Learning to Love -The Epic Romance of Maison Ikkoku- Gerard Jones Interview
As the story progresses through its 15 volumes, the final of which ships this month, we follow Godai as he grows into manhood, learning how to love as Kyoko learns how to love again.
It’s February, the season of jewelry, chocolates, and chick flicks, of taking the ideal of love and mass-marketing the life out of it. Thankfully, no amount of Matthew McConaughey vehicles could ever choke the magic out of real, honest romance, the overwhelming passion that occupies your thoughts every second of every day, the kind of romance captured beautifully in Maison Ikkoku.
Crafted by master manga artist Rumiko Takahashi, the creator of Ranma ½ and InuYasha and the best-selling female comics artist in the world, Maison Ikkoku tells the story of Yusaku Godai, a young man struggling to pass his college entrance exams in spite of the noisy neighbors whose constant partying would drive anyone insane. Just as Godai is ready to pull up stakes and move out, the ratty apartment building that is the series’ namesake gets a new manager, the beautiful Kyoko Otonashi. Godai, smitten at first sight, decides he’s not going anywhere, but Kyoko carries a painful secret: she’s a widow whose husband died shortly after the pair’s marriage. With memories of her husband at the front of her mind, Kyoko initially rebuffs Godai’s advances, but soon finds herself another suitor in the handsome tennis coach Shun Mitaka, a ladykiller who won’t take no for an answer.
As the story progresses through its 15 volumes, the final of which ships this month, we follow Godai as he grows into manhood, learning how to love as Kyoko learns how to love again. “It’s rare to find a comic book, or any popular entertainment, built on so many believable, endearing characters that then actually lets them evolve,” says Gerard Jones, who adapted MI into English. “Takahashi was so deft at moving the story forward, giving us faith that things would actually change and come to a conclusion, letting Godai grow, and at the same time keeping us solidly and comfortingly grounded in the familiar, in what we wanted to see every episode. She took her time with it, too: The changes were often imperceptible, like they are in real life, stealing over us gradually, so we weren’t as conscious of the storyteller’s pace, the pushing that we’re so used to from other entertainment.”
Takahashi’s deft writing fills the book with comedy and romance in equal measure, but it is MI’s uncannily honest portrayal of young love that leaves those who discover the series hopelessly obsessed with it, even though it has never had the sales success of Takahashi’s other works in the United States. “It doesn’t whack you instantly with its high-concept or exotic worlds,” Jones reasons. “You have to make a commitment to it and give it time in order to really enjoy it.”
MI was first translated to English by Viz Comics in the much less manga-informed early ’90s, where many of the series uniquely Japanese elements were softened and whole storylines were initially cut to accelerate the Godai-Kyoko-Mitaka love triangle. “Everyone at Viz was very insecure about the response the American market would have to these odd foreign comics,” Jones explains, “so the philosophy of the company was to keep the material as accessible as possible to the average American comics reader. In retrospect, that was a mistake, but I think it was a pretty understandable mistake for a new company in a new market.” The new edition recently released by Viz reprints the series in its original Japanese order and original right-to-left orientation, but keeps the same flawed adaptation. Despite the small details lost in translation, Takahashi’s masterwork still stands as a towering achievement, and the most magical romance ever captured on the comics page.
With MI’s second edition drawing to a close and InuYasha still enjoying massive popularity, where does that leave Takahashi’s first major series Urusei Yatsura, the wacky boy-meets-alien comedy that Viz published a small chunk of in the 1990s? “I’d love to work on more Urusei Yatsura,” Jones enthuses, “and I make sure the management of Viz knows that. Maybe if Takahashi enjoys another wave of popularity in America we’ll be so blessed!”
The Complete Gerard Jones Interview
Where does Maison Ikkoku rate for you among the other manga series you’ve worked on?
It and Ranma were unquestionably my favorites. Ranma was easier and breezier, but MI was the more rewarding. No other manga I've worked on has given me so much opportunity to work with characters and the subtleties of the ways people talk. And I was caught up in the plot, in wondering what was going to happen, as with no other adaptation job.
Why do you think the series engenders such passion in its fans? It seems that almost everyone who reads the story declares it their favorite series of all time.
It's rare to find a comic book, or any popular entertainment, built on so many believable, endearing characters that then actually lets them evolve. Takahashi was so deft at moving the story forward, giving us faith that things would actually change and come to a conclusion, letting Godai grow, and at the same time keeping us solidly and comfortingly grounded in the familiar, in what we wanted to see every episode. She took her time with it, too: the changes were often imperceptible, like they are in real life, stealing over us gradually, so we weren't as conscious of the storyteller's pace, the pushing that we're so used to from other entertainment.
Why do you think MI has never achieved the widespread success of Takahashi’s other works, like Ranma ½ or Inuyasha?
It doesn't whack you instantly with its high concept or exotic worlds. You have to make a commitment to it and give it time in order to really enjoy it. Most people, zipping around for something to read, don't give a series that time.
Were there any characters you found more fun to write than others?
The weirdoes, like Mrs. Ichinose, were always fun to spin lines for us. But helping make Godai's character and evolution clear was ultimately the most intriguing and satisfying part of the process.
Does any particular story arc stick out as a favorite?
I thought the whole ending sequence, from Kyoko almost marrying the wrong guy through Godai's finally figuring how to say what he wanted to say, was just lovely.
Early on in the series’ English publication, a lot of translation decisions were made to make the series more palatable to an American comics audience who was not intimately familiar with Japanese society and customs, such as downplaying the early ronin storyline, referring to Kyoko’s dog as “Mr. Soichiro”, and referring to characters by first name instead of last name (such as “Yusaku” instead of “Godai”). I was wondering if you could shed some light on why these decisions were made initially, and why these changes remained in Viz’s newest editions now that the series’ more uniquely Japanese elements are more widely understood by American manga fandom.
In the beginning, everyone at Viz was very insecure about the response the American market would have to these odd foreign comics, so the philosophy of the company was to keep the material as accessible as possible to the average American comics reader. In retrospect, that was a mistake, but I think it was a pretty understandable mistake for a new company in a new market, especially when the black-and-white comics market was collapsing and a lot of small publishers were going out of business. At the time, there really wasn't any big manga-and-anime fandom as far as anyone could see, and the readers who knew the cultural context wouldn't have been enough to support any series. So decisions were made—which everyone soon regretted—to Americanize some cultural elements.
They made a rule, for example, against using "chan" or "kun." (Editor’s Note: “Chan” and “kun” are Japanese honorifics, suffixes added to a person’s name to denote the speaker’s relationship to the person they’re addressing. “Chan” and “kun” imply a close relationship between the speakers, or are used by adults addressing children.) And we thought it might be off-putting to read all these youngish characters addressing Kyoko as "Manager" or "Ms. Manager." Unfortunately, too, I had no idea what was coming up in the series. I was really taking it episode by episode. So when I suggested (or agreed, I can't remember which) that the characters just call her "Kyoko," I thought I was just making it an easier read for Americans—I had no idea the Kyoko-chan kitten story was coming up. I don't think my first editor did either. All of a sudden it was just there, and we were faced with a classic "NOW what do we do?" We'd agreed not to use "chan." The characters were already on this very informal first-name basis. How could we make it plausible that she was so offended by whatever they were yelling when they called the cat? So we came up with "Kyoko-baby." Incredibly awkward, but I couldn't find anything else that would justify her anger. I was hoping the crassness and dopiness of the name would help explain her outrage. Unfortunately, it seemed to outrage fans just as much.
As for why the changes remain, it's just too expensive to make the corrections, the way the market is now and the way the series sells. We're probably stuck with "Kyoko-baby" forever, although it embarrasses me.
You are more-or-less the exclusive adapter of Rumiko Takahashi’s manga works into English. What is it that draws you to her work?
Character and humor. Those are my favorite elements to work with in my own writing, and they're what Takahashi does better than anyone in Japanese comics.
Now that MI’s second edition is wrapping up, what are the chances we’ll finally see more of Takahashi’s first major manga, Urusei Yatsura?
I'd love to work on more Urusei Yatsura, and I make sure the management of Viz knows that. Maybe if Takahashi enjoys another wave of popularity in America, we'll be so blessed!
Playbackstl.com January 31, 2006
Inu-Yasha Sengoku o-Togi Zoushi
and Rumic Trilogy.