I hate romance anime. I think they are all generic, shallow, and cliché shows with boring characters and minimal plot. This is why I gravitate towards action and horror series like NARUTO SHIPPUDEN, TOKYO GHOUL, and MONSTER. These series have exciting story arcs, fantastic character development, and thrilling moments I never found in a romance series. It was not until I watched MAISON IKKOKU that my perception of the genre started to change. For the first time, I found a romance series I couldn’t stop watching and had me addicted the entire way. So, what makes this series so addicting? Well, there is a lot more that goes into this question than you would think.

What is Maison Ikkoku?

MAISON IKKOKU is the name of the series, but it is also an old boarding house. The tenants here throw loud parties, gossip, and spy on each other another. Protagonist Yusaku Godai is the only normal tenant, but his inability to pass his college entrance exams prevents him from leaving this dysfunctional environment. Despite not having money for a new apartment, Godai decides to move out when the building manager suddenly quits. As he is leaving, he comes face-to-face with the building’s beautiful new manager, Kyoko Otonashi. Falling in love at first sight, Godai decides to stay and attempts to woo her.

Before critically analyzing this series, it is important to talk about the author, Rumiko Takahashi. If you’ve heard of INUYASHA, RANMA 1/2, or URUSEI YATSURA, then you are familiar with Takahashi’s works. Her series are often compared to circuses because the characters and plots are so chaotic. She makes her main characters squirm by subjecting them to misunderstandings, which can be off-putting to a lot of people. For example, there are plenty of scenes in MAISON IKKOKU where Godai is caught peeping on Kyoko, or trips and falls on her in a provocative way.

Rumiko Takahashi, and her most famous works
Rumiko Takahashi, and her most famous works | Image: Aminoapps

While these scenes can be uncomfortable, they are not egregious. This series is personal to Takahashi. She lived in a boarding house while in college, and in the same property line was a squalid apartment building. This building inspired the series MAISON IKKOKU. She imagined what kind of tenants lived there, and what their lives were like. Yusaku Godai is an extension of herself—a college student scrambling to prepare for their future. So while MAISON IKKOKU has its share of awkward scenes, it isn’t useless fanservice. It is simply Takahashi’s writing style.

The Tenants of Maison Ikkoku

The three protagonists of MAISON IKKOKU are Yusaku Godai, Kyoko Otonashi, and Shun Mitaka. Kyoko is the series’ main female protagonist. Her father-in-law owns Maison Ikkoku, and assigns her as the new building manager. Kyoko is a widow; she lost her husband at the young age of 22. She develops feelings for Godai quickly, but the memories of her late husband, Soichiro, prevent her from acting on these feelings. Kyoko feels if she remarried, it would be as if her marriage to Soichiro never happened at all. Soichiro’s sudden and tragic death has left her mildly depressed, but she still tries to act cheerful. She is loyal, sweet, and polite; but also has a frightening side that emerges when she is jealous or angry.

A picture of Kyoko Otonashi
Kyoko Otonashi | Image: Motaen

Yusaku Godai is the main protagonist of the entire series. He begins as a poor, 20-year old college flunk-out. This is attributed largely to his intrusive house tenants, but Godai himself is spacey and unreliable. He falls in love with Kyoko at first sight, but a series of bad luck and misunderstandings prolong any serious relationship from forming. He spends most of his time daydreaming about Kyoko and uses her image as motivation to mature.

Shun Mitaka is essentially Yusaku’s opposite. While Godai is unreliable and poor, Mitaka is from an elite family and is highly educated. Mrs. Ichinose, one of Maison Ikkoku’s tenants, convinces Kyoko to take tennis lessons to distract her from her husband’s passing. Mitaka coaches tennis, and the duo enrolls in his class by chance. Like Godai, Mitaka falls for Kyoko at first sight and immediately expresses his desire to date her. This forms a love triangle, which lasts for most of the series.

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The Best Neighbors You’ll Ever Have

MAISON IKKOKU benefits from a great supporting cast. Each character is lovable and dynamic enough to be heavily featured. First is the enigmatic Mr. Yotsuya. His only known likes are voyeurism and drinking; everything else, including his job, is a mystery. Next is Akemi Roppongi, a boozy bar hostess who lives next to Yotsuya. She loves flustering Godai, which she accomplishes by wearing provocative clothing, and by flirting with him. Last is Hanae Ichinose. She is usually the first to stir up trouble around Maison Ikkoku by drinking and gossiping about the other tenants. Ichinose considers Kyoko a sister and tries to help with her problems. However, her actions frequently leave Kyoko in a worse position. Ichinose lives at Maison Ikkoku with her workaholic husband, and their son Kentaro.

The cast of Maison Ikkoku
The cast of Maison Ikkoku | Image: Aminoapps

The other tenants of Maison Ikkoku really make this series enjoyable. I typically do not like loud characters, but they assist in Godai’s development. He does many idiotic things in the series, so having an aggressive supporting cast creates the perfect checks and balances system for him. They put Godai in awkward positions, which forces him to stand up for himself. For example, Akemi jokingly tells Kyoko that she plans on asking Godai out if she doesn’t make a move soon. Kyoko ignores this until Akemi is seen leaving a hotel with Godai early one morning. Instead of telling Kyoko that she only called Godai to help pay for her hotel room, Akemi ignored the situation. This caused a huge fight between Godai and Kyoko but, eventually, lead to Godai confessing his love to Kyoko. The two spent the night together and finally became a couple.

A Heartwarming Romance

A great love story, a fun supporting cast, and Kyoko’s backstory all contribute to this series’ success, but there are additional layers as well. My favorite thing was Takahashi’s use of parallelism between Soichiro and Godai. The audience learns very little about Kyoko’s late husband; he was a carefree teacher who taught in Kyoko’s high school, where they met. However, his character is simultaneously shrouded in mystery. For example, no matter how hard he tries, Godai never finds out what Soichiro looks like. Every picture of Soichiro is broken or has an ink stain where his face is. Throughout the story, Takahashi will sprinkle in a memory of Soichiro.

For example, Kyoko was walking outside, and it began raining. Without saying a word, Soichiro appears behind her with an umbrella and pulls her close to him. The same situation occurs with Godai instead of Soichiro. Examples like these give the idea that love somehow transcends time. It’s almost as if Soichiro is still watching over her but through someone else. It also foreshadows a potential future between Kyoko and Godai and helps keep the audience interested in their relationship.

Takahashi uses realism between Kyoko and Godai to create a romance that could happen in real life. Unlike Takahashi’s other series, there are no dog-demons or mermaids. Instead, it shows a down-to-earth relationship between two people. For example, Godai essentially lives on instant ramen but starves himself for days so he can afford Kyoko a Christmas present. Godai and Kyoko’s volatile relationship can be hard to keep up with, but there are so many relatable moments it’s hard not to fall in love with the series.

 The Hardships of Romance Anime

While the success of MAISON IKKOKU can be attributed to many things, there are manifold issues as well. The largest problem this series faces is its length. There are 96 total episodes, which is unheard of for a romance series. Takahashi could cut the series in half without losing any major plot points. Many viewers have a hard time committing this much time to a series, and will likely swap it out for something similar but shorter like KIMAGURE ORANGE ROAD.

Another problem MAISON IKKOKU faces is its age. The manga began in 1980, and the anime started in 1986. Character design, animation, voice acting, and soundtracks have all changed drastically in the last 30+ years. Even if one can get over the older animation, dated voice acting and soundtracks will deter a lot of viewers.

The last major issue MAISON IKKOKU faces is the lack of a central story. The story spans several years, but the characters repeatedly relive the same events. For example, it is exciting to watch Kyoko and Godai spend New Year’s Eve together for the first time. The audience wonders if anything will finally happen between the two and, if it does, how will the rest of the story be affected? But by their third New Year’s Eve together, the audience is not excited anymore. Very little has changed since their first, so why would anything happen at this one? The cyclic storylines result in slower character development, which will tune the casual fan out.

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A Love to Last a Lifetime

MAISON IKKOKU has its flaws, but these tiny sins are forgiven by an impalpable charm. I found myself constantly frustrated waiting for something to happen between Kyoko and Godai, but I also found myself unable to stop watching until something did. That feeling propelled me to the last twenty episodes, which is far greater than most other romance anime.

The full cast of Maison Ikkoku
The full cast of Maison Ikkoku | Image: Pinterest

Don’t overlook this series because of its problems. In the grand scheme of things, they are not important. The story focuses on the lives of Kyoko and Godai and incorporates realism to create an authentic romance. A great supporting cast also helps take this series to another level of enjoyment. In short, MAISON IKKOKU is the story of a no-good college flunk-out and a suffering widow who can’t move on from her past. Whether you watch the anime or read the manga, see this title through to the end. Odds are it will crack your top five favorite series list, and change your perception of romance anime in the process.

Featured image courtesy of spazioinwind.

4 Comments

  1. Lang90

    April 24, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    old but gold anime

    Reply

  2. anime kingdom

    September 18, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    Nice Review!
    One Of My Fav Anime!!

    Reply

  3. Ali Qacir

    April 20, 2018 at 7:37 pm

    YOU ARE AMAZING ! This anime is legit my life and seeing someone talk so highly about it makes me genuinely so happy. So proud !

    Reply

    • Matthew Karban

      April 21, 2018 at 11:53 am

      Thanks for your support Ali! I’m glad you enjoyed it

      Reply

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