Rumiko Takahashi has made fortunes off the prime real estate she created in Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2. Despite their popularity, though, she has a smaller, more intimate creation that is often overlooked. Maison Ikkoku is easily her best work, with characters who are still amusing but carry far more weight than their predecessors. Kept from US popularity by incompetent marketing and pricing by Viz that may permanently keep it off of Region 1 DVD, Maison Ikkoku should have made it big.
Godai is a ronin, a student who failed his first go-around at his college exams and must study to take them again. But how could anyone study at a place like Ikkoku House? With rowdy revelers all around, a drunken neighbor who wanders the halls perpetually in her nightie, and countless noisy problems, Godai can barely think, let alone study. However, the party-hungry bunch develop a soft spot for Godai, as well as the owner of the house, Kyoko. She's recently widowed, and though she's not looking for a new relationship, Godai can't help but be attracted to her. Over the course of 96 episodes, we get to know these two, as well as the unruly bunch of friends that push and pull them so they might finally wind up together.
Maison Ikkoku is one of the very few animated television programs shows I've seen that deals with "real" people. OK, the loony neighbors are obviously out there, but it's incredibly refreshing to watch a show with no heroes, no villains, no crazy fight scenes or ridiculous premises. Although some of the best animated films take a page from real life--see the thoughtful, charming Omoide Poroporo for an example--it's rare to see a TV show do so. Even some that come close to reality have a gimmick: Touch has its baseball, Kimagure Orange Road its extra-sensory powers. After the mind-numbing antics of Rumiko Takahashi's other creations, Maison Ikkoku is more than a breath of fresh air--it's like a calm breeze floating off the Pacific. Mmmm...makes me want to head out to the beach...but I digress.
What gives Maison Ikkoku an edge is its lack of one. There are few contrived situations that bring these two closer and closer together--and the ones that exist are due to the boorish neighbors. For the most part, we get to see a couple slowly fall in love, much like in real life. It's no spoiler to say that Godai and Kyoko get together eventually. It's a given. Why I watch Maison Ikkoku is because the journey is so much fun. There are some cultural references that are easy enough to pick up, and the animation will turn off those who hate pre-90s styles, but that's about it in terms of turn-offs.
Unfortunately, the folks at Viz Communications have completely blown the release of the show. Currently only available on video for $25 (at best) for 2 episodes per tape, the last third of the program hasn't even been made available for purchase. Despite over 4000 signatures on a single Internet petition to get the show out in box sets on DVD, Viz continues to sit on this property. Thankfully, they have released the entire manga, so you can get a good feel for the story, though there are significant differences between the comic and the anime. Nevertheless, I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in the show to petition Viz for its release. Although Viz has a history of poor fan relations, one can always hope.
For those unfamiliar with Takahashi's work, this is the best place to start. If you find that Takahashi's other shows are too slapstick and repetitive, you owe it to yourself to at least try out Maison Ikkoku. It's a romantic class act that should be considered her defining work.
Maison Ikkoku - nothing objectionable (other than a skimpy nightie) -- A