Acclaimed manga-ka Rumiko Takahashi is responsible for some of the best-known and most enduringly popular titles in anime, including Ranma 1/2 and the current Cartoon Network hit InuYasha. One of Takahashi's most beloved works is the romantic comedy Maison Ikkoku, which charts the romance between a young college hopeful and the lovely manager of his run-down apartment building.
Takahashi reportedly based Maison Ikkoku on a boarding house she experienced as a young and hungry student. (The Japanese apparently borrowed the French word 'maison' to describe some rooming houses.) In addition to Takahashi's long-running manga series, the TV anime saw 96 episodes that ran from 1986 to 1988, directed by Tomomichi Mochizuki (Ranma 1/2, Kimagure Orange Road), among others. Situational and slapstick comedy abound in this funny series.
Yusaku Godai is a ronin, or a young man who has so far failed to pass his college entrance exams. He lives in the dilapidated boarding house Maison Ikkoku, along with a boisterous batch of fellow tenants who disrupt his studies with their drunken partying. Among them are middle-aged mother Hanae Ichinose, the stunning redhead Akemi Roppongi - who has a proclivity for running around in very short shorts - and the mysterious Yotsuya, who dresses like a salaryman but has no obvious job. (In the English dub, Yotsuya speaks with an elaborate vocabulary and a refined accent.) Yotsuya?s also something of a pervert who enjoys sneaking through Godai?s room in order to peep at Roppongi.
As the show opens, a mysterious woman (her face isn't shown) asks directions to Maison Ikkoku, to the disbelief of all that she'd actually want to go there. (It seems the previous manager quit in frustration.) Meanwhile, Godai is having no luck studying, thanks to the drunken party his neighbors have decided to throw in his room. In a running gag, Godai keeps snapping pencils in frustration as the other residents' noisy antics prevent him from studying. Before long, there's a deep pile of broken pencils on his desk. When Godai finally explodes in frustration, he screams at his neighbors to get the heck out of his room, only to be bombarded by pots, pans, and other junk thrown by neighbors who yell at him to be quiet.
After his neighbors' noisy party, he stomps downstairs the next day announcing that he's had it and is moving out, only to be surprised at the arrival of the stranger from earlier. She proves to be a lovely young woman who introduces herself as Kyoko Otonashi, the new building manager. As Godai gapes in awe, his neighbors pull the old gag of asking loudly, 'Weren't you just talking about leaving,' which Godai, of course, hastily denies.
Godai later gets blamed for Yostuya's peep hole into Roppongi?s room. When he points out the big hole in the other wall that Yotsuya habitually crawls through, Kyoko thinks Godai peeks at him, too. Even so, the good-hearted Kyoko doesn't mind Godai studying in the room with her while she fixes the holes, and even asks him to hand her some nails.
Of course, along with the comedic shenanigans, there's also a strong element of romance. Godai is immediately smitten by the lovely Kyoko. However, she was recently widowed, and is hesitant about opening her heart again. There are also complications in the form of romantic rivalries for both leads. A particular problem is the handsome and wealthy tennis pro Shun Mitaka, who courts Kyoko.
In their own roundabout and embarrassing ways, Godai's wacky neighbors help push him and Kyoko closer. For example, during a noisy welcome party for Kyoko - held, once again, in the unwilling Godai's flat - the young ronin finally stomps off into his closet to sleep. Yotsuya and Roppongi loudly pretend that they?re playing strip poker, and that Kyoko is losing. When Godai peeks out, they collar him and tell Kyoko that's the kind of guy he is. But while the moment is severely awkward for Godai, it does communicate his interest in Kyoko.
As Godai, veteran voice actor Issei Futamata is no stranger to portraying Rumiko Takahashi characters. He is the seiyuu for Chibi in Urusei Yatsura and Gosunkugi Hikaru in Ranma 1/2. He?s also the voice of the blonde, shades-wearing oddball Ootaki-sempai in Oh! My Goddess! and Mikiyasu Shinshi in Patlabor. Kyoko Otonashi's seiyuu, Sumi Shimamoto, is perhaps best known for playing the title role in the 1986 Hayao Miyazaki classic Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds. She also played Lady Clarisse de Cagliostro in Miyazaki's Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro and lent her vocal talents in Urusei Yatsura as well.
The characters have a definite 1980's anime look about them that's slightly different from their appearance in the manga. The anime characters (except for Yotsuya) have fuller hair with thicker bangs. Their faces are rounder, with more pointed chins and larger eyes. Despite these differences, their overall personalities hew closely to Takahashi's original concept, making them an appealing and amusing cast of characters.
The animation clearly shows its TV budget. Several scenes are all but static, consisting of pans across a background or a shot of cars passing on the street. (Look closely, though, and the careful viewer will discern details like lights blinking on a passing truck.) These shots contribute to the show's contemplative, even wistful moods and heighten the romantic mood of the series.
Judging from the opening episode on the screener, Maison Ikkoku is suitable for all ages. The only violence is pure slapstick, with Godai, of course, taking most of the pratfalls. Roppongi appears in a very sheer neglige, but there's no outright nudity (in contrast with, for example, Ranma 1/2). Maison Ikkoku is a beloved anime series that quickly found a devoted audience among serious American fans. Its recent release on a set of DVD's featuring both the original subtitled Japanese and a decent English dub are a welcome introduction to the popular series. It's also a splendid opportunity for both old-school fans and newcomers to enjoy this funny and charming romantic comedy that more than stands the test of time.