Maison Ikkoku is one of the first animes that I started watching, and ignited my love affair with Japanese cartoons. This unlikely romance between a weak student and the lovely female caretaker of his boarding house is surprisingly captivating when I don’t consider myself a big fan of love stories.
Godai Yuhsaku is a weak-willed college student who is aware of his own incompetence, and fear to confess his feelings for Kyoko, though it is plain to everyone that he is head over heels in love with her. Otonashi Kyoko is a young widow who cannot bear to let go of her feelings towards her dead husband Souichiro and so is unable to accept Godai’s feelings for her. Halfway through the story, her own feelings for Godai start to reveal themselves, though she denies them, unwilling to let another man take Souichiro’s place in her heart. To those around them, their growing familiarity with each other is very noticable, becoming, as other characters put it, domestic.
Living under the same roof, they had plenty of opportunity to interact, so 3 wacky tenants at the apartment were thrown into the story to mess up those opportunities. 6 years is a long time, and rivals for the affection of Godai and Kyoko were added to frustrate and test the depth of their feelings. The presence of these rivals push the 2 indecisive main characters to sort out their emotions and force them to move towards each other. They continue to get jealous of their rivals, though Godai would not admit it to Kyoko, and Kyoko would not admit it to even herself until much later.
That a good man like Coach Mitaka is Godai’s rival for Kyoko is entirely understandable, and it is amazing that he would lose to the incompetent Godai, whose only redeeming grace seem to be his kindness and dedication towards Kyoko. It is more amazing that Kyoko had to fight off 2 younger rivals for Godai, and had another 2 rivals who were so young that she did not take seriously. Somehow Godai has a tendency to attract young and simple girls. Perhaps Kyoko saw it the same way as Godai’s grandma, who once said to Godai something along the line of “Your grandpa was a wimp like you, but when I saw the desperation in his eyes, I knew he will love me forever.”
These obstacles and distractions drag on the story for 96 episodes. After all, Godai had to graduate and get a permanent job to be financially independent before he can propose to Kyoko. At about 20 minutes an episode, this comes to around 36 hours or 1 and a half day to watch. Not that I took it all at one go. I would have become numb and missed the fun of the show. Unlike much of Japanese manga and anime, the story actually gets somewhere and is more than just endless story arcs. It is a marathon story, but with a clear goal.
The whole point of watching is not to see how the story ends, but how the characters change along the way. I find these characters growing on me and I just can’t help but root for them. It was a delight to see signs along the way that Kyoko has more or less chosen Godai, and is waiting for him to be ready to marry her. Godai eventually graduated from college and found a job, 5 years into the story, and Kyoko realised after 4 years that she will eventually let go of Souichiro.