Posted on November 20, 2012 AT 01:56pm
There are so many clichés in anime, one of which is the ever famous ‘harem anime’, of which the Tenchi Muyo! series is likely one of the first and most well known. FUNimation has recently re-released the classic mid-90s TV series, known here in the States as Tenchi Universe.
Let’s start with introductions, starting clockwise from the top left: Kiyone & Mihoshi, who are members of the Galaxy Police; Ryoko, sly space pirate with eyes for Tenchi; the titular Tenchi Masaki, your average-ish Japanese school boy; Ayeka, first princess of the planet Jurai and the other point of the show’s love triangle; Nobuyuki Masaki, pervy architect and Tenchi’s father; Katsuhito Masaki, caretaker of the Masaki Shrine and Tenchi’s grandfather; Sasami, ace fighting game player and Ayeka’s sister; Ryo-Oohi [the fuzzy rabbity thing on Sasami's head], carrot-munching cabbit [who is also a spaceship]; Washu, the greatest scientific genius that the universe has ever known. To say the cast is a complex one is putting it mildly.
As you might guess from the above header picture, there are a lot of ladies in this anime! This brings us to the question: ‘What’s a harem anime?’ It’s an anime that has a central male character and a large number of female characters who, more often than not, are head over heels in love with the male lead. In the case of Tenchi Universe, only two of the six women are actually in love with Tenchi. The rest of them are sticking around for entirely different reasons.
Ryoko trips up the Galaxy Police.
For those who are familiar with the original OVA, take note that this telling of the story is a lot more light-hearted than the original. [However, it's a safe guess that fans of the series have likely seen all of Tenchi's retellings by now, since we're nearing the twenty year marker.] The balance between humor and seriousness definitely tips toward the silly end of things, and that’s okay. Each of the characters works off of the others very well, even if they don’t play nice. The arguments between Ryoko and Ayeka are some of the best examples of this. They may hate each other, but their love for Tenchi trumps all. Amidst all the ridiculousness are some tender moments that may even have you reaching for the tissues. They’re few and far between, but by the time the series wraps up, you will certainly be wrapped up in it.
I’m not going to get into the meat and potatoes of the plot, because when you write it down, it doesn’t do it justice. It just looks insane. I guess that’s okay, so I’ll summarize in no particular order of events, to give you a general idea of the craziness: Japanese schoolboy, pretty alien girls, space pirate, bounty hunter, galactic police, royal lineages, cabbit: half-rabbit-half-cat-all-spaceship, wooden royal guardians, light swords, evil plots, bikinis, compressed houses, tree ships, mad scientist, bad robot, galactic fugitives, mysterious grandpa, dimensional manipulation, alcohol, treason, ghost ship in space, hijackers. If any or all of those sound interesting to you, you’ll be a pretty happy camper.
For a series that’s nearly twenty years old, it still looks and sounds pretty good, for the most part. The character designs are great [aside from how creepy Mihoshi's light blue eyes look, to me], the animation is fairly decent, and it looks like they did some work to clean things up a bit for this re-release. Even so, as the series went on, the quality of restoration seemed to drop. On the final disc of the set, I noticed significant artifacting at times, washed out colours, and some scenes looked like I was watching them through dark sunglasses.
Tensions constantly run high between Ayeka and Ryoko. This is literally seconds after Ayeka arrives on Earth!
The sound is a totally different story, and honestly… Pretty amusing. Throughout the series, I noticed a lot of familiar sound effects, and I challenge you to spot them too! I heard SFX I recognize from Ghostbusters, Star Wars, and even my old Casio keyboard. Everything sounded crisp, and seemed to stick to a standard 2.0 stereo mix, which is probably for the best. I switched back and forth from subbed to dubbed as I went through the series, just to hear how they did in both aspects, and let me tell you… The dubbing for this anime has not aged well.
Dubbed anime, though much easier to find in the 1990s than subtitled ones, were–more often than not–a painful affair. The dub voices would range from ‘pretty damn good, to ‘fairly decent’, to ‘slightly grating’, all the way to ‘my ears, they’re bleeding!’ I enjoy the Tenchi Muyo! series, I really do. I have to be honest, though: Most of the English dub voices are awful in this series. Tenchi sounds like he’s constantly holding his nose, Ayeka’s weird ‘royal accent’ is irritating, and Washu [who is my favorite character] laughs like Roseanne Barr. [But, to be fair to Washu... Her Japanese laugh is pretty horrible as well, so the Roseanne laugh was likely deliberate.] Also, pretty much every single background character voice will hit your ears like nails across a chalkboard. You might not find the dubbing as exasperating as I did, but consider yourselves warned.
You’d drink that much too if you had to listen to dubbing like this all day.
SUMMARY: Reviewing this series nearly twenty years since it was originally released has been an interesting challenge for me. I was a fan of both the origjnal Tenchi Muyo! OVA as well as Tenchi Universe, but never actually got to see either of them in full. Watching anime in the 90s was a tricky prospect. You’d have to either rely on bootlegs, moderately well-off friends who were also into anime, or the ever-so-rare anime-specialized video rental store. Fortunately, I had all three at the time! But, I digress. It’s often hard to be subjective about the stuff of your childhood/teenage memories. I did my best to look through the fog of memories to see Tenchi Universe for what it is. So, what is it? It’s a fun, sometimes racy, romp that defined a whole sub-genre and is a textbook case of everything that can be both right and wrong about an 90s anime.
Plus, Washu is still the greatest scientific genius the galaxy has ever known, even if she is mildly insane.
- THE GOOD: Large doses of humor, varied cast, everything that’s fun about 90s anime can be found here
- THE BAD: Awful dubbed voices, poor video restoration later in the DVD set
- THE UGLY: Ryoko, Ayeka, and Washu’s English singing voices. [See: Episode 16 for best/worst example]
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