Friday, August 5, 2016

Review: MAISON IKKOKU's been a while since I've been back here.  Admittedly, I do have what I hope is a reasonable excuse: I got married!

Yes, as of June 25th I am a married woman, and two weeks afterwards we got to spend nearly two weeks having loads of fun on our honeymoon in Japan!  It took a lot of convincing early on, but we ended up going on a guided tour through PacSet Tours.  I'm really glad we did so, in spite of the stifling humidity that blanketed most of our destinations for most of the trip.  We got to see quite a bit of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kanazawa, eat a lot of glorious food, spend a lot of money on video games, art books, and (in his case) a lot of CC Lemon, and enjoy not only our own company but that of our awesome tour group.

Understandably, I was not able to update the site during that time.  Also, it took me until quite recently to get my sleep schedule back to normal and thus able and willing to get back to work.  Jetlag is real, y'all.

Anyway!  As it is now August, that means it's time once more for Old-School Month, and I'm taking this opportunity to get around to a mangaka that I've been avoiding for far too long: Rumiko Takahashi.

MAISON IKKOKU (Mezon Ikkoku), by Rumiko Takahashi.  First published in 1980 and first published in North America in 1992.


Godai is trying his hardest to get into college, despite his numerous failed attempts.  Of course, it doesn't help that his fellow housemates are determined to mock and distract him at every turn or that he tends to get discourage very easily.  Soon enough, Godai finds a new source of inspiration: the lovely new landlord, Kyoko Otonashi.  She's a sweet and beautiful woman, and from first sight Godai is determined to win her heart.  Unfortunately, she's also a recent widow and Godai's going to have to do a lot more than just get into college to make a truly good impression with her.


For a lot of modern manga readers, it's hard to remember a time when Rumiko Takahashi was relevant and popular.  Back in the 1990s, she was one of the biggest name in all of manga.  Many manga readers, both men and women, became fans in part because of her works.  Time has sadly not been kind to her and her fandom.  A lot of her fandom got burnt out thanks to Inuyasha, and the public's taste in shonen romantic comedies shifted to raunchier, more pandering works than her own.  That's honestly kind of a shame because looking back now, Maison Ikkoku has loads of charm and it's easy to see why even today it's considered one of her best works.

It can't be understanded how much it helps that Godai might be the most likeable of her male protagonists.  Sure, he's a little immature and aimless, but he's not a total lech like Ataru or a thoughtless jerk like Ranma or Inuyasha.  You don't have to look too deeply to see that Godai is a decent person who does try to improve himself as a person.  The same can be said for Kyoko.  She's no comical tsundere, but instead a fairly steady person with a lot of lingering sadness over the loss of her husband.  She has thoughts and needs outside of Godai and more often than not the story has just as much fun at her expense as it does with Godai.  By treating them so fairly, Takahashi humanizes them both and it goes a long way towards helping the reader get invested in them as individuals and as a potential couple.

Maison Ikokku is normally held up as a great romance manga, but people forget that it's also quite funny.  There are plenty of jokes and comic misunderstandings, but they are built a lot more on farcical wordplay and Daffy Duck-style misdirection than slapstick and bickering.  That means that the jokes here not only come off as a little more mature than a lot of Takahashi's other works, but have also aged extraordinarily well.  The only downside is that it can come off as a bit mean-spirited at times, but that may just be the influence of Godai's housemates on the story as a whole.  After all, they're all shown to be sort of losers in their own right taking out their frustrations on a convienent target.  There's a housewife, a drunken hostess, and....well, no one ever quite explains what Mr. Yotsuya does other than peep, mooch and drink. 

That being said, the plot can get a little repetitious at times.  Most of the early chapters follow a pretty standard formula: Godai tries to study/make a move on Kyoko, misunderstandings occur, hilarity ensues.  Things do start to make more progress as the volume goes on, though.  Near the end we start to learn more about Kyoko's short-lived marriage when her in-laws show up for a visit.  We also see her feelings for Godai start to evolve from distant pleasantness to a more familiar fondness, which causes her stress because she feels that conflicts with her all-too-fresh grief for her late husband, and that creates some surprisingly serious emotional drama.  Progress between the two is made, but it comes in fits and starts.  Nonetheless, the fact that there is progress at all puts this a notch above many of its genremates.  There's just enough progression and character building to keep things interesting but it's not sacrificing the development of our leads in the name of plot progress alone.  Maison Ikkoku strikes a low-key but fine-tuned balance between humor, romance, and characters that's still charming over 25 years later.


Maison Ikkoku is early enough in Takahashi's career that the artwork hadn't taken on the bland and rounded polish of her later works.  Sure, the cast is drawn in the squat-headed, poofy-haired, short-torsoed style that she has always used, but the edges are little rougher and the expressions are more comic, even zany at times.  Still, she finds plenty of room to linger on Kyoko's pretty face in a way that suggests the manga equivalent of soft focus.  The panels tend to be small, which keeps the focus mostly on the characters instead of the broken-down boarding house around them.  That's a little bit of a shame, as the titular maison does have its least, unless the house's perpetual fixer-upper status is the point of a particular chapter.  Nonetheless, like the story itself the artwork is charming and surprisingly timeless.


Maison Ikkoku remains one of the standouts of Rumiko Takahashi's canon thanks to a fairly well-rounded cast and a tendency towards romantic farce than silly slapstick.  It's a shonen romance that's aged far better than similar works half its age, and it's one that's still well worth seeking out.

This series was licensed by Viz.  The series is complete in Japan with 15 volumes available.  All 15 have been published and are currently out of print.

Seriously Viz, were is the reprint for this series?  I'm happy the rerelease of Ranma 1/2 did well, but omnibuses for this series would be a Day 1 preorder for me and many others like me.  Make this happen.

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