I’ve written a lot over the years about the original Tenchi Muyo property and its one that helped to define me as an anime fan during the early days of it becoming a domestic industry of note. The show was the reason in 1992 that I bought a Laserdisc player as Pioneer was bringing out the OVA episodes in bilingual form and closed-captions subtitles, something that we’d get a few years later with DVD in a better and more compact form. But it was getting that player that opened up the world of film to me as well, with multiple languages, widescreen films, and uncut presentations which was not what the VHS rental market was like. So I bought into the format and loved it and Tenchi became one of those first loves after a couple of years of enjoying anime in general. When the show hit DVD, I ended up getting that in a few different forms and then came full circle some twenty years later in getting the show a high-definition set.
The series is one that, for its original six-episode run, is the way that I wish more OVA series were like. It actually tells a full tale from start to finish but is open enough for more to happen after there, which it does. The show introduces us to Tenchi Masaki, a young man that lives in the city with his father and visits the mountain shrine that his grandfather operates out in the countryside. He’s a decent kid, a little goofy, but the nice guy that everyone likes but you can see gets easily overlooked in a lot of things. He’s also got a natural curiosity that gets him into a lot of trouble, at least at first. Amusingly, once that first bit of curiosity gets him into trouble, he’s almost never curious again as he learned his lesson. His curiosity leads him to swipe a set of keys from his grandfather to check out a locked cell within the mountain. Supposedly a monster from hundreds of years ago resides there and the lore about the battle that sealed it are legendary.
Tenchi’s curiosity ends up freeing the monster, which looks like a twisted mummy at first but is then revealed to be a cute girl that’s been trapped for seven hundred years. Ryoko, as she introduces herself, is intent on having a bit of revenge on the descendant of the man who sealed her, so Tenchi is chased through the school when she finds him there eventually and it leads to lots and lots of destruction. It’s a fun start because it’s kept simple and just on Tenchi and Ryoko and there’s a sense of intimacy about it. Ryoko’s abilities aren’t what they were before she was sealed and she ends up crashing with Tenchi, which makes for some obvious fun, especially since his father is just so proud. Well, at least until some aliens show up in a big ship from outer space as it turns out Ryoko is a wanted criminal that they’ve been searching for.
This introduces us to the two princesses of Jurai that are named Ayeka and Sasami. They’ve been searching for Ryoko since she fought Ayeka’s brother (and betrothed) all those years ago and she wants to take her out in order to find her intended. Sasami’s just along for the ride and a bit of playful fun. Things go crazy once these two show up since Ayeka kidnaps Tenchi, Ryoko, and his father – and his house – and that leads to all sorts of chaos where eventually everything crashes down at the mountain shrine. And from there everything sort of settles since all the aliens are stuck there and they’re all rather interested in Tenchi in various romantic ways.
While we’ve seen harem-style shows like this before and after, Tenchi Muyo really defined it well and executed it in a way few have followed. The first six episodes introduce the core characters along the way, including the adorable cabbit Ryo-ohki that can transform from a carrot-eating creature to a powerful spaceship, and we get a Galaxy Police officer named Mihoshi that is like an accident in motion constantly that often leads to welcome results. It also introduces a young woman named Washu who is over twenty-thousand years old and is a catch-all incredible inventor. The cast is a lot of fun overall and the way they interact makes for some great enjoyment since Ryoko and Ayeka end up fighting over Tenchi. But unlike future installments, it’s not been done into the ground and it’s not like the TV series where they do it every episode either.
The first six episodes are a great piece of work as the introductions are spread out well and it has an underlying storyline to it that culminates in the introduction of Kagato, a hugely powerful man searching for something related to what Juraians are capable of. It ties back to the story of Ryoko and how she was trapped on Earth, but it also pushes Tenchi into a great action position. The reveals still hold well after all this time with who is really who and the secrets that they have. While you can tell that some of it may not have been fully intended at first when they started it, it does all come together and the big sixth episode does things in a very strong way. Which makes the follow-up OVA with the downtime all the more enjoyable as that’s the first chance we really get to see the characters relaxing.
While I hold a certain love for the OVAs that followed and various series thereafter, that original six-episode run is what I come back to and revisit every few years. Yes, a lot of properties followed the kind of model is sets with that six-episode run in introducing a character per episode and building to something across the run, but this one just did it so cleanly and masterfully. One of the things that I really appreciate about it is the music as there are so many moments of quiet throughout the actual episode which makes the impact of the music cues all the more important. The themes are great and there’s a good sense of creating something distinct culturally with the Jurai and expanding upon that a touch with others. It’s one of those early shows that also told me you could produce a really good dub that was authentic but localized at the same time, with a cast that has stood out for me over the years as well. Tenchi is one of those core properties that came out at a time when the domestic anime industry was finding its way and this kind of property helped to make it a lot more accessible and showed the way things could be done when DVD came out a few years later. After all, if DVD couldn’t do what LaserDisc was already doing, it wasn’t going to be a proper and good successor.
Tenchi Muyo may not have the broad appeal it once did as it’s had a lot of incarnations since and not a lot in the way of hits, but it’s a key part of anime history and one that I find stands up really well with its original OVA series all these years later.