Maison Ikkoku is a series I’ve been meaning to read for a decade now. I watched a lot of the anime, and got up to volume nine in the manga a few years ago, but it took an MMF dedicated to Rumiko Takahashi to finally concentrate my determination sufficiently to conquer the final six volumes. Since I am writing specifically about the end of the series, and the methods Takahashi employs to bring it about, please beware of spoilers.
For those who are unaware, Maison Ikkoku is the story of the occupants of the titular boarding house, specifically bumbling but good-hearted Yusaku Godai and Kyoko Otonashi, the beautiful young widow who manages the property. Godai is in love with Kyoko and would like to propose, but wants to prove himself reliable first by finding work. Meanwhile, Kyoko is trying to decide whether she even wants to remarry and, if she does, should she wait for Godai to get his act together or accept the proposal that handsome, rich tennis coach Shun Mitaka has made.
Volume ten finds Godai job-hunting. He has recently concluded a spell as a student teacher at the same all-girls’ high school Kyoko once attended, where he caught the eye of Ibuki Yagami, who pursues him relentlessly. It so happens, however, that Yagami’s dad is the hiring manager for a major company, but Godai has botched the chance for an interview due to a medical emergency with a random pregnant lady. Honestly, this whole arc is frustrating, because Yagami is so wrapped up in the romance of supporting her impoverished man that she regularly makes a fool of herself, and Godai keeps getting dragged into situations that torpedo his chance for success. Even here, though he finally gets a job, he just can’t win, for the firm immediately goes bankrupt.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, this marks a turning point in the series. Originally conceiving of it as a stop-gap measure until he finds other work, Godai begins working at a preschool and discovers a real aptitude for it. This is the first time we’ve actually seen Godai be really good at something and, not only that, the first time he begins to think of a possible career rather than just a job. Alas, he’s laid off in volume twelve, but is determined to get his teaching certification and continues to study while operating a nursery for the employees of a risqué cabaret in the evenings.
So, while on one hand we have the beginnings of maturation for Godai, on the other we have the beginnings of thawing in Kyoko. Although she thinks of Godai more as a little brother than a potential husband in some ways, she’s still obviously fond of him, enough that she can’t quite accept Mitaka’s proposals, even though he would seem to be the better match. “Please. Come home soon,” she thinks at one point. “Please tell me not to marry him.” This maturation+thawing trend until the end of the series, with many advances and setbacks, but it really starts here.
Various hijinks ensue while Godai and Kyoko are gradually growing closer, involving myriad misunderstandings and an arranged marriage for Mitaka, who hasn’t given up on Kyoko and is working on conquering his fear of dogs in order to woo her without her friendly mutt causing any problems. The next big step in the main couple’s relationship occurs in volume thirteen, when one of the employees at the cabaret leaves her children in Godai’s care while she runs off with a customer.
Godai is primarily concerned with the happiness of the children, and brings them home to Maison Ikkoku to look after. This creates a homey feeling, and causes Kyoko to notice how Godai is able to shoulder additional burdens with equanimity. Gone is the Godai who thinks selfishly—he simply wants to do the best for these kids, and later we’ll see him express concern for Mitaka’s fiancé’s happiness where a younger Godai might have exulted that Mitaka was soon to be out of the running for Kyoko’s affections. I applaud how smoothly Takahashi is able to make this transition, because it seems natural that Godai has become this kind of man, though it’s impossible to say precisely when.
Before Godai and Kyoko can really be together, however, their secondary significant others must be dealt with, so a lot of time is devoted to resolving the Mitaka situation, with Kyoko finally saying she can’t marry him, and, later, to getting Kozue (Godai’s long-time platonic girlfriend) sorted out. I really love how Takahashi accomplishes this, because she basically twists the same sort of comic misunderstanding plots that have populated the series this entire time so that they actually have lasting repercussions that wrap things up for these love rivals in satisfying ways. No threads are left hanging!
By the final volume, Godai has become a reliable prospect. He dedicates himself to studying for his exam and passes on his first attempt. Again, it is simply great watching him be good at something, and though this stability will help him win Kyoko, it’s also something that he wanted for himself. While Godai waits for the right moment to propose to an expectant Kyoko, the pair works through some trust issues, and when he finally pops the question, it’s completely awesome. Also in the category of awesome is the amazing scene in which Godai, no longer threatened by Kyoko’s past, visits the grave of her first husband, Soichiro. I got majorly sniffly when he said, “You’ve been a part of her since the first day I met her and I still fell in love with her. So… I’m taking you into my life too. As part of her.” In fact, I got verklempt again just writing that.
I won’t spoil the exact details of the ending, except to say that it couldn’t possibly be more satisfying. Although Maison Ikkoku was at times a frustrating read, it was also an affecting and amusing one. Takahashi has created a cast of characters who, even if frequently wishy-washy, are immensely appealing. In addition, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the role Takahashi’s artwork plays in making the series successful, for though she absolutely excels at depicting adorable children and dogs (especially Mitaka’s delightful McEnroe), she’s also nails the emotional moments. I’m especially fond of some scenes in later volumes in which characters shed their shells to various degrees, with Mitaka losing his ever-present smiling glint and Kyoko opening up emotionally.
I’ve written over a thousand words now, and could probably write a thousand more about this fantastic series. Rather than do that, however, I think I’ll merely conclude with a heartfelt recommendation: you simply must read Maison Ikkoku.