The mark of a great deal of my favourite anime, I think, isn’t necessarily that it has perfect direction, perfect writing or perfect animation (although most Ghibli films and the first season of Honey and Clover came very close). But there are plenty of anime that do not satisfy these requirements, yet will become a favourite just as easily as those which don’t. And that’s because there is simply some element of likability which, in the end, leaves a greater mark in a viewer’s mind. If you become hopelessly attached with the characters, their interactions and growth, and perhaps the setting as a whole, then you will ignore the fact that the story may stall in some places, or that it has too much filler episodes.
This describes Maison Ikkoku very well, in my opinion. It does not have spectacular animation (it was in production before I was born, as I have mentioned before, so that is to be expected). It does not have the perfect pacing and writing that Honey and Clover did. Nor does it have the unequaled skill of direction that you will find in the works of Studio Ghibli. But there is an element of sincerity, likability and humanness that is common for all three of these series (and more). And that core quality is the most important because it seems to end up equalizing the perceived “value” of a story. Because regardless of what I said above, I couldn’t say that one of theses series/films is better than the other. They are all productions which I have grown equally fond of.
So, let’s begin the actual review with what makes Maison Ikkoku as good as it is – characters. The show is a comedy-romance, so the lead two characters are the ones who make the deepest mark and therefore will make or break a series of this nature. If a series has a shallow or unlikable main character, chances are I will not bother to stick around for it. The two lead characters, Godai and Kyoko, are neither shallow nor unlikeable. Godai is childish at times and Kyoko has some negative traits which pop up occasionally, but they are essentially good and likable characters and you have no qualms about rooting for them. Furthermore, the growth of these characters is excellent. Godai begins the series with the mind of a teenager and we are able to watch his progression through his transition to an adult. Kyoko is older than him and is a widow and it is wonderful to watch Godai’s slow understanding of what this difference actually means. In the beginning of the series, he has little more than a childish crush on an older woman, and it is watching this relationship evolve that is so satisfying.
Now, I suppose I have to mention what I didn’t like about the series. When you become as attached to a series as I have with Maison Ikkoku, it’s hard to criticize it, but I suppose I will grit my teeth and go on. I suppose my main complaint about the show was that there were too many misunderstandings. The “Misunderstanding™) is a common device in a lot of romance series to create drama. Sometimes it is done poorly, in a very shallow way to extend drama at the expense of character growth, but other times it can be used effectively as a plot device to strengthen relationships. Maison Ikkoku usually did it the good way, but when it popped up towards the later half of the series, I just felt it was a bit much. I typically enjoy very optimistic and idealistic romance series which focus on character development. I typically hate shallow soap-opera type shows. It would have been perfect if Maison Ikkoku could have steered clear of the latter completely, but a few of the “misunderstandings” went a bit too close for comfort. But enough of that.
One other topic of discussion is the Maison Ikkoku anime versus the manga. I know that in any field, the book is always better than the media adaptation. So people always say that manga versions are better than anime versions (yes, I know that manga are not exactly comparable to books). I actually prefer the anime version of Maison Ikkoku. I think there are subtle differences in characterizations which I preferred. I know that there is one scene in Maison Ikkoku where there is a tense moment between Godai and Kyoko, but in the manga this tense moment becomes a very loud exchange between them and I found that very strange.
This is a long series. It is nearly 100 episodes. Not all of the episodes are packed with emotional content. This is a romance-comedy and major plot developments do not happen every few episodes. Part of the charm of the series is the fact that it’s length certainly contributes to the bond that is formed with the characters, but I can understand how people may be wary of approaching such a lengthy story. That was the reason it took so long for me to watch it myself. All I can say in this regard is that it is genuinely one of the most satisfying series I have seen and has become a favourite.
P.S. I invite people to visit my youtube account (Theowne) and listen to my piano arrangement of the Maison Ikkoku theme. It is a song I have fallen in love with and listen to at least once every day. I have grown fond of the juxtaposition of bittersweet emotion with optimism. I have also done an orchestral arrangement of one of the background music tracks, also available on this site.
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