Tenchi Muyo! Series overview

TenchiMuyo (3)Tenchi Muyo! has been one of my favourite animes for a long time. I first saw it in the mid-90s on the SciFi channel and a good number of years ago I also acquired the series on DVD. To alleviate any confusion, I’m talking about the three OVA series which are the “main” Tenchi Muyo! line (series 3 being called “Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki”). The series has a vast and confusing array of spin-offs which are not canon to the main series which was released primarily through video-distribution. Each series is about seven episodes long.

Since I previously finished watching one Tenchi-spin off (Magical Project S), I decided to give a little overview of the main series.

In the series, an unassuming teen boy called Tenchi Masaki accidentally releases an ancient space-pirate called Ryoko from her entrapment in an ancient shrine. He does this by claiming the sword of a warrior called Yosho (spoiler: actually his grandfather) and gets wrapped up in the grudge between Ryoko and the Princess of Planet Jurai, Ayeka, who was Yosho’s half-sister. More alien women start cropping up at Tenchi’s home and eventually after a battle with the evil Kagato, the motley crew of aliens decide to stay at Tenchi’s home which sets the series up for some hilarious slapstick and situational comedy.

TenchiMuyo (5)The series is one of the earliest and most notable examples of the “harem comedy” genre, where each of the alien women staying with Tenchi have some degree of romantic feelings for him:

  • Ryoko – The sexy, spike-haired space-pirate who can also float through the air and through walls starts off on a violent rampage. As the series progresses, she seems to fall genuinely in love with Tenchi, although she acts rude and ill-tempered towards everyone else.
  • Ayeka – Bonds with Tenchi after learning about how Tenchi got Yosho’s sword. She and Ryoko are constantly at each other’s throats due to Ryoko’s past rampages leading to Yosho’s disappearance. Ayeka also develops a crush on Tenchi (spoiler: despite technically being his great step-aunt).
  • Sasami – Ayeka’s adorable baby half-sister. She’s well-tempered and level-headed. She has a bit of a girlish crush on Tenchi but isn’t as possessive and whiney. (Spoiler: She’s only considered a romantic rival by Ryoko and Ayeka when it’s revealed that upon maturing she’ll begin to resemble the tree-spirit Tsunami)
  • Mihoshi – A ditzy, happy-go-lucky officer of Galaxy Police. Mihoshi’s interest in Tenchi isn’t particularly strong but she’s also otherwise generally oblivious.
  • Washu – Ryoko’s “mother”, an ancient scientific genius who looks like a teenaged girl. Less romantic, Washu’s interests in Tenchi are more scientific (though she obsesses over the elusive sperm-sample she isn’t able to get from him), though as we learn she has her share of character pathos as well.
  • Noike – Introduced in the third series, another more level-headed member of the house-hold and the officially decreed bride of Tenchi who turns out to be a member of the royal family of Planet Jurai. Noike plays a considerable role in the plot of the third series which I wont spoil too much here.

Other notable characters include Tenchi’s Grandfather as well as the adorable half-cat, half-rabbit creature Ryo-Ohki who can turn into a space-ship. Also members Tenchi’s, Ayeka’s and Sasami’s families play big parts as well as one-of villains in each series. But let’s look through each series and look at the good and the bad…

TenchiMuyo (1)Series 1 – “Now give me your balls!”

The first series of Tenchi Muyo has always been my favourite. Apart from the fact that new characters are introduced in practically each episode, it never feels that the story really drags its feet. Well, maybe the third episode somewhat – but even that one includes a lot of important exposition and is also the introduction of the adorable Ryo-Ohki. It also includes possibly the most dramatic and awesome series finale with battle against Kagato, where a lot of characters show their true colours (including Ryoko and Tenchi’s Grandfather).

TenchiMore (1)The first series has probably the biggest action-content but it balances out well with the hefty doses of comedy and story exposition. It never feels like the characters are just stuck repeating gags for the audiences sake and everything feels fresh and new. I also like it that each character introduction lets the characters shine, although Washu doesn’t get to do a whole lot in this first series. Some might not like the first series though because of the brisk pace of the plot which may come off to some as rushed (Series 3 stands in a rather stark contrast to this). However, I just love it that I never started to feel bored watching any of the episodes and since so much of the series’ back-story is still not revealed at this point, it’s really good fun still figuring it all out.

The laid-back opening of this series is probably the least impressive of all of the series opening sequences, but it also has probably my favourite credits song “Talent for Love”. Honestly though, there isn’t much to complain about in this series. The only bad episode is really the unexciting “Night Before the Carnival” epilogue after the Kagato episodes. This series of course features, bar none, the most shameless fan-service episode “Mihoshi Falls to the Land of the Stars”, where Ryoko bares all.

TenchiMuyo (2)Series 2 – Can’t you see that I am a Pioneer…

Comparatively, I think Series 2 is the least impressive out of all the series from the point of view of story-telling. The second series features mostly rather run-of-the-mill one-of episodes and it really feels like the show has turned into an anime sitcom. There is a dramatic two-parter, again, before the final episode – but it’s a rather meaningless one (even if moderately impressive and one that actually teases the events of Series 3).

Series 2, however, is also extremely entertaining. We have the hilarious baby-sitting episode where each of the girls get to show their maternal instincts (or their lack thereof) and also the somewhat touching “I Love Tenchi” at the end of which Ryo-Ohki finally receives her adorable human form. I also have to say that the two-parter arc “The Advent of Goddess” and “Zero Ryoko” is actually really awesome with its action and the character of Zero also proves very sympathetic.

TenchiMore (2)However, I also wont lie about the fact that the storyline in “Sasami & Tsunami” was actually very well thought out and possibly the most touching in this season. And then there’s the finale episode “Here Comes Jurai” which is a barrel of laughs, although it’s perhaps a smidge bogged down by some excessive exposition. The sitcom element is really strong in that one and the characters seen are just priceless.

So yes, there’s a lot of entertainment factor and even some fairly good story-writing in the second series of Tenchi Muyo. My big gripe with it is perhaps more that I feel that this series lacks a strong narrative back-bone and each episode just seems to end with the characters returning to their status quo. However, the season does show Washu as a much more developed character which is nice, but alternately, I felt the other characters are a little under-represented. It’s still a good series.

Also, this series has my second favourite opening and closing themes “I’m a Pioneer” and “Lonely Moon”.

TenchiMuyo (4)Series 3 – Talk your ear off

Series 3, finally brings the story-line back into focus with its own interesting arc. The series kicks off properly on the second episode where we’re introduced the latest addition to Tenchi’s “harem”, Noike. What Noike perhaps lacks in the sense of an interesting personality, she makes up with her involvement in the storyline. The series again introduces a lot of interesting characters and this kept it from going stale too soon.

Also, we have the entry of Z and Tokimi (the sort-of “antagonists” of this series) who contributed to possibly the second most impressive finale of the series. Mihoshi also indirectly acts as the catalyst for the series’ second big story-arc which leads to a lot of hilarity and wanton destruction. I also love that the final episode brings a lot of clarity to what happened to Tenchi’s mother and ties up a lot of loose ends from the series.

All that being said, Series 3 feels strangely different from the first two. This is already apparent from the fact that there was a pronounced time-gap between Series 3 (early 2000s) and Series 1+2 (mid-90s). The animation quality is just as good but it has those strangely super correct colours that make it seem a bit too clean for some reason. It’s a small complaint but at least the art-style makes the series stand out due to the difference in art-style.

One big weakness with Series 3 though is that it delves way too often into “massive exposition fest” territory. There are just a lot of scenes that seem to be present just to keep the audience up-to-date on what’s going on and this honestly was a bad move, since I felt it was more fun to figure out what was going on. The part where you can tell that the series has crossed some kind of a line is when at the start of one episode Washu spends at least 2 minutes explaining the history of an alien beer (addressing the audience directly no less).

Regardless, there are still some awesome and heart-warming moments in the series. Also, lots and lots of situational comedy. And even despite its wordiness, the finale episode was very fulfilling since it answered a lot of questions that had yet to be covered elsewhere. I also think this series has easily the best opening of any of the Tenchi Muyo series. Unlike Series 1 and 2, this one was dubbed by Funimation rather than Geneon. Funimation’s dub is definitely way more competent but I do feel sad that they broke Geneon’s tradition of dubbing the songs as well and as a result there is no English version of Series 3’s end-credits song (which is cute and fun, but nowhere near as good as the prior series’ end-themes).