After thoroughly enjoying the first dozen episodes of the series, the second box set of twelve carries on the tradition laid down there but also has the characters growing and changing noticeably along the way.
What They Say
Godai has the best intentions in the world–and the worst luck. Although he’s now a student at a teacher’s college, he’s permanently broke and so busy daydreaming about Kyoko, the pretty manager of his broken-down rooming house, he walks into telephone poles. Not that the other tenants of Maison Ikoku are any less eccentric. Mrs. Ichinose drinks and gossips; her son Kentaro is a pest; the mysterious Mr. Yotsuya snoops; Akemi lounges around the building in skimpy negligees. But one quality they all share is a neverending delight in teasing poor Godai, and his unflagging ineptitude affords them plenty of opportunities.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo and the English language dub, both of which are encoded at 192kbps. When it comes to culturally tinged shows like this, I consider the original language even more important for capturing some of the nuance, though I do enjoy a lot of aspects of the dub for this series. The Japanese track is a very basic mono mix while the English track is in stereo. Dialogue is nice and clear and we noticed no dropouts or distortions during regular playback on either language track.
Originally airing back in 1986, this TV series is presented in its original full-frame aspect ratio. While age is certainly a factor, Maison Ikkoku manages to look fantastic with this release. It certainly won’t compare with the glossy nature of most of today’s shows but this transfer has me practically giddy. Working from the Japanese source materials for their DVD release at the time, it’s much cleaner looking with its animation than expected with more accurate colors and a much more solid transfer. There is still some jitter in various scenes, a common occurrence in shows of this vintage, as well as a fair amount of aliasing in the more detailed shots. I won’t necessarily say I go easier on older shows, but there are just some differences between then and now that causes me to judge them differently. In the end, I’m extremely pleased with how this looks, especially based on my initial expectations from the VHS run.
The second box set in the series, it contains three keepcases with each holding four episodes. The individual keepcase covers look like the VHS release covers but with some sidebar binding to give it a new feel (that works). Instead of the old puns we’d get with each volume on the VHS, the volumes here are simply numbered on the front and spine (and numbered for this box set starting with one again as opposed to the overall volume numbering, a mistake in my opinion) while the back cover provides individual episode listings complete with episode number and title. There’s a little premise summary here as well, but the bulk of the text here is the individual episode descriptions. Basic production information and technical listings are nicely placed at the bottom. The insert has the front cover artwork on one side while the reverse lists each episode with the artwork from the back cover as well as the chapter stops.
The box itself is of the nice thick soft variety. The main panel has a nice shot of the entire cast outside their residence with the background image stretching around to the back panel. The back panel is surprising bare – not even a summary, so that anyone looking at this release won’t really know what it’s about unless they look at the keepcases – inside the box! The box does have an obi on it that provides most of the basic technical information and a very brief premise summary, but not as much as they could have done with that full back panel to promote it. .
Each menu is the same across these three volumes, with a shot of Ikkoku. The background changes from dark to daylight and inside each of the windows of the residence, there are different animations that play along as the time of day changes. This is a really nice looking menu that plays to the strengths of the show. Access times are nice and fast and the layout is pretty standard. My only main gripe is that you can’t stop the menu, forcing you to go into the show to put things on stop.
The bonus features included are really nothing more than slightly interactive trailers for the first and third box sets. I’m not even going to classify them as extras, though they’re nicely done for the most part.
With the first box set, getting into the series was a pleasure from the perspective of a huge fan of the manga finally getting to see the series “come to life” in anime form. Maison Ikkoku is one of the more accurate translations, as a lot of Takahashi’s works generally are, so it was quite enjoyable to see situations I hadn’t read about for years become fresh and new again.
With the second box set (which brings us a quarter of the way through the series now) the show continues on much in the same vein but with some good changes along the way. One of the more interesting ones that helps the characters grow and change a bit is that a bit into this set we learn that it’s been a year since Kyoko first came to Maison Ikkoku as the new manager. Though just over twelve episodes were covered, it helps lessen the feel of a lot of wacky situations happening close to one another and it also lets the characters grow up a bit more. After all, Godai has been in college now for several months and that alone changes a lad, plus having various jobs.
Godai’s college life does have some impact on his life at the apartments and with his potential relationship with Kyoko. One of the clubs he ended up getting involved in is the puppeteering one. This is actually quite good for him since it lets him focus on small projects and it’s something that’s rather focused. It’s also filled with women and just one other man, so it forces him to deal with a lot of women on a regular basis. The downside is that with one of their performances coming up, they keep calling him at home and Kyoko keeps answering and not realizing who they are other than college girls. This sets off some amusing emotions in her and she deals with it a strong-armed way that alleviates the problem for her but makes things more problematic for Godai. When Kyoko finally gets the real truth though, it works out even better than Godai could have imagined.
Kyoko and Godai’s relationship continues to go through various clichéd turns, but turns where it generally lays fault on both sides of the duo instead of just one of them. Godai does his best to finally take her out on a date and she ends up agreeing to it, but she gets the wrong restaurant and ends up with the regulars from the complex who’re getting drunk celebrating with her. Godai’s confusion over her not showing up plays out much like his general nervousness, but when they finally do get together is when it works out right. Of course, even that doesn’t go to Godai’s advantage all that long and Kyoko ends up sending out something of mixed signals about it when, even after all that he’s suffered there night, he tries to get a kiss from her and she treats him like he’s taking advantage of the situation. Some of that may just be traditional dating rules that I’m not aware of, but it seemed a bit on the mean side for Kyoko and you really empathize with Godai over it.
With Kyoko, we do get to finally learn more about her relationship with Soichiro and how their romance blossomed. What’s amusing about it is that it really takes away some of the innocence of her that she exudes since it has her chasing after a teacher, albeit a temporary one, when she’s his student. Though there’s some sort of taboo about it, it’s a common theme in a number of Japanese tales. With Kyoko taking part in it and following it through to marriage, even a marriage that lasts only a few months before he’s dead. While Godai has some clues about her past and the marriage, these bits of revelations definitely change the perception of just who Kyoko is.
Godai’s past isn’t as exciting as that, but his present continues to be amusing. He ends up in some comical situations such as buying the perfect Christmas present for Kyoko with his meager funds only to have Kozue accidentally see the package and believe that it’s for her. Unfortunately, he’s too weak-willed to get out of that situation and ends up getting caught up in a bad loop with Kozue getting something of the wrong impression. Godai’s playing of two women at the same time is just so poorly handled on his part that it’s sadly comical, especially as Kozue and Kyoko end up becoming friendly, an event that only makes things more difficult for Godai to deal with.
Some of the best material in this set comes though when Kyoko’s parents end up becoming involved and try to extract her from what they see as a bad situation with her being a burden on the Otonashi’s and throwing her own life away. Once the three of them are together, it’s hilarious as the personalities of both parents manifest themselves in Kyoko as she finally lets herself be who she truly is. While she’s usually fairly deferential and occasionally firm, she fights back hard against them and asserts herself unlike anywhere else.
But frankly, with a mother like that, how can she not?
With the introductions and the bulk of the cast into their positions, the play that is Maison Ikkoku is in fully swing here. The series has a great number of moments of progression as the primary characters grow (unlike the comical secondary cast members like Ichinose and Akemi) and the relationships shift from where each of them think they stand to something newer and different. With everyone unsure of where everyone else is, it’s like a game of musical chairs as their excuses and obliqueness are stripped away piece by piece. With the additional fun of characters like Mitaka and Kozue, it continues to be all over the place and it continually has us smiling and laughing.
Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Textless Opening and Closing
Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: November 18th, 2003
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.