It's better than the last TV Asahi Maison Ikkoku special, but still bad enough that I'll soon be using the words "unforgiveable" and "eviscerates". What's good about it is that it didn't fill me with hatred for the entire Japanese television industry, but it's still a shockingly poor adaptation of a classic manga, which given the existence of the anime you shouldn't contemplate watching under any circumstances up to and including gentle torture.
As usual, obviously, it needs saying that Japanese TV's not all bad. They make anime, for a start. NHK has some good documentaries. Even just talking about their live-action drama output, at least they make a reasonable number of new shows, including genre stuff. That's better than the UK TV industry, for a start. Obviously the acting in some of these Japanese TV dramas will make your eyes fall out and give cancer to puppies, but some shows can get away with this and so it just adds to the kitsch for something like Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon to be basically a camera pointing at untrained schoolgirls. However that's no excuse here. Maison Ikkoku is a realistic love story, despite the strong comedy, and in that genre it's all-important to be able to believe in the lovers. That's our problem here and it's a show-stopper.
It's the acting. Again, it's down to the acting. Personally I regard this show as unwatchable by any reasonable definition, but to be fair it's also a significant improvement on last time and has quite a few bits that are non-horrible or even (whisper it) good. Surprisingly I quite liked the Evil Three, with Kayoko Kishimoto (Ichinose) and Ittoku Kishibe (Yotsuya) both doing quite well and only Yumiko Takahashi (Akemi) being guilty of empty pantomime. There's a nice device every so often of one of them sitting outside Maison Ikkoku and talking directly to camera as a narrator, even if this does unfortunately mean looking into the dead eyes of Takahashi. Meanwhile Taiki Nakabayashi (Godai) still has that gormless charm and actually does rather well with his role, although I'm not sure he's selling Godai's brainfarts. Kin Sugai shows up at the end again as Godai's grandmother and she's great. Quite a few of the returning cast seem to have relaxed into their roles, in a good way.
Then you've got the newbies, both of whom are good by TV Asahi standards. You couldn't accuse them of any serious acting, but at least they seem to believe that they are who they say they are. I had a good feeling last time about what little we saw of Ikki Sawamura (Mitaka) and I'm happy to say I was right. He's in the moment. His marriage proposal feels truthful, I like his struggles with the dogs and he can also faint convincingly. He's the one cast member I prefer to the anime incarnation, since he's so honest and sweet that you really believe he's a serious contender for Kyoko's hand and you'd be more than happy to see him win. The tug-of-love doesn't feel so one-sided when he's on screen. Unfortunately the show hasn't given him an Asuna, which leaves a hole in the story as he ends up simply getting nothing as opposed to meeting his manga counterpart's fate of... uh, spoilers. Both endings are sad, but the anime's version is also poignant and satisfying. Here you're just left feeling sorry for the nicest guy in the show and wishing he hadn't kept going off for months on end for all that phobia training.
The other important newbie is Akina Minami (Kozue), who's been recast from the previous year's Nana Eikura. I wouldn't have known if I hadn't looked it up, though. That was only a cameo. Minami isn't really doing much and she has one poor reaction shot, but again I believed that this was Kozue instead of an actor who's taking the piss.
However there's an elephant in the room. Yup, it's Misaki Ito (Kyoko).
Wow, she's awful. It's weird. She was on the "okay" side of rubbish last time, but here she made me never want to watch television again. She's putting no effort into anything. Did she see herself last time and lose heart? She makes her misunderstandings with Godai look like the worst kinds of TV cliche, she's perfunctory when she's supposedly angry and not for a single moment is she even adequate, let alone good. Her request near the end that Godai live longer than her is still beautiful, but that's entirely thanks to Rumiko Takahashi and in spite of Ito's performance rather than because of it. This is where I start getting out those special words I was referring to earlier. We're talking about a adaptation of Maison Ikkoku whose Kyoko has no emotional connection to her dead husband, Souichiro, not even when she's kneeling at his graveside and talking to the stone! Oh, they've given her the scenes, but she's sleepwalking through them. Unbelievable. The story is thus rendered pointless. Most things I can squint past, but not this. It eviscerates the narrative and right now I'd like never to see Ito ever act in anything again. She's gorgeous, yes, but there are limits.
Nakabayashi also has a scene of talking to Souichiro's grave, incidentally, and he manages much better. He's also quite good at the jobseeking comedy, by the way. Nakabayashi deserved better.
In fairness, the show can be funny. I occasionally laughed at the previous special even in the middle of violently hating it, but this one builds on that and has definite high points. The puppet show started annoyingly, but got good. I laughed at Kozue's "LOVE" sweater, at Godai's jobseeking and at Kin Sugai's conversation about funerals. It's not such a bad script, actually. Obviously they've omitted great swathes of material and I particularly regret not having Asuna, but I'm delighted and relieved that they didn't include Yagami since their attempt at doing her might have made me burst a blood vessel. There are a couple of plot problems, though, such as the fact that Godai was raised by his grandmother and yet he has parents and a sister who are alive, well and running a restaurant. He even visits them! I presume there's an explanation of that somewhere in the manga, but am I really expected to have memorised that to watch this? Furthermore there's the fact that putting so much stress on Godai's jobseeking and so little on his time at college makes it look as if he blew off the latter on the assumption that he'd get a job afterwards and it would all be okay. It's perhaps possible that that was even the intention, but nevertheless it's a turn-off to see Godai as a guy who thinks it doesn't matter to be a wastrel and do nothing for a year.
While I'm nitpicking, by the way, did they move Souichiro's grave? I'm sure it used to be in a graveyard. Or is that a normal thing in Japanese families and you'll sometimes get people transplanting their deceased relatives' gravestones? I've just checked. Answer: no. Of course it's possible that I'm misremembering and I should rewatch the 2007 special to double-check, but that's obviously never happening.
The show occasionally looks cheap (e.g. the empty theatre), but it's not bad to look at. Ito is beautiful, Minami is cute and Yumiko Takahashi is... um, miscast. They've found a retarded-looking baby (yes, more than most babies), but McEnroe the dog was cute. I also liked the puppets being done in Rumiko Takahashi's style. However why can no one hit Godai properly?
This is an abortion of a show, but it has funny and/or interesting bits. Meeting Mr Ichinose was a cool surprise, Kyoko's brief psychic powers were wacky and I quite liked Sakamoto. Those are good scenes. The acting is variously wooden, flatly pantomimed, risibly incompetent and so bad that it deserved to kill Ito's career, but it's also better than last time and usually not unwatchable. It's light-hearted fun. If you can't tell the difference between acting and blindly doing what the director says... then you've got a future in Japanese television, ba-doom tish. It didn't cause me pain, although I was admittedly checking the clock and there's not the slightest excuse for Misaki Ito. Don't watch this. It would be morally wrong to do so. However if you do, you'll see that it's not impossible that its TV production company might even have been pleased with it.