Touching video for ”I’m Alive” stars the cast of Rumiko Takahashi’s Maison Ikkoku.

With Japanese animation’s global popularity higher than it’s ever been, it’s not so shocking to see Western recording artists incorporating the medium’s aesthetics into their music videos. The new video for American singer/songwriter Norah Jones’ “I’m Alive” does more than just sprinkle in a few anime-style illustrations, though, as it’s entirely composed of images from one of anime/manga’s greatest love stories.

▼ Heads up: While the video’s text is all in Japanese, the visuals take you through almost all of the Maison Ikkoku storyline.

“I’m Alive” was released as a single last spring, but the inspiration for the video comes from 40 years ago, in the form of legendary manga creator Rumiko Takahashi’s Maison Ikkoku. In contrast to Takahashi’s zanier Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2, and Inuyasha, Maison Ikkoku is pretty firmly grounded in reality. There’re no aliens invading, curses to undo, or monsters to slay, just a whole bunch of people who’re trying to figure out the feelings they have in their hearts, and whether or not those feelings are going to stay the same over time.

Those questions are particularly difficult for female lead Kyoko Otonashi, a young widow who takes over managerial duties at a run-down apartment house owned by her late husband’s family. The closer she gets to one of its tenants, hapless college student Yusaku Godai, the more she has to question whether loving someone else would be betraying the memory and love of her husband. In Kyoko’s ruminations on what it means to be alive, and what to do with something so precious, the video’s producers say they saw a parallel between Jones’ lyrics for “I’m Alive” and the song’s bittersweet but soothing arrangement.

Kyoko isn’t the only one trying to figure out who she is and who she wants to be with, either. Early on, Maison Ikkoku treats the possibility of her deciding to never love any man other than her husband as a valid emotional choice, and establishes the risk that the more Yusaku falls for her, the more he risks setting himself up to end up alone, and even perhaps rejecting alternate paths to romantic happiness that were open to him.

While no new artwork was produced for the video, Takahashi’s emotionally evocative illustrations have a timeless quality to them, particularly as the majority of the images come from scenes after the characters lost some of their early-chapter design awkwardness. There’re also a few added animation effects, and the smoothness with which they’re integrated show off how even Takahashi’s still artwork was drawn with attention paid to how the character’s would be moving within the scenes.

For those who’ve never read/watch Maison Ikkoku, the video’s tone serves as a unique preview of what to expect, and it’s a special treat for long-time fans too. When Maison Ikkoku was first being published in English, there were concerns about how well it would resonate with readers outside Japan, and even a few chapters dealing with unique aspects of the Japanese education system were cut in order to avoid confusion and speed the plot up. So seeing the series now being treated so respectfully is a reaffirming bit of recognition for a genuine classic.

Source, images: YouTube/Blue Note Records
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[ Read in Japanese ]

Follow Casey on Twitter, where he still remembers subscribing to Maison Ikkoku’s English release and getting floppies in the mail each month.

[ Read in Japanese ]