January 3, 2013

Introducing… A Need for Tenchi

(this article was previously published at Second Time Around)

The comedies were what first pulled me into anime. I'd of course seen Robotech and Voltron and a number of the other bowdlerized anime series airing in US Saturday morning cartoon blocks back in the day, but it wasn't until I randomly came across an issue of Ninja High School on the magazine rack at the local mini market (remember when they used to carry comics? Good times) that I started to learn what these terms "anime" and "manga", both still young to our nation's ears, actually meant. Tracking down other issues of Ninja High School, I was hit with a crash course on the foreign elements it was parodying alongside the American action movies and teen comedies of the 80s, and I'd soon pass videos at the local blockbuster that were suddenly familiar. This is how I discovered Captain Harlock, Fist of the North Star, and re-evaluated my love of the above-mentioned Robotech. It even introduced me to sentai teams shortly before Power Rangers hit US airwaves. Most importantly, it introduced me to the most magnificent anime screwball comedy ever made: Project A-Ko. It was through my love of such adorable destruction that I started hording everything I could in the genre, diving into Rumiko Takahashi, and renting the first OVA of a series called Tenchi Muyo.

While I loved Ranma 1/2, there was always a repetitive sameness to it resembling American sitcoms. Tenchi, on the other hand, would go from Earth to the deep cosmos in the span of an episode. Anchored on a likeable "average Joe" lead, it took space pirates and rulers of planets-sprawling kingdoms, and brought them down to earth for domestic shenanigans as two women constantly fought over the affections of the hero. Tenchi was definitely an early player in the now unrestrainable harem anime subgenre, but it doesn't quite fit those tropes as well as other concurrent works like Video Girl Ai or Ah! My Goddess. Tenchi quickly found himself surrounded by women, but they were rarely hyper-sexualized, and only two were actually treated as potential and mutually interested suitors. Asuka and Ryoko were the Betty and Veronica to Tenchi's perfect gentleman Archie, with him lacking the hapless pervert tendencies one so often found in subsequent moe derivations, and the rest of the largely female cast had their own dynamics as they loudly crashed the story from scenario to scenario.

This, at least, is how I remember the show. It's been over a decade since I've last immersed myself in the world of Tenchi, and I never even finished the whole thing the first time around. I caught the first two waves of OVAs, a few volumes of the manga, the whole first tv series, and all three movies, but I never explored beyond that. I never took a glance at Sasami's magical girl spinoffs, nor followed Tenchi to Tokyo, nor even knew about the new cast of GXP, so this project is setting out to not only revisit one of my favorite anime of the 90s, but also fill in the gaps where I can. Was it as fun and catchy as I remember? Will I regret having not stuck with it for the long haul? Will it have aged poorly and drive me insane? We'll see, and I invite all you other old Tenchi fans to join along, sharing your memories and opinions of the franchise as I work my way through.

This project will cover, in roughly chronological order:

Tenchi Muyo OVA, 20 episodes (this was later retitled in some releases as Tenchi Muyo: Ryo-Ohki)

Additional OVAs: Mihoshi Special (1 episode), Magical Girl Pretty Sammy (3 episodes)

No Need for Tenchi manga, 12 volumes [pending availability]

Tenchi Universe tv series, 26 episodes

Tenchi 1: Tenchi Muyo in Love movie

Magical Project S tv series, 26 episodes

Tenchi in Tokyo tv series, 26 episodes

Tenchi 2: The Daughter of Darkness movie

Tenchi 3: Forever movie

The All-New Tenchi Muyo manga, 10 volumes [pending availability]

Tenchi Muyo: Sasami Stories manga

Tenchi Muyo GXP tv series, 26 episodes

[There was a single volume of Tenchi Muyo GXP manga, but it was never released in English]

Sasami: Magical Girls Club tv series, 26 episodes

Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar tv series, 13 episodes

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