Friday, February 29, 2008

Maison Ikkoku

Maison Ikkoku; animated romantic comedy series, Japan, 1986; D: Tomomi Mochizuki, Kazuo Yamazaki, S: Issei Futamata, Sumi Shimamaoto, Shigeru Chiba, Kazuyo Aoki, Yuko Mita, Yuriko Fuchizaki

Tokyo. Yusaku Godai didn't manage to sign in into college and his neighbors in his apartment inside the Maison Ikkoku complex - Akemi, Hanae and Yotsuya - are annoying him. Just as he is about to leave the apartment, he meets his new landlord, the 20 year old girl Kyoko, and falls instantly in love with her. Although she has feelings for him too, the grief from recent death of her husband Souichiro is preventing her to admit anything so soon. With time, Godai experiences a lot of adventures in Maison Ikkoku and gets into college, even keeping the girl Kozue as a possible spare "relationship" in case that his dream with Kyoko doesn't work out, while Mitaka, a tennis coach, is also interested in Kyoko. As Godai finds his first job as a teacher in Kyoko's old high school, Yagami, a teenage girl, falls in love with him, complicating the matters even more. In the end, Godai finds a new job and proposes Kyoko. And she agrees to marry him.

Because of all those routine situations from life, sometimes I'm feeling more and more like a robot, and less and less like a real human being. But there are some films and animes that are so fresh that they always remind you how it is to feel something, among them "Maison Ikkoku". This shining anime, an adaptation of the manga with the same title from the famous author Rumiko Takahashi, who is considered an expert for romance, is an everyday story executed with bravura, showing how hard it sometimes is to find true love. There is something, something special in the eyes of the anime characters, and rarely does an anime do such a good job of underlining that feature as this one. Ironically, the first 10 episodes are pretty bad, being clumsy and filled with forced humor, but as the story progresses it becomes better and better; the rest of the first season is already excellent, the second is amazing, and the third and fourth season are both a masterpiece. The humor mostly isn't hilarious, but rather quiet and understated, but at some moments it's really hard not to laugh, like in the scene from episode 15 where Kyoko and Godai were doing a puppet play for kids, but she would occasionally get so carried away at lifting her princess puppet over the stage that she would forget that she came so close to Godai that she was accidentally touching him with her breasts. In another funny episode, Godai would get into a lot of trouble in a spa. But the emotional situations overshadow the humorous ones by coming so close to being the real thing, making even the most banal scenes, like the one where Kyoko would sweep the floor with the broom, seem like magic.

But a subplot that is so fascinating that it almost steals the show from the main plot, is the one in season 3 revolving around the teenage girl Yagami who fell in love with Godai who was a substitute teacher in her high school. Some of the episodes from that season establishing a Kyoko-Godai-Yagami love triangle are pure poetry. In one, Yagami is trying do seduce Godai by staying after class for instructions, casually coming closer and closer to him with her chair. In another one, she puts a heart sign on his jacket by patting him on the back. And when all else fails she locks him up in the gym and shyly tries to conquer him by wearing only a bra and underpants - when he tries to get away he stumbles and falls on her, accidentally touching her bust and she gets a confused expression on her face; that moment is so emotionally awkward and so smashing that it looks as if it was real. Still, this anime isn't perfect. Godai's three neighbors - Akemi, an always half naked lady, Hanae, an overweight middle aged woman, and Yotsuya, a voyeuristic man - are sometimes funny, but also sometimes pretty annoying and unnecessary, just hindering the story. And all those plot devices that would delay Godai and Kyoko to finally admit that they love each other can sometimes feel contrived. But those flaws can't spoil the exceptionally beautiful romantic mood and patient character development that lift this series up to the Parthenon of the best animes of all time. Actually, it's hard to describe this to people who never saw it, because they can't imagine what kind of a feeling this is. "Maison Ikokku" is an anime many of you will never see as long as you live. And you will feel comfortable with that. But if you knew what you were missing, you would never hesitate to see this amazing anime romance.


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