Welcome back to yet another dalliance back into the world of retro Anime, and this time around we’re swinging back into the 90’s yet again for our first venture into the weird & wonderful world of harem anime. Tonight’s retrospective is of Tenchi Muyo.
Like many of the other Anime series and features I have covered in these retrospectives, Tenhci Muyo was one of the first of its kind I had ever seen. Never before had I seen such a thing as a ‘harem’ anime, and it was an interesting experience. For those who don’t know this phrase, a ‘harem’ anime is typically a comedy where a main protagonist (usually an ‘everyman’ male character), is surrounded and sought after by a large cast of the opposite gender (typically a group of teenage girls). Much of the drama and comedy of these shows was created by this outlandish situation. The format has been popular and has thus resulted in the ‘harem’ sub-genre in anime (otherwise known as ‘LovCom’ in Japan proper).
Martian Successor Nadesico, which I previously reviewed also kind of fell into this category, given that almost all female members of the Nadesico’s crew spend a lot of their time chasing after our everyman protagonist Akito. Nadesico only nearly fell into this category since there was a lot more going on in that show than just countless love-triangles. Harem anime spend most of their time playing around with the inevitable problems generated by a large group of people trying to be romantically involved with a single person.
Tenchi Muyo was very much a harem anime, and it was amongst some of the earlier anime I had seen on Adult Swim. It had begun life as a series of OVA titled ‘Tenchi Muyo! – Ryo-Oki’ way back in 1992, and in general followed the trials of a seemingly normal Japanese teenager named Tenchi Masaki. His rather ordinary teenage life is suddenly rocked by his accidental discovery of an ancient mummy, who turned out to be the frozen remains of an alien space-pirate named Ryoko. Through the mighty power of plot-necessity, Ryoko was awakened thanks to Tenchi’s presence, and her mummified remains were rejuvenated into the form of a young woman.
This set into a place a series of events where Ryoko began to hunt Tenchi down while various other alien women crash into his life for often convenient reasons. Naturally, since this is a harem anime, many of these girls end up falling in love or fancying Tenchi almost automatically. Transplanted from Tokyo to the idyllic surroundings of rural Japan, Tenchi and his family end up playing host to these girls while they compete for the young man’s heart.
Therein was also the heart of Tenchi Muyo’s story, which spent much of its time following the girl’s various plots to one-up each other in stealing Tenchi for themselves, all while the guy himself handled his newly stressful country life with an unrealistic amount of grace.
Replace the settings and characters, and you would probably have any 90’s harem anime you could care to mention, however Tenchi Muyo had several things in its favour that really did give it an edge I feel. First off, the animation was extremely well done. It was very cleanly drawn, the ‘physics’ of the universe were beautifully handled, and the backgrounds were typically very detailed & lavish. The ‘alien’ aspects of the show were also very well done, with a suitably unusual feel to them while not being too unusual.
Also, Tenchi Muyo did seem to have a bit of a plot going on which wasn’t all that bad. Suitable villains would occasionally pop by to give Tenchi a chance to practice his ‘light-sabre’ skills (I’m not kidding, he actually had a light-saber and even had a special power-suit that looked very ‘Jedi-ish’)
The harem (aka, the girls of this show) were also pretty well put together, although did seem to adhere to what are ‘prototype harem members’. Space-pirate Ryoko was the ‘sultry older girl’, who seemed to have no problem with using her sex appeal to get what she wanted. Many harems had such a member, but Ryoko’s attitude and abilities made her a little more interesting than them. A more uptight girl who severed as the ‘harder-to-get primary love-interest’ was Princess Ayeka from the Planet Jurai. She would act as Ryoko’s main rival for Tenchi, but also in everyday life. She would typically be the more annoying of the girls, spending a lot of her time lamenting her situation, but would make up for this with plenty of comedy with Ryoko.
In addition to these two we had Ayeka’s little sister Sasami who falls into the often-used harem category of ‘younger girl who has a crush on the main guy, and is also good at cooking’. Sasami could be swapped out with damn near a dozen other similar characters and you’d have a hard time telling them apart. An unusual addition was the mad scientist ‘Little’ Washu, who beyond creating problems of her own invention would often use ‘experiments’ as an excuse to kidnap and molest Tenchi.
We also had a ditzy moronic Galaxy Police officer by the name of Mihoshi who was actually one of my favourites. The reason for this was this wasn’t just the character herself, but mostly due to her being coupled to her long-suffering companion Kiyone. Together they made my favourite ‘buddy-cop’ paring bar none.
Although mentioning Kiyone kind of brings up a bit of a dilemma with the whole Tenchi franchise.
Kiyone was introduced in a special ‘flashback’ episode of the Tenchi Muyo OVA series. However, she mostly appears during a run of another Tenchi anime entitled ‘Tenchi Universe’. Tenchi Universe is set in the same location, with mostly the same characters, but the continuity is swapped all over the place, and it has an ‘ending’ of sorts while the OVA remained open ended for years. Following this there was another show named ‘Tenchi in Tokyo’ which wasn’t all that good but also re-set the show’s continuity yet again.
I was very confused and had to do a bit of homework to figure out what was happening. What I had learned was that ‘Tenchi Muyo’ was the OVA named ‘Tenchi Muyo! – Ryo Oki’ which had started in 1992 and had pretty much stayed on hiatus for over a decade before resuming. During that hiatus, the success of the OVA had prompted demand for a series of half-hour episodes, which followed a similar story of the OVA. This was ‘Tenchi Universe’ and it ended with a self-contained season of episodes and at least one movie.
Follow the success of that show we ended up with ‘Tenchi in Tokyo’. However that was cheaply made and not that well received. Thus it ended after one season.
Tenchi also had a knack of spinning itself off with one fanciful series named ‘Pretty Sammy’, which turned Sasami into a ‘Sailor Moon-esque’ magical girl, with much of the original Tenchi cast coming along for the ride. In addition, another spin off named ‘Tenchi Muyo – GXP’ was made which actually *was* part of the original Tenchi OVA continuity! Are you keeping up? Good! If not, I know exactly how you feel.
Confusing continuity aside, the family of Tenchi shows often made for fun, and light viewing while keeping the ‘fan-service’ dial low enough. I can easily re-watch the shows to this day, even after the Millionth viewing (Adult Swim had Tenchi Muyo and Universe on a loop for yeeeeeears.)
However, there is one exception to that. That last spin-off I mentioned: Tenchi-Muyo GXP, had a good deal of issues with it. So much so I didn’t just dislike it…I damn near hated it. I hate to use the word ‘hate’ when it comes to anime…but alas I must.
In the next retrospective, I will cover a spin off that not only disappointed me, but also put me off harem anime for quite a long time. Tune in next time for Tenchi Muyo GXP!
In the meantime…watch out for Little Washu…she’s out looking for ‘samples’ again!