It's the latest Tenchi Muyo series, allegedly celebrating the franchise's 20th anniversary. Didn't the first Tenchi Muyo OVAs come out in 1992? That's more than twenty years. Anyway, it's been resurrected in an unusual format (four-minute episodes) and hence it feels a bit dumb and scattershot, but there are things I liked about it. It's nowhere near being the best Tenchi series, but it's a little more substantial than I'd expected.
Anyway, you've heard of Tenchi Muyo, right? It's a classic harem anime of the 1990s that's hung around ever since, spinning off in ever more bizarre directions. I'd have to sit down and think to count the alternate realities in which Sasami became Magical Girl Pretty Sammy. War on Geminar and GXP have mostly new casts and are led by Tenchi's half-brother and (approximately) next-door neighbour, respectively. Even the third OVA series, while ostensibly starring the usual gang, throws in so many new characters that you feel you need a chart, preferably including family trees. (It's complicated.) Broadly speaking, though, Tenchi is this dude from Earth who attracts alien girls. There's:
- 1. Ryoko, a space pirate
- 2. Ayeka and Sasami, princesses from the planet Jurai,
- 3. Washu, an irresponsible mad scientist who's destroyed entire star systems
- 4. Mihoshi, a Galaxy Police officer and the universe's worst airhead
- 5. Kiyone (not all continuities), Mihoshi's long-suffering partner
I'm fond of these people. I've spent a lot of time with them. They're great. However after twenty-odd years, there's only so much you can do with the same faces without grinding your audience down with the repetition. That'll be why Tenchi Muyo as a franchise has been gradually spinning away from its core cast... but to my happy surprise, Ai Tenchi Muyo is a partial reversal of that. The gang are all here (except Kiyone, who's never mentioned and so presumably doesn't exist). They're mostly there in a support role as Tenchi infiltrates a school, but they're there and they're always ready to cause trouble.
The plot is... um, Washu's fault. Goes without saying, really. This is someone who'll think nothing of creating a black hole on Earth and threatening the integrity of the space-time continuum for laughs. While Tenchi goes undercover as a student teacher at a girls' school, there are also occasional episodes in ancient Japan, with parallel universe versions of some of the main characters. Don't worry. This will be explained. Eventually things get critical and the Galaxy Police get involved (which is very funny when they're dealing with Washu) and the entire universe is in danger of being sucked down an interdimensional plughole. It's a bit of a technobabble plot, to be honest, but it finds some emotion at the end and you can't say things don't get wild.
That's the big picture, though. Unfortunately many of the episodes are focused on silly school comedy, with the student council at war with the science club. There's fanservice, most obviously in the mega-nudity bath episode ep.31, but the art style's a little too cartoonish for anyone to care. There's a warehouse with Indiana Jones stone ball traps. (When jumping into an alcove to escape being crushed, a girl manages to leave behind the all-important map to the warehouse despite the fact that she can hardly have moved three feet from the spot where she was last seen holding it.) There's a daft sports day and an even dafter student council election, in which Momo . Tenchi's forced to wear drag and compete in the Miss Contest. In other words, a lot of this show's running time is random nonsense that could be cut from the plot and no one would ever know.
That student council election is particularly ludicrous, by the way. A completely innocent photo of Tenchi and Momo appears in the school newspaper, on which the school takes a silly position. Momo then decides to advocate student-teacher love in front of the whole school.
There are also two weapon-wielding girls who spar a lot and appear to be on an equal footing, despite the fact that Hachiko's an ordinary human with a bokuto (wooden sword) and Beni's an oni with a kanabo (spiked solid metal club, several feet long). She's even dressed like Lum from Urusei Yatsura. Yup, oni. She can also split cannonballs and arm-wrestle Ryoko. In short, to parry Beni's kanabo, you'd have to be the Terminator.
What's good about all this? There must be something, right?
Firstly, it's far less harem-orientated than usual. Tenchi's surrounded by girls, as usual, but they're not chasing him. His regular life with Ryoko, Ayeka, etc. is stable, while everyone at school just sees him as a teacher. Momo likes him quite a lot, admittedly. Hana liked how he looked in drag, to the extent of drawing inappropriate doujinshi that Sasami's too young to read. (That was funny.) For what it's worth, all the crushes in this series are lesbian, with Momo, Sasami and (briefly) female Tenchi all getting fervent admirers.
Secondly, there's Momo. She's the show's lead female character, with pink hair. She might also, possibly, be loosely based on the Japanese folklore hero of Momotaro. We see her at various ages, thanks to that time-twisting. I liked her. She gives the finale its heart and it's because of her that I watched all the recaps (every fifth episode up to ep.50). They're an edited summary of the preceding four episodes, but they all have a Momo voice-over that I think helps us get to know her a bit better.
Thirdly, there's Yuko Mizutani as Mihoshi. Admittedly the character's barely present, but Mizutani made me laugh every time. I'd forgotten how outrageous that voice she's doing is. As an aside, I've just noticed that Mizutani was also Buffy in the Japanese dub of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My mind just exploded.
Fourthly, there's Sasami. She must be several years older than when we last saw her. Soon she'll be off to university. She doesn't get much to do in this series, but I still love her anyway.
This isn't anything you'd recommend, but it's old-school Tenchi in its vigour, shamelessness and ability to keep one-upping itself. (It's directed by Hiroshi Negishi, who did the Tenchi Universe TV series back in 1995 and its two sequel movies, Tenchi in Love and Tenchi Forever.) It's funny. It's only a bit exploitative. I didn't really care about the rivalry between the student council and the science club, but I liked Momo. The occasional parallel dimension episodes are intriguingly "what the hell". It's at the lower end of the franchise, but it's fun.