I remember getting a bit confused the first time I watched the Tenchi Muyo franchise. Cartoon Network started with showing the original OVA series, which did not always fit within a half-hour time slot. Then it moved on to Tenchi Universe, and I found that these were two separate shows, with two separate stories, but involving the same characters. After that came Tenchi in Tokyo, which told another separate story with the same characters. I didn’t finish that one, but I’ve seen two of the movies and heard about further additions to the OVA, as well as further additions to the franchise, including a spin-off following one of Tenchi’s relatives in War on Geminar.
All in all, this is one off the least coherent franchises out there, but still very fun and funny, with comedy, action, sci-fi, and harem hijinks as could only be demonstrated by one of the forerunners of the trope, before it became so vastly overused. One just needs to remember that each title is its own show and does its own thing.
For something like this, obviously the characters are going be of utmost importance. That’s part of why I stopped part-way through Tokyo, because the characters and what they were going through felt much more bland to me than they had in the previous two shows I’d seen. In those, however, I absolutely loved them.
There was the space pirate Ryoko, fierce and feisty and wearing her heart on her sleeve even when she tried to keep it sheltered. There was the mad scientist, Washu, gleefully insane and impossible to entirely quell. There were the two officers of the space police, the bumbling, slothful Mihoshi and her stressed-out, straight arrow of a partner, Kiyone. Crown Princess Ayeka of Jurai was an annoying little queen B of a woman, always so prim and proper and selfish, while her little sister Sasami was absolutely adorable!
With all of these women in the spotlight, Tenchi showed that he was clearly not a typical alpha male or anything like that, but he was still a real character, not like most of the bland self-inserts which have led so many harem anime since. He wasn’t flamboyant, more humble and enduring, but caring and possessing a quieter form of resolve. He tended to get caught up into the plot, rather than making it happen, but when he made a choice, he stuck to it, gentle but unyielding. Like the time he had to go and rescue Ayeka, and Ryoko tried to convince him to leave with her instead, to go somewhere safe. He liked the idea, and was honest about it, but chose to do what he felt was right instead, conveyed with a simple shake of his head. Against that simple determination, Ryoko didn’t just let him go, she put her body and her life on the line to help him.
I also liked all the strange and alien technologies the show used, which might be another reason why Tokyo lost me, as such took a back seat. It varied between the shows, but they were such neat little ideas that I couldn’t help but enjoy them. The one ship being able to fire from all sorts of angles all at once by using portals, the protective lighthawk wings, the defensive laser stations, the computer screens and keyboards that can appear in the air before you (how convenient that would be!), and so on and so forth. Oh, and the little bunnies who meowed like cats, loved carrots, and could turn into spaceships! Talk about a cute mascot for the franchise!
Of course it wasn’t always thrilling or anything like that. Some of the punch lines were a bit overdone, like, say, when Tenchi was challenged to a duel by a prince and the prince got washed away by a wave that resulted from a meteor fall, which everyone but the prince saw coming. But there were still plenty of zany adventures, everything from alternate realities to proof that all superweapons – and anything in Washu’s hands would become a superweapon, even haunted houses and cotton candy machines – need an off switch.
I feel the urge to go back, to rewatch this series again, and to see if I can fill out what I’ve already seen with the rest of the franchise that I have not. I think I’ll put that on my list of things to look into after I straighten out a few other projects of mine.
Basically, the Tenchi Muyo franchise is a classic for a reason, because it was one of the first anime in the wave which paved the way for all the rest to follow into the West, because it was one of the earliest harems, because it was fun and hilarious, with lovable, colorful characters who weren’t just archetypes, and a bit of action and, of course, science fiction. It’s not bad. Not bad at all.
Mind you, I also recall, quite vividly, the moment when I realized that the version aired by Cartoon Network was actually a bit censored, so there’s that particular consideration to keep in mind. Ah, it seems the world is determined to make things which I cannot share with the kiddies! C’est la vie!
Rating: 8 stars out of 10.
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