The Maison Ikkoku Viewing Project, part 0: Background

So as I mentioned in the previous post, I’m planning to start a watchthrough of Maison Ikkoku, the second anime TV series based on a manga by Rumiko Takahashi.  (Fun fact: Firefox recommends “Hashish” as a spelling correction for “Takahashi”.) Here’s a basic rundown of the series and my plans to get us started.

What is Maison Ikkoku?

Maison Ikkoku (or, as Anglicized from the Japanese, Mezon Ikkoku) is a series by Rumiko Takahashi that ran as a manga in Big Comic Spirits from 1980 to 1987, and as an anime from 1986 to 1988 (plus a  film, one original OVA, and a couple of compilation videos).  There is also a live-action film from 1986, and two live-action TV specials from 2007 and 2008.  Big Comic Spirits was a biweekly magazine, so while its run largely overlapped with Urusei Yatsura, it has 161 chapters (plus one side story) and 15 volumes to UY’s 366 and 34.  The anime likewise has roughly half as many episodes as the UY TV series.

What’s it about?

The titular Maison Ikkoku is a run-down Tokyo boardinghouse, and the story follows the lives of its eccentric inhabitants.  While the series was originally intended as an anthology, it wound up focusing on one story: the developing relationship between the boardinghouse’s manager, Kyoko Otonashi, and one of its residents, the struggling student Yusaku Godai.

What’s it like?

It’s kind of an anomaly in Takahashi’s body of work, but not in a bad way.  It’s her only major work with no SF or magical elements (One-Pound Gospel being more of a side project) and the only one that qualifies as seinen rather than shounen, meaning that it’s aimed at an older audience.  While it starts as a comedy, it develops strong dramatic elements, fleshing out and deepening its characters over time.  It runs in roughly real time, so the characters age several years in the course of the story..  And it’s her only  long work that tells a complete story with a definitive resolution, and whose TV anime adapts the entire story through the conclusion.

Where is it available in English?

Well, good news and bad news on that front.  The good news is that due to its short length, Viz was able to collect the manga multiple times, and most of those releases aren’t too hard to get.

They originally released it in flipped form over 80 comic issues in  9 “volumes” (which don’t correspond to the collections), which were then collected in 14 volumes that don’t quite follow the Japanese release (as evinced by having 1 fewer volume).  A few early chapters that were skipped were printed in  Animerica Extra, and one wasn’t collected in this edition (it’s not a big loss).  The comics aren’t in great demand and the collections can be had for a few dollars on Amazon or eBay, so if you don’t mind flipped art this is the cheapest way to get the whole series.

The series was re-released with a standard trim size and unflipped from 2003 to 2006, also including the previously missing chapter.  Many of these volumes are still available as new items through Amazon, or used for a reasonable price (although make sure you’re getting the correct edition, since Amazon links the two versions).  However, volumes 8 and 9 were underprinted, and sell for quite a bit.  For a long time Amazon didn’t have volume 8 listed at all; there are currently 3 lower-condition copies in the $40 range, and  new copies starting at 88.  Volume 9 currently starts at $103.  eBay has 1 copy of each for  $65 and $54 respectively.  Fortunately, if you can’t get these volumes you can  plug the gap with the flipped versions. (I don’t currently have flipped copies to compare them with; when I get a chance I’ll edit this to mention which volumes are needed.)

The anime…is more of a challenge.  There were 32 VHS tapes released, covering 64 episodes, with dubbed versions available through episode 36.  These list on eBay from a few bucks through around $20 for sealed copies; I can’t speak to the availability of particular volumes, so if this is your preferred format you’re on your own.

Viz re-released the TV series in eight 12-episode DVD boxed sets, with a new dub for the previously undubbed episodes.  The early sets are readily available for around $30, but they go up sharply from there.  Amazon doesn’t have any used copies past volume 4.  On eBay, volumes 4 and up sell for triple digits (with an occasional outlier); volume 8 currently has 2 listings, a sealed one for $500 and discs only for $200.  (When I completed my collection, I was glad to get a complete set for $550.) There really isn’t a legitimate alternative here; unlike Urusei Yatsura, there wasn’t a separate UK release.

If you don’t need an English track, the series was released in Japan on Blu-ray in two boxed sets; they’re not cheap, but probably available for less than the Viz version.  There are also Japanese laserdiscs available.

As far as I know, there’s never been an official English release of the movie, OVAs, or live-action adaptations, but they can be found through the usual channels.

How will I cover it?

In general, I plan to alternate MI with UY, and will cover it in the same way as I have with UY: following the official Viz DVDs and 2nd edition manga. (Any manga references will be to that edition, which corresponds to the Japanese release.) I’ll cover the OVA chronologically by release (since it’s a side story of dubious canonicity) and the movie chronologically by story (since it falls at a specific point in the plot).  I’ll probably cover the live-action adaptations once I’ve reached the point in the story they adapt, to avoid spoilers and allow for proper comparison to the anime.

Unlike UY, I’ll probably also do an occasional side post to cover material that’s in the manga but not the anime.  The UY anime is its own thing, with its own characters, stories, and tone, so a direct comparison would be too wide-ranging.  However, the MI anime covers more or less the same ground as the manga, making the points of difference more interesting. (For example, there’s a resident of the boardinghouse who doesn’t appear in the TV anime at all.)

The other difference of note from UY is the presence of a dub. (I may do a side post on the UY dub voices from the movies and “Those Obnoxious Aliens”, but that’s all.) I don’t intend to spend too much time watching the dub, but I’ll probably dip into it to compare it with the original, and to evaluate the cast changes for the DVD-exclusive dubbed episodes.

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