An ancient demon. Two princesses. A space detective who relies on luck a little too much. An exiled academic. All of the above deeply love and respect one generic kid in rural Japan, who may be tied to them more than anyone would expect. They’ll fight for his love. Tenchi will have to fight for survival. It’s one of the highest points in the harem genre, and it’s finally gotten a modern release, complete with both Blu-ray and DVD copies in a set paired with an art box. Is there No Need For Tenchi in 2013, or should we all hail the possible king of Jurai?
The series premiered in Japan in the mid-1990s, and in America in 2000 on Toonami, a legacy that was recently revived with the inclusion of Tenchi Muyo! GXP on the relaunched Toonami. It’s a corner stone of the modern anime movement in America, having been some of the most adult storytelling ever presented to children in an afternoon cartoon block, successfully marrying comedy, romance, and an sci-fi story that didn’t water things down (even if the televised version watered down sake to tea). It’s almost two decades since the original premiered. How has the original Tenchi Muyo! series aged after all these years?
The story, especially after watching the later incarnations that attempt to retell the same tale (Tenchi Universe and Tenchi in Tokyo) or revamp the series completely (such as Sasami: Magical Girls Club and Tenchi Muyo! GXP), is easily the most mature of the franchise, outside of the possible exception of the final movie, Tenchi Forever. The characters are at their strongest and smartest here. Ayeka doesn’t break down in tears or scream inappropriately; Ryoko doesn’t laugh off her pain as easily; Ayeka has the most traumatic backstory; Sasami’s origin is the largest character development the girl gets, even including the spin-offs which focus on her; and Mihoshi is actually moderately competent, given that Kiyone’s not around to be a crutch for the character, like later iterations. Tenchi himself is a believable teenage boy in this one: argumentative, sneaky, and actually having to step up to the challenge (instead of being the golden boy Tenchi in later series who’s ready for anything and everything).
For the uninitiated (and where have you been?), the story quickly grows. Tenchi Masaki is an average school boy who inadvertently lets loose a demon woman, Ryoko. Her release draws alien princesses, Galaxy Police, and more towards his grandfather’s shrine in rural Japan. Quickly he’ll learn of his true legacy and power, and that six lovely ladies all have the hots for him!
Darn. The original Toonami promotion for the show really did sum up the show in the best possible way, didn’t it?
It was a strong series in the 1990s, and it’s an even stronger series in 2013. The story is leaps and bounds above the others in tonality, and while it might not have exaggerated jokes like later series, it’s the foundation of a solid sci-fi franchise. In fact, you can almost trace the past two decades of Japanese animation starting with this series; the original was solid, humanely designed, and had humor in words and dialogue, not full-on slapstick (although that is still here, and appreciated). Skip half a decade later, and you have Tenchi Muyo! GXP which, while competently directed by Watanabe Shinichi, it’s vastly more Three Stooges than Charlie Chaplin. Cut to modern times, and War On Geminar‘s computer-generated mecha and backgrounds have replaced the painstakingly-hand drawn works of the 1990s. It’s an interesting beast to chart.
Visually, especially on Blu-ray, this series is amazing. It comes from the mid-1990s, which some might actually call the pinnacle of hand-drawn, hand-colored animation, with a direct-to-video budget that allows focus and time to be put in on shots, coloring, special effects, and the like. The easiest comparison is to look at Tenchi Universe (coming soon after this series) or the later episodes (theoretically featuring the same character designs, but coming a decade later). The former pales in budget and time, and while being competent, never goes beyond the TV series. The latter is so overblown with its computer-age nature that everything seems washed out and brightly colored, something that just seems so out-of-place with the nature-focused Jurai and the rural world of Tenchi Masaki. Audio is a different beast, as the dub is straight out of the late 1990s; for many, this is the iconic voice cast for these characters (the entire cast has been replaced at least once, with a few characters going through three or four voice actors, due to the length and breadth of the amount of productions this franchise has seen), and if anything, set the desired direction for the cast for America. The problem is, some people (justly) have some issue with where the voices went, especially Ayeka. Thankfully, a balance can be found in this series in the fact that the characters aren’t reduced to screaming at this point; while later iterations of Ayeka are sheer “prim-and-proper princess who will have Tenchi no matter what”, this version is a little more reserved. The complaints are out there, but you’ll not hear them often from me. As always, there’s the Japanese language track to listen to at will (or by force, in one extra feature detailed below).
Special features are notably weak, but that’s partly due to the time and era. A simple art book is included in the box, and one post-episode short “omake” is included, but not dubbed. There are no original trailers, promos, and none of the legendary Toonami promotional work done for the series. The saddest disappointment is that this set does not include the episodes that came much later (and were released as Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki by FUNimation). That set is available on DVD but not Blu-ray (despite being modern and high-def enough that it could look pretty nice), and is the direct continuation of these episodes. It’s vaguely annoying that you’ll finish the “Complete Series” and immediately go online to order more or watch it on Hulu. Another bonus that would be heavily appreciated is the special related to this timeline, released previously by Pioneer as the “Mihoshi Special”. It doesn’t seem FUNimation has the rights to this, leaving another part of the old Tenchi releases stuck in the past, but would have been heavily appreciated.
It’s a beautiful, quiet, and engaging series that has gotten a decent rerelease, with the Blu-ray quality being used for the video to its fullest effect. More extras would always be loved, but given the age and the distance between this era’s voice cast and their roles, it’s tight. If you’re looking for a purely good show that looks amazing on Blu-ray (and want a DVD copy to boot), you can’t do any better.