In an old memory, Ayeka as a little girl picks a Royal Teardrop flower and gives it to her brother/fiance, Yosho, but he tells her it's not a flower meant for happy occasions. Sudden chaos as we see the flaming devastation unleashed by a demonic Ryoko, who takes off in her ship, Yosho in pursuit. Ayeka, now grown, runs after Yosho, but when she reaches him, he becomes Tenchi. Tenchi tells her again that Yosho is dead and gives her the sword hilt as a memento. Ayeka wakes up with a yell, the sword hilt in her hand. She's in a room at Tenchi's house, Sasami still asleep on the futon next to her. Ayeka goes to the window, longing for Jurai, then sees Ryoko walk across the pond below. Ayeka turns away in disgust, while Ryoko submerges, pulling a black egg from the wreckage of her ship.
Ayeka hasn't left her room in a week, and Sasami finally convinces her that she's being rude and drags her out. They enter the family room, but Ryoko is there, and the pirate and princess start trading barbs. Sasami takes interest in the black egg in Ryoko's lap just as Tenchi enters the room, and Ryoko convinces everyone it's her baby and Tenchi is the father. Everyone flips out and, just as the egg gets into Tenchi's hands, it hatches. It's a rabbit/cat creature (which fandom has come to refer to as a cabbit), and after having a good laugh, Ryoko explains that her ship was so badly damaged that it reproduced itself. Thus, this is the new Ryo-Ohki. Sasami instantly takes to the cabbit, but Ayeka accuses everyone of making fun of her and storms out, slapping Tenchi when he tries to stop her. Ryoko starts making moves on Tenchi, asking him again about the sword that still holds her power jems, but she's shocked to learn he gave it to Ayeka.
Ayeka runs into Tenchi's grandfather, blushing at something familiar in his face before continuing to storm off. He enters the family room, where he also runs into Ryoko, groping the pirate's breasts with a smile. She throws a punch, but he blocks it with ease, which leaves her boggled. The grandfather then meets Ryo-Ohki, telling Tenchi he needs to learn responsibility if he's going to be a father, and Tenchi leaves in a huff. Ryoko tests her punches by leveling a flight of stairs, still boggled.
Ayeka is standing by the pond, starting to cry as she stares at the sunken wreckage of her ship. Ryo-Ohki tries to cheer her up with a nuzzle, but Ayeka screams in surprise, then tries to shoo the cabbit away. Ayeka walks off, trying to evade the creature, but Ryo-Ohki keeps following with bright eyes and a smile. Ayeka suddenly comes across a Royal Teardrop flower, and the confusion of its presence and the memories it brings causes her to break down. Ryo-Ohki brings her another flower, which cheers Ayeka up, and she lets the cabbit onto her lap, petting it as the tears go away.
Ryoko slips into Ayeka's room, searching in vain for the sword hilt. She eventually just asks Sasami where it is, but the princess says Ayeka keeps it on her at all times.
Calmer now, Ayeka starts wondering about her brother's fate again, and Ryo-Ohki hops away, leading her to where Tenchi and his grandfather are training for swordfighting. Ayeka recognizes the fencing technique as that of the Jurai royal family, and in her attempt to get their attention, she slips down an embankment. Tenchi and his grandfather rush to her aide, discovering her leg is cut and sprained. The grandfather binds her injury, but when she starts asking him about the history of the fencing style, he clams up and walks away, instructing Tenchi to carry the woman home.
It starts to rain, so Tenchi and Ayeka take shelter in a shed. He builds a fire and steps outside so she can undress and dry off, but the startling re-appearance of Ryo-Ohki brings them back together. Despite their undress, Ayeka tells Tenchi to stay inside, and they start talking about her fears over the current situation, with him saying it's all his fault. She has no relatives here, but he points out that he's one, and cheers her up with the help of Ryo-Ohki. The weather clears up and the two dress and continue on their way.
They stop when Ayeka sees a large tree that Tenchi says is holy and fabled for miracles. Bringing her closer, Ayeka recognizes it as Funaho, the tree from the heart of Yosho's ship, and says it's taken root on this planet. Ayeka uses the sword hilt to activate Funaho's memory banks, playing back the day Yosho chased Ryoko to this spot in a furious battle that destroyed both of their ships. He won the battle, her demonic rage fading as the sword extracted her jewels and housed them in the base of its hilt. Ayeka realizes this means Yosho survived, and renews her efforts to find him. She apologizes to Tenchi about earlier, and returns the sword to him, asking for his help and protection as long as she's on this world.
Ryo-Ohki leads Sasami and Ryoko to the spot, and Ryoko is thrilled to see Tenchi has the sword again. She's less thrilled, going from confused denial to outright anger, when she learned Ayeka returned the sword as she and Tenchi are now friends, and Ryoko teleports away in a huff. Tenchi's worried about what she'll do, but Ayeka tells him to forget it and they head back home.
This. This right here. I got through the first few episodes just fine, but the series wasn't fully clicking with me. Until now, where we've reached the point where I remember falling in love with this show way back in the day, and I'm delighted to see it still plays just as strong.
This series is as its best - to my memory - when it brings the machinations of space pirates and cosmic princesses down to earth and puts them in the structure of a domestic sitcom, as they've invaded this laid back and somewhat everyday household and have to make the most of their unusual plight while wondering if they'll ever again reach the stars. We continue building on the dynamic of Ryoko and Ayeka, where one has a ship, but it's too young to fly and her power has still been largely stripped away, and the other has access to the key of power, but no ship to make use of it with. Each of these characters will need the other at some point, but they'll be damned if they're ready to help each other now. Ayeka can't stand Ryoko, and we finally get into the princess' head, seeing the demonic image of the pirate unleashing the past devastation on Jurai which pulled Yosho away. Ryoko, on the other hand, actually does reach out and try to help Ayeka, but in a way that taunts the princess, being "good" just because she knows it'll piss the other off.
This episode is an Ayeka showcase, even moreso than the previous one was. She can be very rude and cold at times, but at heart, she's a vulnerable girl searching for her long-lost brother/betrothed. The presence of Tenchi is confusing in how he reminds her of Yosho, but just isn't the same. Everywhere she goes, she finds some mark of her brother - the flower, the fencing style, the legends, the tree from Yosho's ship - but she never finds the man himself. Well, at least not to her realization yet. Tenchi's grandfather plays things pretty aloof, albeit in a way that Ayeka takes notice of, and I like the long moment where she holds on his eyes.
Tenchi is mellowing out, and I'm finally seeing the approachable, endearing everyman lead I've longed for, but only got from the dub before now. Yes, there's a few wacky hijinks with Ryoko (the "our child!" prank with the egg is hysterical), but it's well played and contrasted by his more easy-going and dramatic scenes in a way that makes him much more well rounded as a character. He's wacky, but he's not just wacky, and it finally hits a balance that leaves him feeling more like a real person.
The scene between Tenchi and Ayeka as they take shelter from the storm is the epitome of just how great the two are as characters, and makes me fall in love with both all over again. The tension and angst about being stranded with a member of the opposite sex while in a state of mutual undress. The growing ease as time and a warm fire makes them more comfortable with one another's company. Ayeka opening up about all she's lost and everything she never knows if she'll find, and Tenchi insisting it's his fault and he'll help in any way he can. The "attack" by Ryo-Ohki that drives the two into each other's arms. It's a really sweet scene that, with one misstep, could have played the wrong way or felt false, but it never does, and when the skies clear and Tenchi reaches for Ayeka's hand to return home, the relationship between the two suddenly blooms into something with real possibilities. She isn't just some harem girl an anime tosses his way. She's a complex character and he's a normal joe, and for at least this one stretch of hours in the rain, they've connected on a very deep and real level, and I can't wait to see where (if anywhere - Rumiko Takahashi burned me many times over) it goes from here.
And then there's Ryo-Ohki, the cat/rabbit offspring of Ryoko's crashed spaceship who's destined to grow into a new cluster of black crystals one day. I'm not a pet person, so I'm often immune to cute kitten or puppy memes, but dammit is Ryo-Ohki adorable. Especially during the walk she takes with Ayeka, who initially rejects the creature as bearing the taint of Ryoko's presence, but when the little cabbit gives her a flower, how could anyone not let it curl up in their lap. Everything about Ryo-Ohki feels real and natural, with an infantile curiosity and an ability to connect on a surface level of emotion. And I love the little bit where she clunks into a window, then phase shifts and walks right through it, only for a pursuing Sasami to herself clunk into the window.
While I still don't think the character designs are the greatest (Tenchi fell off model a few times, and even had one shot where his eyes are pointed in different directions), the character animation is superb for the most part, from the tension of the rain sequence, to the comical duel between Tenchi and his grandfather (the grandfather's final pose had me rolling), to Ryoko looking from Ayeka to Tenchi and dawning on the connection forming between the two, to the look on Sasami's face when she first spots Ryo-Ohki's leg poking out of the egg, lighting up with surprise, then slowly glowing with childhood awe.
This is a really damn well produced episode, and instantly makes me happy I started this project as it was a delight to revisit. Sometimes you can't go home again, but sometimes you do and find that much of what you loved is still there.
On the negative side - not everything can be good - I don't entirely love the fanservice they've thrown in. I know, I know, it's an anime romantic comedy and there has to be fan service at some point or another. But I liked that, for at least two episodes, this series was different, that it wasn't going the same route countless shows have taken us. To be fair, it is still pretty tame - especially by current moe standards - but Ryoko's great outfit has been replaced by an open jacket that lets her cleavage breathe (the whole getup is oddly colored, too, like a circus clown), Ayeka falls victim to recurring bits where her skirts are thrown up, and there's one scene where the grandfather walks right up behind Ryoko and gloms onto her tits. I love the payoff of this bit, her inability to process how he's able to block her superhuman punches (for reasons that should be painfully obvious by now), but it's still an uncomfortable way to lead up to it, whatever these characters' pasts may be.
As a contrast, the scene where Ayeka strips off her wet clothes is handled with grace and maturity, focusing on her formal, ritualistic way of going about it and the anxiety of the action while a boy she barely knows is standing right outside, and I love that Tenchi never even thinks of taking advantage of the situation in any way.
Some extra thoughts:
- Okay, so the jems in the hilt and their relationship to Ryoko finally (mostly) make sense. And I like her little subplot of trying to find the hilt while Ayeka is away.
- I still don't have much to say about Sasami because she's mostly just there trying to get everyone to be nice to each other. It's a well done little girl role, but typical.
- Love the innocent little moment where Tenchi is surprised to see that Ayeka's blood is red.
- I like that Ayeka directly calls out the oddness of her incestuous engagement with Yosho, but it's never really expanded beyond that.
- I must have watched this episode a few dozen times back in the 90s, because there were stretches where I was hearing in my head the lines of the dub actors even while watching the subtitled version. Let's see if the dub holds up...
The dub continues to be solidly written and performed. Jennifer Darling still feels too old for Ayeka (especially child Ayeka in the flashback sequences), but she does a great job of capturing the complex nuance of the character in this episode, so everything I love about the scene in the rain is still there.
The weak point is Yosho and Tenchi's grandfather. I can't tell if it's the same actor doing both parts, but both are pretty bad, with a stiff, forced delivery that falls flat.