Introduction to Maison IkkokuApr 15th 2002
An Introduction to Maison Ikkoku
by Eri Izawa.
Ever wondered what Takahashi Rumiko would produce minus sentient cherry trees, bizarre magic, martial arts combats, aliens, eternal high school, resurrecting houses, instantly healing broken limbs --- in other words, minus all the weird stuff? What's left would be the story of people. Maison Ikkoku is such a Takahashi production, an adult romance ... with classic Takahashi humor, of course. (For more on her short stories for adults, see here.)
Our story opens in 1980 with Godai, a struggling would-be college student whose current struggle is to get out of his one-room apartment. His fellow apartment dwellers at the Ikkoku apartments aren't quite what you'd call ideal. His next door neighbor, a peeping tom of unknown employment, has claimed a giant hole in the wall, through which he slithers in to steal food, watch Godai, and get drunk. Another neighbor, a local waitress, likes to hang out in Godai's futon, wearing see-through nighties and getting drunk. Another neighbor is a plump mother of a young boy; she loves to dance around and sing in Godai's room while getting drunk. (Do you see a trend?) Only one thing keeps Godai from leaving --- the arrival of a beautiful young landlady, Otonashi ("No Sound") Kyoko (Kyoko being the first name that means something vaguely approximating "noise child" or "ring" (as in sound)). Godai naturally falls instantly in love with her.
Godai's confidence is significantly dampened when he starts suspecting Kyoko is in love with her dog, Souichiro ("So-ichi-roe") --- and then discovers that the dog is actually named after her deceased husband. Kyoko, it turns out, is a young widow who fears deeply that to love another would be to forget her love for her husband.
Of course things don't stay even that simple....
Kyoko takes up tennis lessons, in the process meeting a handsome, wealthy tennis coach (with sparkling teeth) named Mitaka, who promptly falls in love with her. Our hero Godai himself gains a girlfriend (Kozue) he goes out with, though he's not (very) interested in her romantically. (Kyoko, of course, doesn't see his relationship that way....)
Godai also develops a bad habit of fantasizing about Kyoko and walking into telephone poles.
Kyoko first finds out that Godai loves her when he shouts it out to the world while plastered one night, and is secretly touched. Godai unfortunately can't remember what he did while drunk. The drunkard mother unhelpfully and untruthfully tells him he danced around naked while insisting Kyoko look at him. Later, when Kyoko asks Godai if he was serious, he denies it and insists it was a joke. Of course, Godai is then confused by Kyoko's hurt rage. However, Godai later corrects himself in a challenge to the tennis coach Mitaka, and a many-year long rivalry is born.
Unfortunately for Godai and Kyoko, Godai is a man with no spine and no money. He barely makes it into college, he barely finds employment, he can barely pay rent, he walks into telephone poles, he can never kick unruly fellow-tenants out of his room, he's nearly seduced by other women several times, and, of course, he can't break up with Kozue. Kozue even takes Godai to her parent's house for dinner (many times), and still Godai can't quite ever say no.
Unfortunately, Kyoko frequently lacks spine, too, and can never quite say no or be true to her own feelings, and so the tennis coach Mitaka feels free to wine and dine her persistently.
Several years pass (the manga seems to have kept pace with real world time). Various adventures and mis-adventures befall the characters. Godai, while a teaching assistant at Kyoko's old high school, becomes the love interest of a girl there -- a funny coincidence, given that Kyoko herself had fallen in love with a teacher at that high school, and had later married him. Godai at the same time is trying and failing to find a corporate job -- and the high school girl's father just happens to be a corporate VIP. Various events later, Godai finally realizes that he's much better off becoming a daycare worker.
Did we mention that the tennis coach had a strong phobia of dogs? (Kyoko could never figure out why he would always seem a little ill while her dog Souichiro was arond.) In one scene, Mitaka is very close to kissing Kyoko. They're standing beside his car by a windy shore, a romantic view of the ocean spread before them, the radio playing music.... Just as he leans over to kiss her, the radio DJ brings up an "unusual song" ... a song made up of dog barks. Needless to say, the kiss never happens.
For years, then, life remains pretty stable: Godai and Kyoko get along so well that Kyoko makes his lunches for him, then misunderstandings arise between them (classic Takahashi "situations"), and then Kyoko snubs Godai in long, cold fits of jealous rage until he can prove his steadfast loyalty. And, of course, the wild drunken parties continue to happen in Godai's room, because he just doesn't have the power to tell them to go away. Godai still manages to occasionally walk into telephone poles, but he gradually grows a spine.
Anyway, all good things must come to an end; all (ok, most) comic-book heroes must eventually find their spine, and all manga series must eventually end. Overall, I enjoyed this great series. It's classic good (romance) manga, with Takahashi showing off her more serious side while proving her prowess on the field of romance.
Copyright Eri Izawa, 1995, 2002, reprinted with permission.
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