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Same Old Tenchi: The World’s Roundest and Happiest Time

by on March 18, 2008

Probably the most apt line in this three-disc set comes in the final line of the dub, when Katshuito says, “The more things change…” When the viewer automatically completes it (“…the more things stay the same”), he’ll have pretty much summed up Tenchi Muyo! Ryo Ohki the Complete Series. And in the case of Tenchi Muyo, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Tenchi was a major milestone in Japanimation’s American transition from fan-cult phenomenon to sizeable market. As one of Toonami’s early staples in the later 1990s, it was also one of the first anime series to get a more general audience exposure. It is also sometimes credited (or blamed) for inventing the “harem” genre. While there is something inherently unrealistic about a story that has beautiful women suddenly start chasing an unremarkable teen, Tenchi is still better than its imitators from lesser hands. There is genuinely more to Tenchi than first meets the eye; and as with Tenchi so with Ryoko, Ayeka, Sasami, Mihoshi, and Washu. These vivid characters are at once archetypes and individuals. Few if any shows of whatever genre can boast that.

The series has had a rather convoluted history. It started with a cycle of six OAV episodes. Then came the Tenchi and Mihoshi specials, and a second, seven-episode OAV cycle. The character then went to TV, but got put in alternative storylines that almost represented a cliff-notes version of the ever-more convoluted world of the OAVs. Tenchi Universe was the most successful (it inspired two movies as well); Tenchi in Tokyo was less so; and Pretty Sammy, a.k.a. Magical Project S (itself a spin-off of several Pretty Sammy video episodes that grew out of the Tenchi OAV series) proved to be a great (and criminally underappreciated) lampooning of Sailor Moon and series of like ilk.

Until recently, though, nothing new had emerged from the original OAV characters aside from some light novels and comics. Then Tenchi Muyo, GXP Galaxy Police Transporter, the first TV series based off the world of the OAVs, aired in Japan, to be followed by the third installment in the original OAVs.

A prequel set about one year prior to GXP, Tenchi Muyo! Ryo Ohki begins with an enigmatic battle waged by a Juraian fleet against an unstoppable enemy. This mysterious enemy reports back to Lady Tokemi, but then quietly begins laying the first threads of a plot against Tenchi the moment her back is turned.

Meanwhile, an oblivious Tenchi is reflecting on the monumental life events that took place in the earlier OAVs. It is clear from this sequence that the style of animation in OAV 3 probably owes more to later TV versions of Tenchi than to the original, yet the flashbacks don’t really clash terribly with the newer animation.

One thing hasn’t changed, though: Tenchi meanders along through slice-of-life stories more often than through high adventure. Tenchi’s foe disappears from the scene; his father and grandfather wrestle over whether it is time to reveal to him the truth about his mother’s death; and he receives a visit from his sister that brings lots of surprises. For not only did Tenchi not even know he had a sister, he is also surprised at her announcement that he is supposed to meet his heretofore unknown fiancée. This is part of a marriage arranged by the infamous Devil Princess of Jurai—his great-great-grandmother, whom he also had had no previously inkling of. (Before long, Tenchi will meet his grandfather’s wife as well, and learn not to make the mistake of calling her “grandmother”!) It seems that since Yosho imprisoned Ryoko on Earth 700 years before, the Masaki family patriarch has been having more contact with relations back home than he’s been letting on.

On the surface, the Masaki household adjusts to the newcomers, and life goes on as before. Ryo Ohki gets lost, Ryoko finds her, and the two start doing some family bonding. Tenchi’s father brings a new computer home to his son. Tenchi and his fiancée meet while working in the carrot field, and then Tenchi gets sick for a few days from heat and stress. After his recuperation under the care of his fiancée, Tenchi is invited aboard her Juraian ship, and she buys a truck to help make work easier on the farm.

It may defy belief now, but at one time Washu was almost an afterthought character, back when the entire world of Tenchi consisted of the six OAV episodes. But her brief appearance in those final two episodes of OAV 1 cemented her to Tenchi’s world, and she has been a core character in every single sequel and spin-off. By now, it seems scarcely credible that a new girl could join the Masaki household and pursue Tenchi on terms equal to the others—yet Kamiki Noike Jurai seems to have duplicated Washu’s feat.

How? The short and easy answer would be that she fills the niche Kiyone Makibi filled in the light novels’ “Hasegawa canon” and TV series’ “Negishi canon.” But that’s misleading. True, Mihoshi’s immediately recognizing and greeting her former partner does send a murmur of sympathy throughout the household for the horrors they imagine Noike must have suffered as Mihoshi’s partner, and Noike does constantly yell at Mihoshi to keep her hands off her household projects. But Kiyone’s character (in whatever manifestation) was invariably consumed with Mihoshi. But Mihoshi is, for Noike, just a minor irritant.

Mihoshi aside, Noike’s tactful and thoughtful demeanor soon melts defenses all around, even after she frankly admits that her “engagement” to Tenchi is just a pretence, an excuse to help the Devil Princess keep a close eye on the Masaki household. (In fairness, the thought of Yosho, Ayeka, Tsunami, Washu, Mihoshi, Ryoko, and Ryo-Ohki—loose cannons all—together and basically accountable to no one would give any royal family the jitters!) Interestingly, Noike omits Tenchi from her list of people to watch out for—apparently neither she nor her guardian have yet come to appreciate that he’s the invisible force holding this disparate household together, or that he might be just as capable of entangling Noike as he has the others. Nor does she suspect that she is unwittingly spying on behalf of some other unearthly parties.

At this point, Mihoshi’s brother, Misao (do not confuse him with Sasami’s closest gal pal in the Pretty Sammy episodes), arrives aboard the Choibmaura (think of it as a bit more benign version of the Death Star). Misao is obsessed with protecting his sister from re-experiencing some terrible, never-explained trauma, and he suspects Tenchi is out to seduce her. His master plan is to 1) deal with all of Tenchi’s household visitors so they will not interfere with his operation, 2) lure his sister and Tenchi to the Choibmaura, and 3) trick Ryoko into attacking it, so that Tenchi will “accidentally” meet his demise when the Choibmaura is destroyed. Naturally, long-time fans of Tenchi will know why this hare-brained scheme hasn’t a prayer of success: as Noike herself observes, “There’s never been a plan that worked when Mihoshi was involved!” Misao’s lieutenant, while leading the attack on the household, only succeeds in letting her own deep dark secret out of the bag, and soon the unsuspecting Misao is being targeted by his sister and the rest of Tenchi’s household in their counterplot, “Operation: Lovey Dovey!”

All this, though, proves only a feint by Tenchi’s real enemy, who takes matters into his own hands in the culminating episode of OAV 3, in a conflict as terrifying and heart-wrenching as any this series has experienced since the battle with Kagato. And, as a result, everything about Lady Tokemi and her links to Washu and Tsunami will be explained, though that doesn’t mean it will make sense.

The final episode has all the top galaxy bigwigs dealing with the fallout of “Operation Lovey-Dovey.” And Tenchi learns the truth about the death of Kiyone (do not confuse this Kiyone with the Galaxy Police detective of other continuities—funny that two key characters in OAV 3 should bear the names of totally unrelated key characters in other Tenchi spin-offs). If viewers of previous OAV episodes had the vague assumption that Kiyone had the same type of bittersweet sacrificial demise that Achika had in other Tenchi continuities, well, it wasn’t too different from Tenchi’s own view of his mother. Suffice it to say that he is in for one whopper of a surprise.

Quite aside from an entertaining story, this DVD collection also features a number of a great extras. In “The Real Tenchi Tour: Parts 1-2”, members of the crew doing the musical score for OAV 3 host a tour of live locations that inspired either the fictional locations or the characters’ names: Mount Washu, the Great Seto Bridge and Seto Island Islands, Sami Beach, Bisei City, and Sakazu Park. There are also bonus shots of such features as Yosho Tunnel, Asaka Tunnel, Kamidake road sign, Soja Station, Funaho City, Kiyone Village, and Kagato Station.

The main tour guide is the key player in another live segment that records the final credits’ peppy theme song. And if I may add a personal aside, the final credits’ depiction of Ryo Ohki strikes me as perhaps a sly tribute to the opening credits of My Neighbor Totoro.

The extras on the final DVD are even better, as the voice artists for our favorite cabbits, Tomoko Kaneda and Etsuko Kozakura, host the live, forty-minute “Himitsunabe Tenchi Muyo? Special.” They discuss everything you ever wanted to know about the background of Tenchi’s world: from Jurai’s royal trees to the three mysterious gems tied to Washu, Ryoko and Tenchi’s sword hilt; time measurements, lifespans, bio-reinforcement and Tennan’s shape-shifting; the Galactic Academy and Washu’s Pore; Tenchi’s and Mihoshi’s family trees; and Kaunaq and the Guardian System. The DVD also includes a series of light and fluffy short stories from the radio show: the Devil Princess sends a package containing a Juraian delicacy, Sasami gets sick, Tenchi doesn’t notice his fly is open, Mihoshi sends email, and Sasami and Ryo-chan undergo martial arts training.

Perhaps the weakest extra is a section giving a background on the main characters, which does absolutely nothing to familiarize the bewildering array of new characters of OAV 3, and really doesn’t tell you much about the characters of the first two OAVs except in the broadest and most general terms. However, I can see this feature and Tenchi’s flashbacks on this first DVD being of greater value to a generation unfamiliar with the earlier Tenchi series.

It is also hard to believe the same group produced the trailers of disc one and disc two. The former are highly effective, with the promo of Tenchi Muyo, GXP Galaxy Police Transporter obviously the trailer of most interest to DVD viewers. I don’t know what happened on disc two, but the trailers just seemed too short on information to interest me in any of Funimation’s series, if I didn’t have that interest already. (The exception was the trailer on the Full Metal Alchemist movie, because it so obviously was intended to run in the theaters.) My advice to Funimation on the master for its “Tenchi Muyo! Ryo Ohki” trailer: just burn it, and dub the two Japanese TV promo spots you included on the second disc. Those TV spots basically blow your own trailer out of the water.

To sum up, spending a few hours with our old friends in Tenchi Muyo! Ryo Ohki: The Complete Series is (to quote the ending song) just “the world’s roundest and happiest dinner time.”

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