Maison Ikokku, Vols. 1-14 (original Viz English language edition)
Story and Art: Rumiko Takahashi
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars
"Maison Ikkoku" is a romantic comedy that focuses on Godai, a young man who falls in love with the manager of his apartment building (the building is what the series is named for). The manager is Kyoko, a young widow who is still recovering from the loss of her husband, her first and (so far) only true love.
The series follows the development of Godai and Kyoko's relationship, as it is threatened by romantic rivals, the general weirdness of the other residents of Maison Ikkoku, and misunderstandings that, if featured on sit-coms, might actualy make them worth watching. The readers also get to follow the emotional growth of Godai and Kyoko, both of whom really have a lot of maturing to do when the series starts. Although the supporting cast and much of the comedic antics are pure slap-stick, Godai and Kyoko are very real characters in whom you will become emotionally invested... and for whom you may well feel yourself misting up when their story comes to an end.
"Maison Ikkoku" consists of 14 volumes. As with all of Takahashi's work, the art is pleasing to the eye, the characters are all likable, and the humour is genuinely funny. Some elements of the story grow out of Japanese culture, but the characters are developed enough that the reader can nonetheless relate to all their reactions, viewpoints, joys and heartbreaks.
A quick search tells me that this series is currently out of print in English. That's a shame, because it truly is one of the better comic books/graphic novel series to ever have been penned. (Yeah, yeah... it's not a comic book, it's manga--blah-blah-blah. It's got panels, it's got speech bubbles, it's got sound-effects drawn in... it's a comic book.)
However, I think if you go to the library, eBay.com, or Half-Priced Book for a cheap second-hand copy of Vol. 1 of the series and follow it through to the end, you'll agree with me that it's an amazing bit of work. You'll also get to watch Takahashi's style evolve. "Maison Ikkoku" was one of her first long-running series; her style clearly developes and improves as it goes along, but even those rough first volumes are far and above superior to run-of-the-mill comics both back then and today.
(Note: This review and the Nine Star-rating is based on the original Viz editions. The current printing is in the "non-flipped" mode, and the books read right to left, back to front. The more recent editions gets Five Stars for Viz's butchering of what was a fine translation of this Japanese series. For my commentary on the obnoxious, cheap way Japanese comics have been increasingly presented in English since 2005,click here.)