Yusaku Godai is done with his fellow residents at their boarding house. Between voyeur and expert instigator Yotsuya, rarely clothed hostess, Akemi, and gossip queen, Mrs. Ichinose (and her rambunctious son), Godai can’t the find the quiet he needs to study for his second go at college entrance exams. And just as he’s about to move out, the biggest distraction of all moves in: the new manager of the Maison Ikkoku, Kyoko Otanashi. She’s beautiful, kind, and responsible—Godai’s dream girl. Well…maybe this ronin won’t move out after all.
Originally published beginning in 1980, Maison Ikkoku, the classic romantic comedy by famed mangaka, Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2, Urusei Yatsura), is receiving a new treatment by Viz through its Signature series. This collector’s edition (the first of presumably ten) is a hefty volume, featuring 16 chapters. The length means that readers get more than a simple introduction in volume one. Godai’s character is well established, as is Kyoko’s, and her background is revealed. The would-be couple have enough interaction in these chapters to develop a strong rapport. In fact, by the end of the volume, sparks have begun to develop, and they even have their first lovers-but-not-lovers quarrel.
And it’s in that final regard where Maison Ikkoku excels, inside that weird space where it’s less about a surface-level “Does so-and-so like me? Do I like so-and-so?” and more about deeper concerns that prevent the two from properly establishing a relationship. Godai is no longer a high school student, and Kyoko is several years older than that, having lived a life already punctuated by major and even tragic life experiences. Though young in a worldly sense, the two are old by manga standards (especially today’s); it would be strange for the series to feature a naive tone that marks so many romantic comedies. Instead, Takahashi strikes a lovely balance between between silliness and misunderstandings that make you put your palm to your forehead and real barriers that are suitable for a story about adults. Without spoiling the volume, the reveal about Kyoko is the most significant of these obstacles; it’s also a brilliant move, because it pushes the character of Godai, who otherwise is still so immature that he comes across as not deserving Kyoko’s affection, a way to grow into that role.
But the touches of melancholy and moments of maturity are perfectly countered with humor in volume one. The four (five, as Godai later discovers) other residents of the boarding home primarily function to keep the comedy moving along, and they all do so in distinct ways. Yotsuya is maybe most immediately hilarious, but Mrs. Ichinose grew on me throughout the volume, which also was the case when I watched the anime long ago. Her son is sometimes in full on “brat” mode, but also receives a nice, sweet chapter in this volume, which is reflective of the piece as a whole: Maison Ikkoku is often ridiculously funny, but never cruel; amid the sex gags and abundance of misunderstandings (often via the love rivals, one of which already plays a major role in this volume), there is always an underlying sweetness that’s present.
The love that Takahashi has for her characters, and the loveability that she imbues in them, is what makes Maison Ikkoku a manga that translates across generations. These collector’s editions may be published with thirty and forty-somethings in mind, but the potential is there to appeal to younger readers who, while having an array of emerging shoujo classics before them, are also being fed lesser works that have achieved unreasonably high levels of popularity. I hope that at least based on the enduring popularity of InuYasha, many of these manga fans will check this series out, though they should be warned—after trying Maison Ikkoku, they may start down a rabbit hole of older classics and may not see the light of day again for a long, long time.