, "Maison Ikkoku" usually is not the first Rumiko Takahashi work that gets people interested in the author or manga in general. In those days, the author's most famous work was "Ranma 1/2," her classic tale of a guy who falls into a cursed spring and gains the ability to switch genders based on whether hot or cold water is spilled on him.
Yet there was something about the way my friend described "Maison Ikkoku" -- "kind of soap-operaish, about this college student who falls in love with his apartment manager ... it's pretty funny" -- that piqued my curiosity a bit. A romantic comedy with soap opera qualities, from the land of "Sailor Moon" and "Crayon Shinchan"? Worth a shot, I figured.
Thanks to that fateful decision, I now have several bookshelves crammed full of manga collected since then, from "A.I. Love You" to "Zodiac P.I." "Maison Ikkoku" is just as charming -- a series that serves as a perfect entry point for people who want to know just what this whole manga thing is about and a must-have classic for manga fans.
One of the reasons for its general appeal is its relative brevity when compared with Takahashi's other long-term works. The story was serialized in Big Comic Spirits magazine in Japan from November 1980 to March 1987, spanning 162 chapters. By comparison, "Urusei Yatsura" had 366 chapters, "Ranma 1/2" had 402 and "Inu-Yasha" is at 437 (as of Wednesday) and rising.
THE "Maison Ikkoku" of the title is a run-down, two-story apartment complex where a rather eclectic cast of characters lives. Central among them is Yusaku Godai, a college student struggling to pass his exams and make a living. His task is made all the more difficult by his neighbors, who include:
» Akemi, a bar hostess who has a tendency to wander the halls in see-through nightgowns regardless of the time of day.
» Mr. Yotsuya, a voyeuristic enigma who pops up in the oddest places -- usually in one of the holes in the walls or floor of Yusaku's apartment -- and at the most inopportune times.
» Mrs. Ichinose, the gossiping housewife who sees every occasion as a reason to party (usually by taking over Yusaku's apartment), and her young son, Kentaro, who's pretty embarrassed about it all.
Anyone would be driven crazy with neighbors like these, and Yusaku is actually on his way to tell the manager that he will be leaving for good when a young, rather attractive woman opens the door to the building ... and his heart.
This woman, Kyoko Otonashi, is the building's new manager. As she explains to the tenants, the previous manager told her, "I'm tired," and promptly moved back to his home in the country.
Yusaku stays, of course. And thus begins another tale in the time-honored tradition of "boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy must overcome many obstacles to get girl."
And boy, are the obstacles that Takahashi throws into the mix doozies. The neighbors are all nosy, have a tendency to butt in every time there's an inkling of a possible spark between Yusaku and Kyoko, and can transform the most innocuous situations into full-blown arguments. Yusaku is also the typical male wuss who gets too nervous whenever an opportunity presents itself for him to confess his feelings for her.
BUT PERHAPS the most complex obstacle for Kyoko to overcome is the memory of her late husband. He was a substitute teacher at the high school she attended whom she loved and eventually married, but he died just six months after they married. (The cause of his death is never revealed to readers.) Her dog, Soichiro, is named after him, and she still commutes regularly to visit his grave site. Her parents and her in-laws would love for her to move on with her life, but she can't quite bring herself to let go.
Then there are the other potential suitors. For Yusaku there is Kozue Nanao, a woman he was dating before Kyoko came into his life. For Kyoko it's her tennis coach, Shun Mitaka, who complicates matters.
Sure, it's clear to readers from the first frames of the story that Yusaku and Kyoko are meant for each other. The fun of this series is in getting to that point.
Collecting an entire run of the series can be a bit tricky in the United States; Viz released 14 volumes in the United States in an older, larger format before going back in 2003 to re-release the entire series in the smaller, more common manga volume size seen today. The second edition is the more preferred in this case, as it restores a handful of chapters that were skipped in the first run.
And then there's the matter of the TV anime series, also published by Viz on DVD. While two box sets containing the first 36 episodes were released through normal retail channels, subsequent sets with the remaining 60 episodes were sold only via Viz's online store and at Internet retailer Right Stuf International.