General fiction, romantic comedy
Adults, teens, older kids; very mild nudity
Maison Ikkoku is a small, dilapidated apartment house with some
rather eccentric occupants: Yusaku Godai, a.k.a. "Mr. Flunk-Out,"
a college student who consistently fails his midterms; Akemi,
a bored, often drunk, slightly sluttish waitress; Mr. Yotsuya,
a man who crawls through holes in the walls (and Yusaku's room)
to peep at Akemi; Mrs. Ichinose, both nosy and shameless when
it comes to saying embarrassing things about people; and her
young son Kentaro.
As the other residents either restrain or laugh at Yusaku
for threatening yet again to move out (he blames his poor grades
on living at Maison Ikkoku), they meet the new manager, Kyoko
Otonashi, a beautiful young woman. Though she is several years
older than Yusaku, he is immediately taken with her. However,
she's a young widow and is determined to stay faithful to the
memory of her husband. Thus begins a lengthy romantic comedy
as Yusaku desperately tries to figure out how to court Kyoko.
This book is more a series of related short stories than a
truly linear story, so, having provided a basic background, I'll
now briefly describe the short stories:
- "What are the Neighbors Doing?"--Kyoko arrives
at Maison Ikkoku and learns quite a bit about her renters.
- "Mr. Soichiro"--Yusaku is desperately jealous when
Akemi tells him that Kyoko has a boyfriend, Mr. Soichiro. However,
after a bribe, Kentaro reveals that Mr. Soichiro is Kyoko's dog.
- "Spring Wasabi"--Kyoko proves to be related to
the landlord, who visits to find out how she's doing. Sucking
up to them, Yusaku offers to help the old man when his back gives
out. They visit a grave, where Yusaku learns that Kyoko is a
widow (and she gave her dog her late husband's name). Yusaku
makes a vow to make himself worthy of her.
- "Soichiro's Shadow"--Yusaku is tormented by dreams
of Kyoko loving a dog-headed man and pours out his thoughts on
her to his friends, who are less than sympathetic. Later, he
agrees to tutor Kyoko's 12-year-old niece Ikuko. To tease Kyoko,
Akemi and Mrs. Ichinose hint that the unreliable Yusaku might
have an affair with Ikuko's mother or, worse, Ikuko herself.
- "Alcohol Love Call"--Yusaku gets drunk with his
friends. Arriving home, he yells to the neighborhood that he's
in love with Kyoko. Next morning, he can't remember what he did,
but everyone's referring obliquely to his behavior, so the "helpful"
Mrs. Ichinose tells him that he "danced around naked and
begged Kyoko to look."
- "Don't Fence Me Out"--Neighborhood women persuade
Kyoko and Mrs. Ichinose to join the local housewives' tennis
club. The coach, Shun Mitaka, turns out to be a very handsome
young man who takes immediate interest in Kyoko--much to Yusaku's
- "'Love' Means No Score, Godai!"--The tenants accompany
Shun and Kyoko to the restaurant where Akemi works, resulting
in a lively and embarrassing evening.
- "Dog Daze"--Yusaku's offer to take Kentaro to the
beach snowballs into a beach trip with Mrs. Ichinose, Kyoko,
Ikuko, and Shun. The children smuggle Mr. Soichiro into Shun's
car, and Yusaku learns the interesting fact that Shun is terrified
- "A Salty Dog"--After various beach hijinks, the
adults have to rescue Mr. Soichiro when the inflatable boat he's
sleeping in is picked up by the tide.
- "Memorial Cooking"--Kyoko finds herself jealous
when Ikuko comes over to study with Yusaku; the little girl obviously
has a crush on her tutor. Later, Kyoko makes dinner for Yusaku.
- "One Entangled Evening"--Rushing home with movie
tickets, Yusaku discovers that Kyoko already has a date with
Shun. Trying to find someone to go with, Yusaku bumps into a
former co-worker, Kozue, and invites her. Of course, they bump
into Kyoko and Shun, and Kyoko is privately furious that Yusaku
would go out with another girl.
- "1-900-TROUBLE"--Lots of girls keep calling Yusaku
on the house phone, and Mrs. Ichinose witnesses Yusaku apparently
make Kozue cry. Jealous, Kyoko refuses to listen to Yusaku's
explanation that the callers are mostly girls from the Puppet
Theater Club and that Kozue's contact lens was irritating her.
- "With a Little Nonchalance"--On the anniversary
of her arrival at Maison Ikkoko, Yusaku nervously invites Kyoko
to dinner at "Ma Maison." Meanwhile, the other residents
plan a party at "Mama-San." Luckily, Kyoko figures
out why Yusaku hasn't shown up at Mama-San's and rushes to the
other restaurant in time to meet him.
- "Campus Doll"--Kyoko attends Yusaku's College Arts
Festival and gets roped into playing the Princess puppet part
at the Puppet Theater Club. As Yusaku is the Prince, you can
guess that the dialogue changes a bit for this performance.
This is one comic that really benefitted from collection. I remember
reading a few issues of Maison Ikkoku when it was first
published in this country, and I wasn't terribly impressed; it
seemed slow and pointless. And truly, some of the stories aren't
stories so much as incidents. But read as a large work, it's
a hell of a lot more impressive. Everything fits together, the
secondary characters react to the state of the romance as it
evolves, and the primary characters undergo subtle personality
changes (i.e., growth). The dialogue is so strong that little
or no narration is needed. (The translation is particularly good;
I haven't been fond of Jones's work in this area, and pairing
him with Thorn was a much-needed change. If nothing else, none
of the major characters says "Feh.")
There are a lot of interesting people in this book. The Maison
Ikkoku secondary inhabitants are wonderfully evil, in the sense
that they're mischievous, grabby, lazy, gossipy, filthy-minded,
extortionate, and/or eccentric. Even Mr. Soichiro has something
of a personality, though he's mostly one of those "push
me around, I don't mind" dogs. Playing against these classics,
the two romantic leads could have been bland, but both Yusaku
and Kyoko have reasonably strong personalities. Of course, their
romance helps. Depicting chemistry between two drawn characters
isn't easy, but Takahashi does a first-rate job of it. You really
can feel the slow, awkward building of attraction between Yusaku
and Kyoko, the fits and starts, the occasional electric moments
when they look into one another's eyes or touch (before they
break away for some reason, usually Yusaku's klutziness).
Having read a lot of manga recently, I have come to a new
appreciate for Takahashi's art, which is considerably better
than most of that in the books I've mentioned on this site. There's
a reason she's known as the "goddess of comics." She
really knows how to tell a story in pictures and words, with
no wasted panels or imagery, no unnecessary repetition of ideas.
Her use of sound effects (as translated) is far better than,
say, that in Dark Angel;
they enhance the action rather than cover it up. Her faces, though
simple, are extremely expressive. Note the glances between Yusaku
and Shun, the evil triumphant grins on Mrs. Ichinose's face,
the range of emotions on Kyoko on page 241 (two kinds of annoyance,
fake approval, vague distrust, studied blandness, and embarrassment).
I look forward to the ten or more further volumes of this
series. It is a sweet, occasionally slapstick, occasionally delicate
romantic comedy of the highest order. One of the best pieces
of manga around, it should be in every adult and YA collection.
Kids might find parts of it dull, and there's probably a touch
too much nudity for American sensibilities regarding the younger
set (and the character of the peeping Mr. Yotsuya doesn't sit
well these days).