I recently tackled one of my all-time favorite films, so how about this week we go after one of my all-time favorite… original-video-animation series type things. This one’s tricky because the show’s name is attached to a variety of semi-related things, most of which I… actually don’t like very much.
Yeah, strap in, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
What is it?
Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki is a series of OVAs which started in the early 1990s, spawned various spinoff shows/movies/OVAs, was picked back up again in 2003, then again a few years ago.
And basically I recommend that you don’t watch more than the two original early-90s installments. I can’t stop you from exploring more of the Tenchi-verse; I’m sure as hell not going to encourage you to do so.
What kind of story is it?
A laid-back boy living a quiet schoolkid lifestyle meets a very unusual girl. And a very unusual girl. And a very unusual girl. And– you get the idea. Yes, let’s get this out of the way right here: Tenchi Muyo! is generally accepted as the genre-defining entry in the “harem anime” genre. It wasn’t the first of its kind but it did codify and popularize the “clueless boy, lots of girls, hijinks ensue” style.
Let’s start over.
A laid-back boy who doesn’t at first know that he’s the child of outer-space royalty awakens a slumbering space pirate (and her sentient shape-shifting spaceship), is descended upon by a jealous space princess (and her kid sister), and has a space policewoman land in his lap. Comedic hijinks ensue until the last couple episodes of each OVA, when plot kicks in and our titular hero goes from mousy to badass, at least for a little while.
Why do you like it?
If you’ve learned nothing else about me during this project, you know I have a thing for heroines. Yes, occasionally Tenchi has to step up and space-sword some baddies but mostly it’s the women who carry the day here. And what a fun bunch of characters! Ryoko, who’s brash and desperate to be taken seriously but is naive and vulnerable at times. Aeka, the high-and-mighty princess who isn’t prepared for what she finds upon her arrival at Planet Earth. Mihoshi, the… ditz. Okay, I’ll be honest, I don’t really like Mihoshi. Anyway! There’s also Aeka’s kid sister, Sasami, who’s adorable and probably the most level-headed person in the cast.
It’s fun just to watch these characters play off of one another, and then it’s fun to watch them face the bad guys a couple of times.
The show is also rather inventive. Sentient space trees! Secret goddesses! An entire galactic empire that we only barely glimpse! It’s not quite like anything else seen before.
What’s more, when the Emperor Jurai (Aeka and Sasami’s dad) shows up, it’s with both of his wives… which hints that instead of an interminable unresolved-love-triangle mess, in the future Tenchi might simply settle down with Ryoko and Aeka. That’s a win/win, little mousy dude. Canon polyamory for the hell-yeah.
What might one not like about it?
Other than the whole “harem” thing? There’s the fact that Tenchi is (as befits the lead male in the prototypical harem show) kind of a blank slate of a character. I don’t think he’s as useless & spineless as some people give him crap for. I think he spends a lot of his time just trying to cope with all the otherworldly weird stuff being dropped on his head. Your mileage, as always, may vary.
Also, try not to think too much about the Jurai royal family’s attitude toward intermarrying. Or intramarrying, as it may be. Sigh.
Other thoughts about it?
The difficulty in writing about Tenchi Muyo! mostly comes down to setting aside the rose-colored nostalgia glasses and getting down to what really appeals about the show, and I think that still comes down to the fun interplay between the characters. The comedy stems naturally from each character’s attitude and worldview. It’s not over-the-top. But since this was such a formative show in my early anime-viewing years, it’s hard to separate “what is objectively good about it” from “what gave me joy back in the 1990s when I was much younger and new to all of this.” Maybe that’s not really possible, at least for me.
In the end, it’s a show about a guy who wants to just live a quiet life, farming carrots for his little fuzzy friend (who happens to be a spaceship) and keep the women in his life from fighting one another too much. What more could a guy want, really?
I almost forgot: There is a third OVA. I didn’t like it. Supposedly they’re releasing a fourth set of OVA episodes as well. Since I didn’t like the third I don’t see the point in checking out the fourth. I also didn’t really care for the Tenchi TV series, and never watched GXP, and so on.
Maybe this makes me a curmudgeon. I can live with that.
Where can I watch it?
As of this writing, you’re probably best served by scaring up a copy of the DVD box of the first two OVAs.