UNDERAPPRECIATED ANIME: Maison Ikkoku

Maison Ikkoku

Even when I was still in high school, there was something in Maison Ikkoku that I found to be highly inviting. I was just a budding anime fan back then; still, there was something inexplicable in that series that drew me to it. I decided back then to download it, but it would have had occupied about 16 GB (the entire thing) of my low-spec desktop computer: I did not have the space, so I kept on postponing on downloading (and consequently watching) it.

I had a break some months ago, however. A friend of mine watched the whole series and burnt it on DVD. I asked for a copy, and though he was reluctant to burn me the series, he finally approbated – and I had the complete series of MI! I had little time, however, between studies, shorter series, and DotA to be able to watch the whole thing and appreciate its grandeur. So I stayed off it until our (very short) summer break came (which was really a Holy Week break, not a summer one). Had there been no Holy Week I would have found no time at all to spend on such a lengthy series.

So I started on the series. As can be expected by lengthy series involving drama and friction among its main characters, it started off slow. But then, as I had all the time in the world, I just kept at it (despite being told off by my parents to be a highly unproductive, lazy, [insert derogatory word] bastard). And slowly, I came to realize what the magic of Maison Ikkoku was, and the reason why a lot of people who appreciate both the novel and vintage tastes of anime love this series. It was because of the stellar characterization and the sheer realism that pervaded the lives intertwined in this series. Neither the guy and the girl were faultless; the rest were also fragile and human (especially the other tenants of Ikkoku-kan). If I were, however, to give a point where I realized that this series was great, it was ep41.

Now, to be able to explicate as to the reason why I was able to say that this series was great I must spoil from that specific episode. (Do not be alarmed, however: I will not spoil the ending.) If I remember correctly, it was almost Christmas, and in Japan Christmas is the only time of the year where giving of gifts or presents is treated naturally (that is, the giver is not assumed to have ulterior motives). Godai, our male protagonist, decides to get a present for Kyoko (the beautiful widow in the summaries and the purple-haired girl in the posters). Before he rushes out of the house, however, Kyoko requests of him something strange: she brings an unimpressive rock to Godai with the request that he investigate what it was made of. It was actually the only gift given to her by her deceased husband, but she did not tell Godai about this. Godai, with the aim of pleasing Kyoko, researches with the help of his friend’s friend as to what the composition of the rock was. As he had to pass by the house of Kyoko’s niece (who he tutored), the significance of the rock was pointed out to him. Troubled with her devout and virtuous nature to her husband, he was at odds with himself in giving his own gift to her. It came to such a point that despite the fact that he was with her in a train (along with his rival in love) supposedly coming to a party he left the both (Kyoko and his rival) alone in search for the stone (which was, incidentally, lost by his best friend). He searched for the stone with desperation and urgency; and although he found it eventually in a trash bin he forgot the bag with his own present to Kyoko. Dejected, he forged on to fulfill her request, even if it hurt him a lot when he realized that he remained to be nothing more than a friend to her. He arrived at the party late (but hints are spattered in this part of the series that Kyoko is seriously getting more and more interested in him) with Kyoko banishing her look of concern, and gave her a card along with her husband’s rock. It spoke of how despite unassuming the rock looked like, it was still a loving gift because the pockmarks in the rock actually were fossils on once-living small insects hundreds of millions of years ago. He also continued with how really a beautiful gift it was, but hurt, quickly goes out of the party after a drink. It was at this point that I cried – I realized how it hurt him to give that gift out to her but I also realized it was how love worked: love is a complex of sacrifices and joys, and it simply proved to me that he loved her deeply – deeply enough to understand what she desired and what she needed as well as putting her above himself. There are only some series which can awaken such catharsis in one’s self, and this was among the few ones out there. Other than Honey and Clover, which still remains my number one, this may have been the best romantic comedy I’ve seen (unless I’ve forgotten something).

The characterization of Maison Ikkoku is even more reflective of realism in that it had irritating co-tenants (or dormmates); it had imperfection and it had underhanded actions in it; it also contained jealousy, anger, and regret that is unlike that of the bittersweet anguish I found in H&C: in this series, it was more raw, more realistic (but I’m not saying H&C is less realistic, it was just more positive).

It also had redemption, and it had such an ending that wouldn’t leave one hanging at all. Speaking more about it would probably be heavy spoiling, but I suggest that if ever one watches it one should be patient enough until about ep40 or so. After that, the story picks up to something deserving praise.

It also reflected a lot about Japanese culture: ‘I love you’ is rarely spoken; rather, it is expressed in actions and behaviors. This series is certainly better than most new ones out there, if only one could stomach the old character designs and animation. The story and characters, however, is just great. I think I’m going to go read the manga now. 🙂

10 Responses to “UNDERAPPRECIATED ANIME: Maison Ikkoku”

  1. MarcosV Says:

    Ah. Maision Ikkoku… It is my favorite anime show of all time. Got it on Japanese LDs (bought used back in 2000 when the DVDs were coming out in Japan) and finally got the whole thing via Viz.

    Awesome manga and anime. It didn’t seem to go on forever without enough entertainment in the meantime like most serialized shows seem to do these days. Animation quality did vary quite a bit, but, when they turned it on, it looked great. And the camera angles, pacing were always right on.

  2. cebukitty Says:

    Have fun manga-reading! Btw, consider reading the manga Ai-Ren (methinks there’s still a torrent @boxtorrents) if you haven’t read it yet. Its one of the few mangas that really touched me and even made me cry T_T Its a book of love — naked love, sans commercialized romance and emptied of vanity and also a brutal but honest chronicle of humanity. Enjoy your summer!!!

  3. dsong Says:

    Wouldn’t call Maison Ikkoku underappreciated – it’s generally considered to be one of the defining classics in the romantic comedy genre. Considered by many to be Rumiko Takahashi’s finest work.

    With that said, it would be nice to see it revisited more often by the current generation.

  4. kuromitsu Says:

    Yeah, I was also like “Maison Ikkoku, underappreciated? O_o Wow, I must be REALLY old for remembering it as a well-recognized classic!” :D;;

    It’s not on my favorites list, though. I never really liked Takahashi Rumiko’s works, but I like Maison Ikkoku much more than her other stuff.

  5. Michael Says:

    I thought it was underappreciated in the sense that people praise Kanon to high heavens whereas leave this gem behind . . .

  6. Michael Says:

    BTW, a question:

    Why didn’t Kyoko ever say that she loved Godai?

    I’m still wondering … even after watching some parts of the series more than once. :V

  7. Afuro Says:

    I’ve only watched the first two episodes and drop it back then. After reading this I might give it another try. Well, I had all the time in the world too. 😉

  8. hikage Says:

    Yeah, I too was curious as to why Kyoko never said she loved Godai. It kinda pissed me off when, in the English dub of one of the eps., she tells Godai’s grandmother that she loves him, but the bastard translators just completely made that up (“thank you” != “I really love your grandson”).

    I’ll have to read the manga now.

    Speaking of Rumiko Takashi, I was left somewhat dissappointed when neither Ranma nor Akane ever really confessed (in the anime or manga). I read in an interview w/ her that she gets embarrassed when she’s writing those parts. That’s too damn bad, she shouldn’t be creating these scenarios just to leave people hanging.

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  10. Theowne Says:

    I think it was episode 40, actually. But I know exactly what you mean and wrote practically the same exact thing on my blog. I’m watching this series now, and it was also episode 40 where I realized this was something special.

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