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REVIEW: The MAISON IKKOKU reprint brings early Rumiko Takahashi to a new audience

Maison Ikkoku is a Rumiko Takahashi romcom, and her very specific brand of action, comedy, and romance are baked together into a manga classic.

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Maison Ikkoku

Story & Art: Rumiko Takahashi
Translation: Matt Treyvaud
Touch-up Art & Lettering: Inori Fukuka Trant
Design: Alice Lewis
Editor: Nancy Thistlethwaite
Publisher: VIZ Media

In 2018, manga veteran Rumiko Takahashi was finally honored with an induction into the Eisner Hall of Fame. Since then, VIZ Media has announced and printed (or reprinted) a large selection of her works. In the late 90s, VIZ had printed her zany but sweet Maison Ikkoku, adapting it into the left-to-right reading format of Western comics. Now they are bringing Godai, Kyoko, and all the quirky residents of the Maison Ikkoku boarding house back in a special collector’s edition.

Takahashi is best known for her works that blend reality with fantasy, but Maison Ikkoku is a rarity for her, a romantic comedy that has no overt magical elements to it. It does contain plenty of her signature wacky romcom hijinks, however, complete with jealous would-be lovers, plenty of pratfalls, and needlessly complicated misunderstandings. In that sense, it’s just as charming and fun as more popular works like Ranma ½.

For those who were not reading manga during Maison Ikkoku’s first round of English-language printing, the premise is this: Young widow Kyoko Otonashi has been installed as the new building manager for the Maison Ikkoku boarding house. Student Yusaku Godai, who continually fails his university entrance exams because he has trouble studying at the busy, bustling boarding house, is planning on leaving until he sees Kyoko and falls instantly in lust. That lust grows into something more as the two find their lives entangled in the goings-on of the boarding house. And to his credit, Godai is nothing like the useless horndog of Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura, Ataru; Godai, though easily distracted, is generally kindhearted and his romantic feelings trained only on Kyoko. His efforts are complicated by her still-strong feelings for her dead husband, and he is sensitive to those feelings rather than dismissive.

Though the meat of the story is Godai and Kyoko’s budding, awkward romance, the supporting cast helps to keep things interesting. The lecherous Yotsuya and sexy, laid-back Akemi enjoy tormenting Godai, taking advantage of his good nature to mooch, peep, and harass for comedic effect. Little Kentaro Ichinose provides a vehicle for Godai to prove his way with children (a surefire way to a woman’s heart, right?), while Kentaro’s mother is constantly pushing Kyoko to get out there and become part of the community. In fact, she convinces Kyoko to join a community tennis club, where she meets the handsome coach, Shun Mitaka. The polished, elegant, and wealthy Mitaka is Godai’s foil, and the two men fight over Kyoko, mostly without her realizing it. 

So Maison Ikkoku is a straightforward romcom, so what? The real appeal here is that it’s a Rumiko Takahashi romcom, and her very specific brand of action, comedy, and romance are baked together into a manga classic — an impressive feat, considering it was only her second major work. That Takahashi is a maverick in manga is no secret, and it is a boon to the North American market that almost all of her work is available in English. This initial installment of the Maison Ikkoku collector’s edition compiles the first sixteen chapters in nearly 350 pages. A free preview can be found on VIZ’s website, with the collection itself available starting September 15, 2020. Fans of the “Rumic World” can look forward to Takahashi’s Mermaid Saga, also available in a collector’s edition from VIZ in November of 2020.

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