It seems like just yesterday that I sat down to enjoy the very first episode of Maison Ikkoku
, one of the very first works by the mangaka most famous in the States for the creation of InuYasha
. I tore through all 96 episodes in just under a week’s time, which has to be one of the most mentally taxing things I’ve ever done in my time enthusing over any television series, anime or otherwise. While there definitely came a point where I just wanted to get it over and done with, Maison Ikkoku is a series that truly understands what it means to be compelling. It’s story is one of the most frustrating to which I’ve ever played witness. It’s because of that, however, that the end reward is so great. Yusaku Godai
played the unlucky-with-love protagonist long before it became such an icon of the genre. Living in the boarding house Ikkoku, Godai is a misplaced ronin working hard to make his way into a decent school. His neighbors are an obnoxious bunch, constantly partying and trying so desperately to prevent Godai from achieving his dreams, so much to the point that he prepares to move out of the building as the series begins. It’s then that Kyoko Otonashi
, a very young and very beautiful woman, moves in to take over the position of manager.
It’s instantaneous love for Yusaku; he almost immediately moves himself back into his room, and as a result he’s forced to endure nearly the entire length of the series dealing with unrequited affection and being surrounded by a mass of tenants that she him only as a plaything with which to do as they please.
Each of the characters are well-defined; Kyoko is easily the most charming and likable of the bunch, always looking out for the best interests of everyone else while also dealing with the loss of her husband. Godai himself is clumsy and oblivious, but he’s very much the same character as Kyoko. He spends so much of his time thinking about and helping others that he himself is so often in a state of disrepair. As a result, he’s in trouble a lot, and always seems to be the subject matter of some serious misunderstandings.
The other tenants are generally terrible people. The mysterious Yotsuya
always seems to be snaking into Godai’s bedroom via a hole in the wall. If any of them are the most guilty of causing our protagonist problems, it’s this guy, though he’s definitely more subtle in his methods. There’s also Mrs. Ichinose who, despite having a husband and a child to look after, always seems to be dancing around drunk while waving her fans around. Lastly there’s Akemi
whose role is less consequential to the overall narrative, but who still does plenty to make Godai’s life miserable.
Gunning for Kyoko’s heart is Shun Mitaka
, an extremely wealthy young man who also happens to be the coach of the tennis classes Ikkoku’s new manager so often attends. His methods are quite typical of a rich and good-looking individual. He often attempts to buy Kyoko’s affection, and though it becomes quite clear early on that she’s not interested in Mitaka beyond simple friendship, both Godai and the coach himself remain oblivious to that fact throughout the series.
The tenants and the coach are all the source of Godai’s major problems. While Yotsuya, Mrs. Ichinose, and Akemi all seem vaguely supportive of the ronin’s attraction to Kyoko, they also do everything they can to hinder any progress between the two of them. Mitaka apparently sets his watch to any moment during which Yusaku and Kyoko might be alone or vulnerable to one another, and makes his appearances accordingly. It’s formulaic and initially very comedic, but as the series progress into its final act, it becomes several steps beyond repetitive and anger-inducing.
It’s the payoff that really matters here, and to go into any details would be to spoil what ultimately turns out to be a very sweet, heartwarming romance. There were times during which I considered switching to the manga for a quicker pace in storytelling, but the idea that I wouldn’t get to actually hear Kyoko and Godai interact consistently prevented me from doing so. I suppose that should say something for the relative chemistry of the characters and their voice actors.
There were so many times while watching this series that I was ready to give it up and call it a day. It started to become emotionally frustrating for me to watch as Godai continued to take in unwarranted punishment from everyone around him, all the while his relationship with Kyoko remaining stagnant. I think that’s what made the final few episodes so rewarding, and what really left me with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction as I witnessed that final set of credits.