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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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11/29/2006 Archived Entry: "Anime review: Maison Ikkoku Vol. 5 Review"

Maison Ikkoku, volume 5
DVD Collector’s Box Set
By Rumiko Takahashi
Originally released by Kitty Films 1986
English Language version produced by VIZ 2005

Review by Kelly S. Taylor

You don’t have to be a Rumiko Takahashi fanatic to enjoy this series, but it helps. If you loved Urusei Yatsura, Ramna ½ and Inuyasha for the fantasy elements and martial arts and hoped to find more here, then you will be sadly disappointed. However, if you enjoyed the above for the humor and romance, then Maison has a chance.

Maison Ikkoku was Rumiko Takahashi’s first commercial success. The series is firmly located in a genre of anime that doesn’t exist in U.S. comic art – the romantic comedy. (The reason for this gap in the literary vocabulary of our native art is a complex topic that deserves scholarly investigation. However, for the moment, suffice it to say that it involves the fear of girl cooties.) As the back cover of this boxed set proclaims, Maison Ikkoku is “a story which takes place in Japan. It is a love story. It is a story about life.”

In what has become a Takahashi’s trademark, there is a romantic triangle at the heart of this comedy. Godai is a recent high school graduate who is having problems getting into college. He comes to live at a rooming house run by Kyoko, an attractive young widow. He falls in love with her, but finds a handsome tennis coach named Mitaka is courting her. Kyoko has feelings for both suitors but is still grieving for her husband.

For me, a large part of Takahashi’s absolute genius lies in how long she’s able to maintain the dramatic tension of a romantic triangle like this one. Part of her success lies in the internal ambiguity of her characters. A classic Takahashi character is truly a creature of mixed emotions that prevent him or her from committing themselves despite the depths of their feeling. Another element that helps maintain interest is the balance of her cast. Godai/Kyoko/Mitaka is a triangle that works because you can see the relationship working out well (and/or badly) either way. Although Coach Mitaka is not the favored partner, Takahashi keeps him interesting and sympathetic enough to serve as a real and viable alternative to Godai, who (like all Takahashi men) has his problems.

The icing on the cake is Takahashi’s understated brilliance at creating a perfect, unexpected, romantic moment. Although few and far between, these little jewel-like instances of affection and understanding keep you invested in the torturously unresolved relationships she concocts. Just at the moment when you think, “Oh, they’re never going to get together” Takahashi tosses in a sweet, surprisingly romantic scene that sucks you back in for another twenty episodes.

And, of course, when all else fails, she just makes up more characters. Maison Ikkoku (the boarding house) is filled to the brim with an assortment of odd characters. True to Takahashi’s love of punning, each of these has a name that connects him or her to his room number. Godai, for example, stays in Room 5. “Go” is the Japanese word for the number five. Each character also has characteristics linked to Japanese or Chinese traditions and superstitions about each number. These boarders come with their own baggage and manifestations of unsuccessful love geometry.

As if a boarding house full of eccentrics wasn’t enough to keep a writer busy, Takahashi then has “guest star” characters to add complications. For example in this collection of episodes, an arranged fiancée for Mitaka and a charming teacher who works with Godai at a preschool are thrown into the romantic stew.

Like most of the other early Eighties classics I review, I have to warn the viewer that this isn’t one you watch for the artwork. The graphics for Maison Ikkoku were middle of the road quality at the time it was produced. Although lovingly restored, the art and animation look desperately dated now. Watch it as a period piece. Watch it for the story.

As frequently happens in multi-volume collections of anime TV series, buyers get bupkis for extras in Volume Five. This boxed set touts itself on its cover as being a “collector’s edition.” However, the only “special” features we get are the newly re-mastered video with bilingual audio tracks and optional English subtitles. Takahashi is one of the most popular and well-known anime artists in the world today. No biographical notes? No interview? No liner notes that might clue the non-Japanese speaking viewer into some of Takahashi’s wordplay? Not even a stinking image gallery? Oh, c’mon, Viz! Don’t be stingy.

In conclusion, although Maison Ikkoku doesn’t have the fireworks of Rumiko Takahashi’s later fantasy creations, it is a charming and clever show. The story is for romantic comedy fans. If pressed to do so, I’d say Maison is comparable to a more slapstick version of “Friends.” If you like Takahashi zaniness, you will find it here. However, be warned. No one turns out to be the reincarnation of priestess from Japan’s feudal era. No one turns into an animal when hit by cold water. No one is abducted by a rabidly jealous alien princess or any of her relatives…. Well, at least not in Volume Five.

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