The Maison Ikkoku Viewing Project, part 1: “Sorry To Keep You Waiting! I’m Kyoko Otonashi!”

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Episode 1: “Sorry To Keep You Waiting!  I’m Kyoko Otonashi!”

Original airdate: March 26, 1986

Corresponding manga chapter: “What Are the Neighbors Doing?”, volume 1, chapter 1

Major characters introduced: Kyoko Otonashi, Yusaku Godai, Mrs. Ichinose, Akemi Roppongi, Mr. Yotsuya, Kentaro Ichinose, Soichiro

Summary: It’s a rainy night in the Clock Hill district of Tokyo, and through voiceover we’re introduced to our main character, Yusaku Godai, a ronin who’s studying for an important entrance exam.  This should be a good time to study, but it’s hard to concentrate with this going on:

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These are Godai’s neighbors, Mrs. Ichinose, Akemi, and Mr. Yotsuya, partying away in his room and trying to get him to join in.  Godai’s only response is to snap his pencil in frustration, and by the time morning rolls around, his temper finally snaps as well.  He yells at them to get out, and is pelted by an array of pots from the neighbors he’s disturbed with his shouting.  The trio leaves, with both Akemi and Yotsuya telling Godai not to peep at them (the latter crawling through a hole in the wall).

Out on the streets, morning traffic has started, and a group of kindergartners laugh at a strange-looking dog riding on top of a truck. (They run past Onsen-Mark from Urusei Yatsura, and one of them looks like a child version of Megane.) The truck stops in the Clock Hill Shopping District, and an attractive woman we don’t see fully asks for directions to Maison Ikkoku.  The shopkeepers gather round in amazement and exclaim “Poor girl!”, repeating it after she ignores their advice not to go there.

Back at the boarding house, Godai swears he’s leaving for good; Mrs. Ichinose points out that this is the third time this month, and that he’s just afraid of failing his exam.  Godai replies that the problem is with his environment.

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Akemi comes down the stairs to complain about the noise, wearing a nightgown with a see-through top, which flusters Godai and interests Yotsuya, even though Mrs. Ichinose points out she’s always wearing it.  Godai insists that his mind is made up for real, but when he turns to go, he’s frozen in place by the entrance of the previously-seen beautiful woman, who introduces herself as Koyko Otonashi.

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When asked about the previous manager, we cut to a flashback of an old man standing in the rain, saying “I’m exhausted” and slowly walking away.  The others prompt Godai to tell the manager his plans, but he denies any intention of leaving.  When she leaves to get her belongings, the women wonder if a young woman will be able to handle it, while Godai rhapsodizes about her name.  Outside, Kyoko stretches in a sunbeam, smiles, and says “Best foot forward!”, stepping out into the eyecatch. (The eyecatch includes a character we won’t meet until episode 9.)

Coming back from commercial, Kyoko is drawn a bit better, and we get our first good look at her iconic apron design. (“Piyo piyo” is onomatopoeia corresponding to “cheep cheep”.)

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Godai, who’s also better drawn, happily watches Kyoko direct the movers in carrying her boxes from the truck.  She sees him watching and encourages him to work on his exams, calling him “Mr. Ronin”.  Godai goes back to his room and repeats her words, then gets firm with himself that it’s time to study…once he fixes the hole to Mr. Yotsuya’s room.

A boy runs into the boardinghouse yard, shouting “I’m home!”, but finds himself distracted by the new doghouse.

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This is Mrs. Ichinose’s son Kentaro, who’s introduced to Kyoko and her dog, Soichiro (which both the Ichinoses think is a strange name for a dog).

Back in room 5, Godai has just finished nailing up the hole in the wall when he hears a noise on the other side, ,which turns out to be Mr. Yotsuya with a battering ram.

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Godai’s frustrated shouting is derailed when Yotsuya summons him to the futon closet, where he can see Akemi stretched out on her bed.  Godai points out that it’s the same thing she wore that morning, and goes back to study when Yotsuya remembers his true reason for coming over: to throw a welcome party for the manager, since no one has anything to do. Godai raises the series’ great unanswered question (what does Mr. Yotsuya do for a living?) and says he’ll come, but will have to leave early to study.

Akemi approaches Kyoko for help with a problem: Godai peeps on her every day, and the old manager wouldn’t do anything about it.  They approach him in his room, which he hastily attempts to tidy up, in the process knocking over a stack of girly mags in the futon closet.  They find the peephole, but Godai angrily denies responsibility, pointing out the boarded-up hole in the other wall.  Kyoko concludes that this must mean Godai peeps at men too, leading him into a wild take where he’s stampeded by the chicks from Kyoko’s apron.

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While Kyoko seals up the hole, Godai continues to protest his innocence, but is having a hard time focusing on his studies while Kyoko is bent over in the closet.  They’re interrupted by the arrival of the others, who are setting up the party in Godai’s room, since it’s the least cluttered.

Godai does his best to study, but as night falls everyone (except Kentaro) is getting drunker; even Kyoko is being plied by Akemi.  He stomps off to hide in the futon closet, snapping at Kyoko when she calls him “ronin”.  Kyoko feels bad for hurting his feelings, and the others turn up their shennanigans, singing loudly and calling for him to come out.  Kyoko yells at them for hurting him, and inside the closet Godai is happy that she spoke up for him, but Akemi’s response is to loudly ask why the manager is taking her clothes off.

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The others take up the thread (except Kentaro, who’s embarrassed by his mother) and Godai eventually emerges; Akemi and Yotsuya collar him and point to this as an example of his true character.  Kyoko’s response is to look chagrined and say “Nothing fazes you people”.

Came the morn, and we see another scene that will become very familiar, as Kyoko is sweeping the walk.  She pauses to commiserate with Soichiro, asking whether she can handle this bunch of nuts.  Looking up, she sees Godai trying to throw himself out the window; their eyes meet, and Godai’s voiceover returns as we pull back into a symbolic tableau…

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Changes from the manga version: The events are the same between both versions, but the anime switches around the timing a bit to stretch out the pacing.  The scenes with the shopkeepers are new.  The mood of the anime episode is softer and does more to set up the Kyoko/Godai romance, since the animators had the benefit of hindsight in knowing where the series would go.

Thoughts: This episode is a good start to the series, establishing the characters and setting up one of the important early threads (Godai’s studies).  As I said above, the animators had more than two-thirds of the manga to draw from at this point, so they knew that the Godai/Kyoko relationship would become central and were able to add bits of setup that weren’t in the original.  The story still has the same spine as the manga (the neighbors torment Godai), but there are little moments added (like his happy reaction when Kyoko defends him, or the bit at the end) that play up the direction the series will take.

The neighbors do come off as pretty obnoxious here, although it’s pretty clear that they like Godai and aren’t deliberately trying to sabotage him, just have some fun at his expense.  At this point in the series it does help to know that they do become better-rounded characters, though; Mrs. Ichinose’s fans come out an awful lot early on.

The early Godai is pretty well-defined here; he’s studying for his college entrance exams but having a hard time of it.  In contrast, we have a basic sense of Kyoko’s personality (nice but over her head) but none of her backstory at this point; it’ll come out in the upcoming episodes. (There is a bit of Significant Foreshadowing surrounding the dog’s name, although it’s only really noticeable in hindsight.)

Speaking of Kyoko, note that most of the characters refer to her as “manager”; I’ll use that when paraphrasing dialogue, but will generally call her by name when otherwise.

I enjoyed the pacing of this episode very much.  This is a twenty-page manga story spread out over 22 minutes; the manga is very rapid-fire, going from incident to incident with no time to breathe, but the anime is able to take some time for setting the scene and mood.  This helps distinguish the feel from Urusei Yatsura, which (excepting some Oshii-helmed episodes) would have filled the space with more jokes, and also sets up some of the sense of place that’s an important part of MI.  (Literally as well as figuratively, since the animators were able to show parts of the house that we don’t see in the manga, like the hallway.)

The animation is an interesting mix, because an experienced 1986 animation team is adapting a 1980 story.  I wasn’t kidding about Kyoko being better-drawn after the commercial break; in closeups Godai and Kyoko are drawn with more open, rounded eyes, while in longer shots Godai in particular looks more like he did in the earlier volumes.

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The shot of Kyoko when she first appears doesn’t look quite right, either, but I think that’s partially because she’s wearing makeup. (In the manga this scene is a color page reprinted in black and white, so she looks like she has bruised cheeks.)

When we see the flashback of the old manager leaving, we see these two standing with Kyoko.  At this point I can’t remember who they are, so let’s keep an eye out for when they show up again.

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Next: It’s Christmas time, and love and jealousy are in the air!

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