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Maison Ikkoku, Volume One. By Rumiko Takahashi. Translated by Gerard Jones and Matt Thorn. San Francisco, CA: Viz Communications, 1994. 286p. (Viz Graphic Novel). $16.95. ISBN 1-56931-044-0.

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:

  1. "What are the Neighbors Doing?"--Kyoko arrives at Maison Ikkoku and learns quite a bit about her renters.
  2. "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.
  3. "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.
  4. "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.
  5. "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."
  6. "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 vast dismay.
  7. "'Love' Means No Score, Godai!"--The tenants accompany Shun and Kyoko to the restaurant where Akemi works, resulting in a lively and embarrassing evening.
  8. "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 of dogs.
  9. "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.
  10. "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.
  11. "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.
  12. "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.
  13. "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.
  14. "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).


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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