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Tenchi Muyo!


Tenchi Muyo! ("No Need for Tenchi!")

Tenchi Muyo!, originally released as a 6-part OAV series starting in 1992, has ultimately grown to a total of 15 OAVs (including 2 "specials"), three theatrical releases, and two television series at last count (not to mention a spinoff series, Pretty Sammy, with its own OAVs and television series). Even more than most anime, Tenchi defies classification in any one genre. Is it romantic comedy? Science fiction? Adventure romance? Actually, all of the above, though ultimately it's more about several alien women competing for the affections of one lame-brained teenage male than about anything else.

Tenchi Muyo! is a retelling of the classic Japanese love triangle formula, with the innocent male (Tenchi) pursued by the "good girl" (Ayeka, a princess of Jurai), and a "bad girl" (Ryoko, a demon/space-pirate/android superbeing depending on which series you're watching and at what point). Especially noteworthy is Ryoko, a striking young woman with spiky cyan hair, a flammable temper, and destructive powers which she almost has under control. Such is the power of the Tenchi storytelling that an endless debate has raged since the first OAV on who should ultimately "get" the unfortunate Tenchi, something which AIC/Pioneer have cleverly managed to ever avoid settling. Tenchi himself is actually a rather drab, even bland high school student, at least until the first OAV series approaches its climax.

Adding to the fascination is a continual ambiguity which leaves the viewer guessing much of the time, for virtually none of the characters is quite who they seem to be at first (with the possible exception of Tenchi's father, Noboyuki). There is a complex back story, which only gradually is revealed to the viewer, with many startling surprises.

Which Tenchi?

For Episode guides to the various Tenchi series:

Aubrey Chen's site has excellent summaries of the first 6 episodes of the OAV series and episodes 12-26 of Shin Tenchi Muyo. This site can be very slow to connect and/or load, so be patient--it's worth it.

Well, actually, back stories. Viewers familiar with anime know of the odd practice of recycling characters in many different settings, or "universes," which often have little to do with each other. With Tenchi Muyo!, this practiced confusion has been elevated to an art, with at least three different universes in place between the OAV series and the two television series--and the movies fall somewhere in between, sometimes combining elements of several. This situation can be variously frustrating, confusing, and infuriating when one is trying to move between series. As for the poor soul writing fan fiction, heaven help them in trying to keep it all straight.

There seems to be a general consensus that the original OAV series is the best of the bunch, and its universe the most interesting. I won't go into detail here, not wanting to spray spoilers in every direction, but if you start browsing the available episode guides you'll soon see what I mean. Just be aware that when you move from one series to another it can be jarring, and it helps to watch each series from the beginning. Skip around at your own risk!

Tenchi Muyo!: Ryo-ohki

This is the series that started it all. Tenchi, a completely ordinary high school student (or so it seems), helps his grandfather Yosho maintain the family shrine. In the course of poking around where he oughtn't, he accidentally relases a "demon" (Ryoko) supposedly imprisoned centuries earier in a cave deep beneath the shrine, and... well, I don't want to give away everything. Let's just say that by the time the OAV has run its course, it turns out that virtually no one is who they appear to be, and we end up a long ways away from the peaceful Japanese countryside where we started.

VHS: Yes
DVD: Yes
The original story line was complete in 6 OAVs. A 7th OAV, or "special," takes place shortly after these events, and is much lighter and at times deliciously funny, as both Ryoko and Ayeka try to learn about capturing the heart of their beloved (Tenchi) by reading--Japanese manga. This one is not to be missed.

A second OAV series soon followed, and while very good isn't quite on a par with the original story arc. However, it's still well worth watching and a good cut above the two television series. There's also a "Mihoshi Special," in which Galaxy Police Detective Mihoshi relates one of her own adventures, with Ryoko, Ayeka, Tenchi et al. plugged into place as the other characters. It's chiefly notable for two things: the first appearance of Mihoshi's sidekick in the television series and movies, Kiyone (who otherwise does not appear in the OAVs at all), and the first appearance of Sasami as "Pretty Sammy," a parody of the popular "magical girl" genre, and which later led to a spinoff series (about which the less said the better).

Ratings: Original OAV series (episodes 1-6 plus "special") ;
Second OAV series (episodes 8-13)
"Mihoshi Special"

The Tenchi Universe (First TV series)

Following the immense popularity of the Tenchi Muyo OAV series, a 26-episode television series soon followed. Not everyone is happy with the results, as the television series rewrote the back stories for the characters (it is generally considered to take place in an "alternate universe" using the same characters), often in the direction of simplifying the plot lines. Washu, for example, is now simply "the greatest mad scientist in the universe," and she's the one found imprisoned in the cave early in the series. Ryoko is now just a space pirate. And so on.

VHS: Yes
DVD: Yes
Surprisingly, however, after a weak start the series begins to pick up steam, and the last five episodes are on a par with the original OAV series, with some excellent (and quite moving) plot developments and animation that rivals the original. However, you may well find the last episode ("No need for a conclusion!") to more than live up to its name (in fact, I found it so infuriating that I finally wrote my own ending). Also worth mentioning are the three "Time and Space" adventures, in which several of the characters are thrown into alternate universes in which their dreams come true (with unexpected side effects, of course). One of these later resulted in the "Pretty Sammy" spinoff series, and includes the famous (or infamous, depending upon your point of view) kiss between—well, watch the series and find out for yourself.
Rating: First Television Series ("The Tenchi Universe")

Shin Tenchi Muyo! ("Tenchi in Tokyo") (Second TV series)

This new series (the title literally means "New No Need For Tenchi") has been considerably more controversial than the first television series (The Tenchi Universe), as the characters are once again given new back stories, and the animation drops into "super deformed" (SD) mode at the drop of a hat. The character designs are noticeably different as well. And, after seeing it in Japanese only (of which marvelous language I still only know a miniscule amount), I had to admit it appeared to be pretty iffy, though the plot, as found online, looked quite good.

Well, Pioneer has finally released it in the U.S. (under the title Tenchi in Tokyo) on DVD and VHS, with the usual English dub/Japanese language with English subtitles, and it makes all the difference in the world. This is a fast-paced, witty, at times moving, and always imaginative addition to the Tenchi worlds. (Just the end title song alone makes it worth the cost of the DVD, IMHO).

VHS: Yes
DVD: Yes
If you're unwilling to consider any alternative settings for the Tenchi characters, this may not be for you. But if you enjoyed the inspired nuttiness of Dragon Half, for example, and don't see the Tenchi world as a sacred cow, you'll probably find it well worth your time.
Rating: Second Television Series ("Shin Tenchi Muyo/Tenchi in Tokyo")

The Tenchi Movies

Three theatrical releases have appeared. The first, Tenchi Muyo in Love (Tenchi the Movie), is clearly part of the Tenchi Universe setting, and faces the "Tenchi gang" off against Kain, a supervillain who holds a serious grudge against Tenchi's ancestors and decides to gain revenge by traveling to the past and killing Tenchi's mother (hence Tenchi himself). Entertaining, and reasonably exciting near the end, this is not a great film but better overall than the Universe series from which it grew.

VHS: Yes
DVD: Yes
The second film, Manatsu no Eve (Tenchi Muyo the Movie 2: The Daughter of Darkness), is more ambitious, and also a bit more disappointing. The plot goes all the way back to Jurai in the time of Yosho's early adulthood, giving it a bit of historical sweep. There's also more going on "under the hood" between Ryoko and Tenchi (emotionally speaking), to be sure, and Tenchi comes across as a considerably more sympathetic character. But the basic plot is disconcertingly similar to that of Shin Tenchi Muyo, and although there are a few snippets of impressive animation (such as the famous "ribbons" scene) much of the intended feel of menace (such as the menacing toys) is negated by an excessive cuteness. All told it's a rather unremarkable and perfunctory recycling of materials better used elsewhere.

The third and last movie, Tenchi Muyo in Love 2 (Tenchi Forever!), is another story. The characters are older and more mature, more thoughtful, and more in touch with their own emotions. Ryoko and Ayeka have actually developed a workable relationship, and they both seem to have resigned themselves to leaving Tenchi to go his own direction.

Until he actually does, that is. For Tenchi disappears. I won't give away more of the plot than that, other than to say that this is the closest we ever get to seeing the triangle resolved. With beautifully revisited character designs and excellent animation, this is the Tenchi movie to see. Just don't expect to find out "who finally marries Tenchi..."

Ratings: Tenchi Muyo in Love (Tenchi the Movie)
Manatsu no Eve (Tenchi the Movie 2: The Daughter of Darkness)
Tenchi Muyo in Love 2 (Tenchi Forever!)

There's no shortage of Tenchi Muyo! CDs. At a minimum you ought to have the two OVA Best soundtracks, plus the Tenchi Universe soundtrack and Christopher Franke's (yep, that's right, Christopher Franke of Babylon 5 fame) beautiful soundtrack to the first movie, Tenchi Muyo in Love (aka Tenchi the Movie). If you can find them, the two soundtrack CDs for Shin Tenchi Muyo are worth it if only for the absolutely gawd-awful Japanese bluegrass (!) end title song, one of the funniest things I've ever heard from a loudspeaker.

Several of the seiyuu have solo recording careers of their own, most notably Orikasa Ai (Ryoko) and Yokoyama Chisa (Sasami).

Tenchi Muyo! OVA Best (Pioneer PICD-1005A)
Tenchi Muyo! OVA Best vol. 2 (Pioneer PICD1012A)
The Tenchi Universe Collection: Soundtrack (Pioneer PICD-1010A)
Shin Tenchi Muyo [Tenchi in Tokyo] vol. 1 (Pioneer PICD-1142)
Shin Tenchi Muyo [Tenchi in Tokyo] vol. 2 (Pioneer PICD-1151)
Tenchi Muyo in Love (Tenchi the Movie) (Pioneer PICD-1001A)
Tenchi the Movie 2: Daughter of Darkness (Pioneer PICD-1013A)
Tenchi Muyo in Love 2 (Pioneer PICA-1189)


Tenchi Muyo! Copyright A.I.C./Pioneer LDC.

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This page last updated 2/5/2010.