In every long-running romantic comedy, there's bound to be a volume or two where there's no forward momentum. Stagnation, wheel-spinning, episodic shenanigans – whatever you choose to call it, every shakeup of the love triangles in volume three of Maison Ikkoku ends up settling right back into the status quo, with little major character development to show for it. The text even jokes about it, stating, “Thus, the love triangle was restored,” after resolving the previous volume's multi-chapter arc in which Kyoko was mad at both Mitaka and Godai for their other relationships.
It's not necessarily a bad thing; at this stage of the story, Maison Ikkoku is more or less a sitcom, moving slowly but assuredly toward a conclusion. It's like a glacier, without the negative connotation of the phrase, “glacial pacing.” It's the “slow” part of slow-burn romance. With all that in mind, this volume's installments are hit or miss, especially the ones focused on Godai and Kozue's relationship.
Poor Kozue! She's such a sweet girl, and Godai just keeps stringing her along. It's written as a sign of his emotional immaturity and indecisiveness, since every time he decides to break up with her he ends up wimping out either because of timing or her family's willingness to feed him. I appreciate that the characters are flawed in ways that aren't just superficial, but it can be hard to see such an earnest kid being kept on the hook when she deserves better. That's the central difficulty with parts of Maison Ikkoku like this. While I understand the need for flawed characters who make mistakes who can grow, it can be frustrating to watch them make the same mistakes over and over, especially when it's in the name of throwing up more obstacles and it comes at the expense of another character who has done absolutely nothing wrong. Kozue is an outsider to the Ikkoku and the central trio of Godai, Mitaka, and Kyoko, and she gets little character development of her own. Her only function in the story is to make Kyoko jealous and Godai look pathetic, and it's unfair.
The Kozue episodes, along with the final chapter in which Yotsuya and Godai try unsuccessfully to peep at Akemi and Kyoko trying on leotards, are for the most part the weakest of the volume, but there are plenty of stronger parts as well. As usual, Maison Ikkoku is at its best when dealing with Kyoko's feelings of grief and attachment to Sōichirō's memory. In a one-shot chapter, the dog Sōichirō escapes while Kentaro is taking him for a walk. Even though she's been moving forward – she tells her niece Ikuko that remembering him doesn't hurt anymore – the dog's disappearance causes her to feel her grief afresh. Although it doesn't push the plot forward, it's a beautifully poignant episode and a reminder that grief isn't linear and can come back as powerful as the first day you felt it any time.
Other than Mrs. Ichinose, the other Ikkoku residents have mostly been flat caricatures designed for maximum shenanigans, rumor-mongering, misunderstandings, and Godai-irritation. This volume devotes a chapter to Akemi, the bar hostess with a predilection for walking around in see-through nighties and getting drunk on the job, which serves a dual purpose when she gets plastered to the point of blacking out after being dumped and ends up kissing both Godai and Kyoko. The story humanizes her a bit, allowing the audience a glimpse of her in a vulnerable state instead of just being a pain in the ass. It also opens up an opportunity to reveal Godai's own sexual history (one bad kiss in high school, so not much to speak of there) and reawakens Kyoko's physical desire, especially after in an earlier chapter Godai realized that as a married woman, Kyoko must have had sex at some point.
Even if it's not the most emotionally weighty part, the lengthiest storyline is a five-chapter arc where Godai, after hearing a false rumor that Kyoko is marrying Mitaka, moves out of the Ikkoku. He finds a cheap place, but upon moving in discovers that the previous occupants are still there, and they don't have the money to move out. Misunderstandings build upon misunderstandings and nobody ever actually communicates; in other words, it's as typical a romcom plot as they come. Emotionally, it touches on the residents' enmeshment and how, as much as they annoy each other, they're more or less a family at this point, and any one person leaving feels like abandonment. Basically, it's a retread of the arc where Kyoko's parents tried to force her to quit her job as a manager, but without the element of added character background.
It's volumes like this one that put the “slow” in “slow-burn romance”. Because even if neither Godai nor Kyoko has grown to the point that their relationship can truly progress, the series isn't exactly in a holding pattern either, adding tiny, almost imperceptible touches of development here and there that build up to a greater picture. But, while experienced readers may know this, for first-timers, volume three may feel frustratingly static. Truly, the best is yet to come.