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 nuances, 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 seventh 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 I think works nicely. 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 an image of Kyoko and Soichiro while Kyoko has a thought bubble with an image of super-deformed versions of Mitaka and Godai going at it set outside their residence with the background image stretching around to the back panel. The back panel is surprisingly 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.
Similar to the ending of Urusei Yatsura, the ending of Maison Ikkoku on DVD is a day I never thought would come originally. Something always stuck in the back of my head about this title and it’s incredibly rough journey to release, from fitful starts and stops to being released by only a handful of retailers, if that. Few shows of this nature and length actually make a complete release or even show up here and even when backed by the powerhouse named of Takahashi.
The final box set of the series plays out slightly different than the previous sets as there is the knowledge that the end is near and the characters must now get their acts together for what’s considered one of the better wrap-ups out there, particularly for a Takahashi series. So much of the series after the introduction has been about the ups and downs of the relationships that the shift to a set of actual resolutions feels slightly off but it’s also very welcome. They’ve managed to keep a lot of those roller coaster moments from going on for far too long but as the series continues it pushes its luck in being able to do so. There are only so many new characters you want to introduce to mess with the balance while not bringing resolution to previous relationships.
The last three volumes manage to break out the final story arcs pretty nicely across the four episodes. The opening volume deals a lot with Mitaka and often you feel like most of the regular cast from Ikkoku aren’t even in the show. Mitaka’s not had the most growth in the series but he’s had an amusing struggle with Asuna during the last quarter or so as he’s been fixed up with her. His attempts at getting closer to Kyoko had him going down the path of getting a dog so that he could conquer his fear, but as he’s been forced closer to Asuna she sees him and his dog as something that will draw her closer to him. As much as he tries to push her away, she has some very key moments in this set that bring the two of them much closer together. Of course, it’s done in standard Takahashi mode which means it’s riddled with confusion and misdirection by most of those involved. For Mitaka though, it finally lets him start to make an appearance of growing up and past his playboy image.
Godai’s got his eye on the ball for a lot of this volume but he’s his own worst enemy sometimes. A lot of it is generally the standard miscommunication and more, but he’s far more focused as he sees things starting to turn. His heightened efforts at making sure he graduates and the decision to finally become a pre-school teacher has got him on a path with real goals beyond just getting closer to Kyoko. He’s doing it for her in an obvious way but it’s a path that’s filled with adversity and the saying about it building character is true. It’s maybe a bit quick to surface during this set after everything we’ve seen in past sets, but sometimes people just hit a level and then take off into being something new when they realize it. Godai’s school and work side starts to fall into place but now that he sees things changing with Kyoko, he has to bring things to a sense of closure with Kozue.
His time with Kozue over the series has been cute to watch because it doesn’t really go anywhere, though it is somewhat reflective of an idealized relationship at that time culturally, particularly to young girls. No matter where things went between the two of them, it maintained a really strong sense of innocence about it, even as it caused rifts between Godai and Kyoko. Watching the way Kozue would pine for Godai while not really making any serious moves but imagining enough of them that they crossed over into reality in some weird form, the relationship was always far more in her mind than it truly was. Godai’s lack of a spine made it hard for him to put her in her place and make her understand where things really stood, but with the way that Kyoko would misunderstand every little nuance it’s somewhat understandable. Seeing him finally get things clear with her here is long overdue and surprisingly not as painful as I expected it to be.
What bothered me the most with these final episodes, or at least during the two arcs before it gets to the final round, is how quick to judge Kyoko is. It’s certainly understandable to some extent considering how many situations she and Godai have been through since she first came to Maison Ikkoku. But it also works the other way in that she should know that Godai really is that stupid at times and ends up in bad looking situations where he’s often trying to do some good. She flies off the handle just a bit too easily and with such force during these, all for effect in order to bring about the finale, but it throws the dynamic a bit and made her somewhat less than pleasant.
Compared to most of Takahashi’s other series, Maison Ikkoku really stands out since it has all three parts of a story in a beginning, middle and end. Almost everything else of hers that ran for any length tended to do really bad on the endings, though Maison Ikkoku feels rushed in a way but without the problems of her more fantastic works. Once the characters work out the other relationships and really start to focus on each other, there’s a similar feel to the way it played out between Godai and Kozue since it’s not often you see the two really embrace or kiss, but it has more of a storybook feel where their emotions are on their faces and you can tell without them saying anything. So many small moments have been built up throughout the series that culminate here. The best of all is that they spend an entire episode doing a flash-forward a year to show where everyone is and the changes that some have gone through.
It’s a great ending and one of the more memorable ones.
Maison Ikkoku is a series that’s long been a holy grail for a segment of fandom, not in just getting out on DVD, but getting finished at all. Viz certainly gave it enough chances before finding a route that allowed them to finish it and I’m certainly thankful for that. This is a series that even as close as it mirrors the manga release, is simply solidly enjoyable. It’s not quite as fast-paced as some shows today, it lacks some of the polish and garishness and it’s more associated to a romantic comedy sitcom than anything else, but Maison Ikkoku is the second romantic comedy I really got into and it remains a real treasure. I’m thrilled beyond words that I now have all of it to complement the fixed up manga editions Viz put out. While I will always be critical of certain things they do, they’ve earned a chunk of respect from me for finishing this out and sticking with it through all the criticisms.
Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles
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: July 1st, 2007
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.