Tenchi Masaki is a good-natured lad with lots of alien friends and possibly a connection to the royal family of the planet Jurai. Ryoko is the universe's most reckless, irresponsible space pirate and an extremely bad girl. Ayeka is a Juraian princess with a vindictive streak. Sasami is Ayeka's little sister and the only responsible character in the cast. Mihoshi is a Galaxy Police detective with the brains and self-control of a toddler on crack. Kiyone is her long, long, looooong-suffering partner. Washu is a mad scientist whose hobbies include building doomsday weapons that can destroy the universe.
Together there's not much in the universe that can stop them, if they can just stop fighting first.
Tenchi Universe is the secondary main Tenchi Muyo continuity, after the OVAs
but before Tenchi in Tokyo
. It also has two sequels in the first and third Tenchi movies, but you don't need to watch those. It's the blandest of those three main continuities, but still good stuff and never falls anywhere near the depths of the third OVA series or (heaven help us) GXP
. Its problem is that it's basically a remake of the first OVA series. It has the same villain (Kagato) and some similar backstory (plus Kiyone), even if it's been tweaked and simplified. It's less dumbed-down than El Hazard
would be in the same OVA to TV journey, but there's still all the padding you'd expect in making 26 episodes out of six. The show takes five episodes to introduce the cast, then treads water. There's a plot spasm at the halfway point and we head off into space, but you'll only detect anything resembling a story arc in about a third of the episodes.
The first time I watched this, I wasn't initially impressed. Here's what I originally wrote... "Dear oh dear. Art so crude that even the fanservice fails and a central character (Tenchi) without a personality. This one's all about the various dysfunctional loons who end up hanging out at Tenchi's place, most of whom are vehicles for cheap gags and not much emotional depth. I'm halfway through and we're starting to get a little drama, but basically this is good for a laugh and not much more." Fortunately my opinion improved in the second half with the advent of some plot, with frame-ups, coup d'etats and space action. There were still standalone episodes, but at last the show seemed to be going somewhere.
The last four or five episodes are where the show kicks into overdrive. We get self-sacrifice, the possible demise of major characters and duels to the death. Finally the last episode is a reflective piece that says goodbye to the whole cast one by one. I really liked it. After that ending, I suspected I'd get more from the earlier episodes if I rewatched them and sure enough I was right. Tenchi Universe probably isn't the best introduction to Tenchi Muyo. It's a lot of fun, but it works far better if you already know the characters and aren't watching for the plot. I laughed my head off at the first episode. Mihoshi is still hopelessly Mihoshish and recognisable even when hidden inside battle armour, while Ryoko's hamming it up is hilarious. She can't help teasing Tenchi even when she's pretending to be a good girl, i.e. impersonating Ayeka.
There are also fun character details, like Ryoko's video game being about beating up a cartoon Ayeka.
Second time around, the series occasionally flagged even with my love for the characters. Horrifically there's even an alternate universe three-parter in the middle, although to my surprise I didn't hate it. Ryoko, Ayeka, Sasami, Kiyone and Mihoshi mess around with one of Washu's inventions and send everyone into alternate realities that would seem to be based around their fantasies. Pay attention to the instructions they gave the machine at the beginning. Ayeka and Ryoko's dreams are Tenchi-oriented. Kiyone just wants to be as far from Mihoshi as possible. Mihoshi creates a world where Tenchi is her husband, Sasami their daughter, Ayeka her sister-in-law and Ryoko her neighbour, which is probably a childish desire for friends and security rather than yet another "I want to get in Tenchi's pants" fantasy.
Meanwhile Sasami gets a Pretty Sammy crossover! It's nearly the world of the three Pretty Sammy OVAs
from 1995-7, but not quite. Tenchi isn't Sasami's brother and the school uniforms are different. This is also the only one of the five stories to end happily. Everyone else's fantasies fall apart as the other characters muscle in on the act.
Fortunately this three-parter has a strong ending. It's a strange digression, again taking this franchise of fractured continuities down a route of parallel universes.
Unless you count Pretty Sammy, this is the least harem-like Tenchi series. Unsurprisingly the OVAs
can go further than a TV show and have some truly filthy jokes, while Tenchi in Tokyo
delves into what makes the harem stuff tick and gives us Sakuya Kumashiro. GXP
is, um, GXP
. However here it's only Ayeka and Ryoko who are interested in Tenchi. However all you perverts out there should note the swimsuit contest in episode 20, while one of the three closing title sequences does nothing but stare at Ayeka in a completely transparent nightdress. You've got to admire that in a TV series.
Continuity-wise, it's faithful to that first series of OVAs except for having Kiyone, no Tsunami, no sentient Jurai trees and no bewildering familial relationships in which everyone's related to someone else. Kiyone is a terrific addition. She's the perfect foil for Mihoshi, being an efficient career-minded police officer and so understandably horrified by, well, everything. Furthermore her competence resolves that contradiction from the OVAs
where Mihoshi the loser was supposedly an efficient detective. Furthermore Ryoko's no longer connected to Kagato, so gets a new rival in the bounty hunter Nagi. She's a lot of fun and the only major Tenchi character who's unique to this continuity.
One thing that needs saying about Tenchi Muyo is how deceptively clever it is. The harem genre deserves its poor reputation. Tenchi Muyo hit on a winning formula and made it look easy, but watching a few of its lesser imitations will heighten your appreciation for how good it really is. A space pirate, a princess, a mad scientist, two police officers and an innocent little girl. That's a fun line-up. What's more, these are people who could single-handedly take out an entire planetary defence grid. They're never dull together, regularly going ballistic with each other and blasting their surroundings to smithereens. Kiyone hates Mihoshi, but in a more despairing way than Ayeka and Ryoko's mutual violent loathing. Meanwhile the sinister one is Washu, who may not be a bad person (unlike Ryoko) but is still wildly amoral and a danger to everyone around her. Her most spectacular catastrophes tend to be accidental, but that hardly helps anyone caught up in them.
The comedy potential of these characters is boundless, but they also have depth. Take Sasami. She's both a little girl and the family's surrogate mother, not to mention the only one to take responsibility and care about doing the right thing. As seen in Episode 18, she'll also befriend anything. Meanwhile Ayeka and Ryoko's feelings get taken more seriously than you'd expect, with heartfelt moments amid the comedy, and even Tenchi isn't (quite) a personality-free zone. He's not afraid to chew out his friends when they go too far, plus of course all the stuff about his dead mother. He also treats Ryoko and Ayeka differently. Ryoko gets handled with the bluntness due a lying cheating criminal who'll shamelessly clomp on to him on no provocation whatsoever, while with the ladylike Ayeka he's gentle. As a result, on first viewing I'd unfortunately assumed that Tenchi and Ayeka were the pair who were destined for each other and that Ryoko was merely a gatecrashing lout. If only it were that simple.
There are squeaky anime voices here (Ayeka, Sasami, Mihoshi), although also some surprisingly deep ones (Ryoko, Washu, Nagi). However it should be pointed out that even in real life Japanese women affect falsettos which at their worst can make you spill your coffee.
After my first viewing, I was happy I'd watched this series. On second viewing, I loved it. It's the least ambitious Tenchi Muyo series, including even GXP
, but it ends strongly even if it flags a little en route. The OVAs are more confusing and fall apart at the end. Tenchi in Tokyo
is more powerful, but harder to watch. GXP
is offensive garbage. Tenchi Universe is simplified, slow and has the odd weak episode, but I enjoyed the heavy clues throughout to its backstory and of course its dramatic conclusion. I also love the Tenchi family. They're wonderful and I could watch them all day. I don't find this opinion in any way unreasonable.