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"Tenjho Tenge Volume 1": School Rumble!

There is a school in Japan that is trying to revive the forgotten martial arts of the past. Two newcomers, Souichiro and Bob, hope to make this school the one hundredth they’ve conquered by beating everyone up. But they’ve run into a problem: the Juken Club. The Natsume sisters are proficient fighters in their own right. They’re not the only members, just the fanservice ones. Enemies may need to become allies if the Juken Club and these street punks expect to beat the Student Executive Council, the top administrators in slaughtering uncooperative ass.

You may have heard of Tenjho Tenge from the negative press surrounding the release of the American graphic novels. The manga, by Oh Great! (yes, that’s the guy’s name—just like Monkey Punch, Japanese creators get to have incredibly unorthodox names), was a rather explicit and violent series. Sure, it wasn’t Battle Royale, but it was much more than, say, Real Bout High School or Battle Vixens, two other shows featuring school-sponsored battles between babes and bastitches. It was supposed to be one of the big releases from DC’s new CMX line of manga, and probably would have been if it hadn’t been edited. When I flipped through the release, I found myself asking “Huh… I thought that girl got a little more than beat up.” Even though DC may have dropped the ball, of course Geneon didn’t edit the TV series.

Bob and Souichiro have conquered ninety-nine schools and have their eyes set on a new one. On their first day of class, they beat up anyone and everyone they can find. That is, until little Maya Natsume shows up. The first time you notice something’s not right with these fighters is when Maya, who seems to be just a little girl, manages to grow in all the right places into a teenage bombshell. In the ensuing fight, Souichiro gets conveniently thrown into the showers, where Aya, Maya’s younger, ditzier sister, is cleaning up after training.

Because this is anime, Aya falls instantly in love with Souichiro. Maya claims it’s just the ancient Natsume tradition of marrying the first person to see you naked, but Aya says that she really loves the guy, much to Souichiro’s dismay. These relationships form into an incredibly awkward love triangle by the end of the first episode. Aya loves Souichiro, Souichiro wants to get away from Aya, and Masataka, who seems to be the only male fighter in the Juken Club, wants to prove himself to Aya and distract her from Souichiro. Ah, love stories amidst street brawls.

There wouldn’t be much of a show if the only conflict involved Bob and Souichiro’s attempted takeover of the school, which falls flat on day one. Real villainy comes courtesy of the Student Executive Council, a disciplinary group of fighters who put down any clubs or students that rise up at the school. It appears that this team will have a rotating cast of warriors, but one character in particular has an interesting history with the Juken Club.

Tenjho Tenge definitely has a style of its own, starting with a catchy theme song that I watched with every episode. Action scenes are intense but pass by too quickly. There are much longer fights down the road, but the first disc is rather light. I don’t want to totally diss this volume, given that it features the only effective use of a box lunch I’ve ever seen in a fight. At points, though, you can feel that the series wants to get a little rougher and dirtier than it can be with a 16 and up rating. The original manga was rougher than this, but it appears that the anime keeps it at Adult Swim levels rather than Kill Bill-style carnage.

Geneon’s not known for their extras, and this disc is no surprise in that department: clean opening and that’s it. The case art is a double knockout, though, showing off Maya with two swords in a scene that never appears on the disc.

Tenjho Tenge is a pretty fun little series, and I’m looking forward to more of it. The release isn’t the best on the block, but these four episodes should give you a good taste of what to expect from the series.

Tenjho Tenge Vol. 1 will be in stores on June 7, 2005.

Episodes included on this disc:
Episode 1: Sanctuary
Episode 2: Defeat
Episode 3: Enforcer
Episode 4: Doubt

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