Tenchi Muyo! is a Japanese animated series created by Kajishima Masaki that has become a very popular franchise since its beginnings in 1992. It follows the escapades of a high-school boy, Tenchi Masaki, whose quiet life is turned upside-down by the arrival of several beautiful young ladies from outer space who, for various reasons, move into his house and pretty much instantly fall in love with him.
The series is a romantic comedy interspersed with light action and adventure, giving it a broad fan base. The range of character personalities and general eccentricity gives the series added popularity - every Tenchi fan has their own personal favourite out of his harem!
As is always the way in one-boy-many-girls series, Tenchi is a young, utterly average high-school boy whose life gets completely changed by the unforeseen arrival of the girls who come to dominate his life. Such is Tenchi's personality that he readily accepts each and every one of them, inevitably inviting them all to stay as long as they like. He makes no attempt to favour one over the other - indeed, some would say he is oblivious to their advances. Frequently calming the storm between Ryoko and Ayeka, he always provides comfort when necessary and is prepared to defend them all, as this exchange between him and the villain from the first OVA1 shows:
Kagato: Why do you throw away your life for these women?
Tenchi: I would rather die than forsake any one of them.
Though passive, quiet and generous, Tenchi is also unknowingly the bearer of the greatest power in the universe. Unbeknown to him, he is half-Jurai and a member of the most powerful dynasty in the galaxy. In both OVAs his power is invoked by accident in their greatest hour of need and is of great interest to certain parties. How it is invoked and how Tenchi has come to have this power is still unknown, and will be explored in the third OVA.
This feisty, hot-headed character makes her appearance in the very first Tenchi episode and is a very important character in every series. In the OVAs she is the 700-year-old daughter of Washu, who Kagato took control of to attack Jurai. She is chased to Earth by Yosho and imprisoned in the Masaki shrine near Tenchi's home until he accidentally frees her. In the Tenchi Universe continuity she is a space pirate who falls to Earth while being chased by Mihoshi.
Ryoko's powers make her a formidable foe and despite her slender frame she possesses great strength, absent-mindedly destroying Tenchi's staircase in the first OVA with a single punch. She can fly, pass through walls, teleport, shoot laser spikes and with the aid of her three gems, create her own sword and summon demons. Two of the three gems are kept on Tenchi's sword and he is still not prepared to give them back! The gems are of great relevance to the overall plot and will be more closely examined in the third OVA. Another of Ryoko's powers is a telepathic link to her space ship/pet Ryo-Ohki, the loveable cat/rabbit. Ryo-Ohki can transform from rabbit to spaceship and in the second OVA becomes able to take on human form.
Due to her fiery nature, open passion for Tenchi and habit of bathing naked, Ryoko is a firm favourite among fans and can be considered the number one choice for Tenchi's love in the third OVA. It must be remembered though, that anything can and will happen in the world of Tenchi. As is usually the case with aggressive characters, there is a sensitive side to Ryoko that only comes out during times of immense trauma. Having been imprisoned and manipulated for almost all her life, it can only be expected that she wishes to live as full an existence as possible.
Ayeka is the crown princess of Jurai's royal family, rulers of the most powerful empire in the universe. In the OVAs she arrives on Earth after 700 years of suspended animation, searching for her brother Yosho, who chased Ryoko to Earth and was due to marry Ayeka around the time of the attack2. In the Universe continuity she is travelling through space looking for a husband when she receives Mihoshi's distress call and, upon meeting the space pirate Ryoko, rams her ship into hers.
As might be expected of a princess, Ayeka is very well-spoken and polite as well as being incredibly arrogant. She takes an immediate dislike to Ryoko and their fights can have (literally) explosive potential. Her attitude is, however, understandable - after 700 years of separation from her husband-to-be her feelings are very sensitive and she believes Tenchi is rightfully hers and hers alone - check out how this devotion makes her react at the end of episode five of the first OVA. Her arrogance is calmed as she becomes more settled in the house.
Ayeka is protected by two guardians, Asaka and Kamidake, and when threatened can summon a forcefield of miniature guardians. This forcefield can also restrain opponents. When in dedicated combat she can also fly and has a lethal punch. Also of note is the ornate headband that she never takes off. This is the key to her ship, Ryou-oh, and briefly comes into play at the end of Tenchi Universe.
The playful, mischievous younger sister of Ayeka, Sasami is very much a tomboy compared to Ayeka with her prim and proper manner. In the first OVA she frees Tenchi and sets the wheels in motion for their grounding on Earth because, as she tells Ayeka, 'I was bored'. In Tenchi Universe she comes looking for Ayeka to take her home, and is grounded when Ryo-Ohki crashes into her ship. Sasami and Ryo-Ohki take an instant liking to each other and one is rarely seen without the other. Sasami also loves cooking and is highly valued in the family for her skills.
Though not possessing any powers like the other characters as such, Sasami is the key to one of the most important aspects of the Tenchi background. She is bonded with Tsunami, the most powerful tree-ship in Jurai and also one of the three goddesses. It may be this bond that gives Sasami her dreams that warn of future events.
This loveable, ditzy blonde is one of the biggest victims of the cheapening of characters that occurred as the series progressed. In the OVAs she is what one website3 described as 'the middle sister everyone likes' and a hard-working Galaxy Police officer. Her ditzy personality is exaggerated to the point that by Tenchi In Tokyo she serves no purpose other than to be an idiot incapable of functioning without Kiyone. In the OVAs she falls to Earth after her spaceship crash lands (somehow ejecting her in the process) and is rescued by Tenchi from the black hole it inadvertently creates. In Tenchi Universe she chases Ryoko to Earth - and forgets she's a space pirate by the third episode!
Mihoshi possesses a bizarre pink cube that she keeps in her great mass of blonde hair. With a few twists it can equip her for battle and teleport her to her ship, but as even Mihoshi doesn't know how to use it, it more frequently just empties the bins. Mihoshi is also an excellent shot with her pistol, but her most important ability is her outrageous good luck. This might be a divine property, as it had been rumoured that her grandfather, who is the Galaxy Police chief, is the child we see taken away from Washu in the second OVA. GXP and OVA3 confirmed a relation. Considering that this appears to be genetic - her mother shows the same qualities in GXP - this is possibly another thing to be covered in the third OVA, and will undoubtedly raise Mihoshi's profile in the series.
Washu is undoubtedly the most eccentric and enigmatic character of the series. In the OVAs Washu is a 20,000-year-old goddess who chose to enter the realms of mortals, and appeared to have wiped her memory in the process. Her genius led her to the Science Academy, where she taught Kagato, who stole her spaceship, enslaved her daughter and imprisoned her for 700 years. Washu also created Ryo-Ohki, using a life-form called MASU to create them both. This leads to some hilarious scenes as the series progresses. In Tenchi Universe she is a 700-year-old mad scientist imprisoned in the Masaki shrine for trying to destroy the universe. Her ego is even more pronounced than in the OVAs.
Washu's past as a goddess and her decision to step down as one will be the focus of the third OVA. The reason for the goddess Tokimi's interest in Ryoko's gems will also probably be revealed. Washu's past is ultimately tied to every other major character, making these revelations of great interest.
Kiyone is unique in that she possesses no superpowers, is the most down-to-earth girl is the group, and is not related to any of the other characters in any way. In Tenchi Universe she is assigned to search for her partner Mihoshi, who is the bane of her life and career. Kiyone's career in the Galaxy Police effectively stalled when Mihoshi was assigned as her partner and she takes any opportunity to be rid of her with open arms. Despite this, there is a definite bond between the two. Kiyone serves as a voice of reason in the madness of the Masaki household.
Since 1992 Tenchi's adventures have been shown on television in seven different series, following three separate continuities. Three films have also been made.
Tenchi Muyo! began life as a direct-to-video animated series - OVA - in 1992. Interestingly, this was a reversal of the usual trend of animes being based on mangas, as Tenchi Muyo! manga did not appear on the market until some years later. The first series comprised six 30-minute episodes and a 45-minute special, and was followed up by a second six-episode series and a 40-minute special centred around the character Mihoshi and introducing her partner Kiyone. The second series brought with it a new cast of English voice actors (referred to by fans as VAs) for the dub that remained with the franchise from then on. Why the change was made is not certain, though the new actors sound nearly identical to their predecessors. There appear to be signs that the series was still a very raw idea, as the first series has Ayeka's VA-speaking in a different style from the third episode and favouring this from then onwards.
The first OVA introduces us to all the characters over the whole series and establishes the risqué humour of the franchise - sexual innuendo being inevitable in a series featuring five beautiful girls. Episode four focuses almost entirely on this, and as a result required extensive editing when it and the following two series received extensive airplay on Cartoon Network during 2001 - 02.
The OVAs are the most heavily edited for television of all the Tenchi franchise. Sake became tea, some 'violent' dialogue and scenes with blood were altered, sexual language was toned down and nudity covered with CG-swimsuits. Episode introductions were removed altogether for time constraints and the first series special, The Night Before The Carnival, was cut in half in order to fit in Cartoon Network's 20 to 25-minute slots. As a result, no episode escaped editing and most lost key scenes and dialogue, rendering many stories hard to understand and the aforementioned fourth episode almost unwatchable in its embarrassing lack of humour. The general consensus among Tenchi fans is that while you should never watch the edited OVAs to get a serious idea of the story, it served as a good way of exposing the series and anime in general to a new, wider audience.
The second OVA allowed the characters to be explored in more depth. Coupled with the end of the first series, the second began exploring the hideously complex Tenchi universe - how each character is related to each other, and how their individual destinies are intertwined. A joke among Tenchi fans is that the family tree of all the characters would require four dimensions - this is not too much of an exaggeration.
A third OVA was announced in August 2002, and at the time of writing is currently part way through airing on Japanese TV and expected to arrive on Western screens in late 2005 or early 2006. It is said that it will explore the background of the goddesses Washu, Tsunami and Tokimi in greater detail (the first look at this is given in episodes 11 and 12, and in greater detail in episode 13) and how this relates to the mystery of Ryoko's gems. Most importantly, Tenchi will finally choose a favourite of the girls!
The success of the two OVAs was followed in 1997 with the 26-episode Tenchi Universe series. The series brought some changes to the franchise - Kiyone was introduced as a permanent character due to popular demand following the Mihoshi Special. All of the Tenchi series that feature her are said to be Tenchi Universe continuity as she does not appear in the OVAs. Character backgrounds and personalities were altered slightly and the complexities of the OVAs removed. In this sense Tenchi Universe is considered inferior by some fans, also due to the slightly lower-quality animation. However, many of the charms remain and the series is still highly popular.
The first half of the series consists of character introductions, assorted adventures and the highly amusing Time And Spaces Adventures Trilogy (part III featuring a kiss between Ryoko and Ayeka - who'd have thought it?!), while the second half follows the group's journey to uncover a conspiracy on planet Jurai and defeat the villain of the series. The length of the series and abundance of opportunities for plot twists and bizarre humour help account for its popularity.
Shin Tenchi/Tenchi In Tokyo
Appearing in 1996 and known as Shin Tenchi in Japan, Tenchi In Tokyo is regarded by many to be the bad apple of the Tenchi franchise. The introduction of a new girl, Sakuya, and her role as a wedge between Tenchi, Ryoko and Ayeka, coupled with her background, had much potential for the franchise to tread new ground - indeed, the series certainly has some tear-jerking moments, especially towards the end. However, fans were disappointed with the appalling animation and severe cheapening of characters. Ryoko and Ayeka's rivalry descended into little more than domestic violence, Mihoshi moved from endearingly ditzy to outright retarded, and her partner Kiyone went from frustrated to purely vindictive. With their favourite characters being turned so one-dimensional, most fans have little time for this series.
This incredibly bizarre series focuses on Sasami and is a parody girl-sailor-hero series' as in Sailor Moon and the Tenchi series in general. It features a third continuity - Sasami is now Tenchi's sister, Ayeka and Ryoko are rival classmates and Washu is a 12-year-old child prodigy. Sasami's alter-ego, Pretty Sammy, had cameos in the Mihoshi Special and the aforementioned Time And Space Adventures episode. The series is unrelenting in its bizarre humour and parody, making it a sadly overlooked gem.
The emergence of this series in 2002 marked the beginning of a new phase of prolificacy from the world of Tenchi. In a twist, the series features an entirely new set of characters, though the old gang do make cameos. It focuses on a boy called Seina who is a magnet for bad luck, and as a result somehow ends up working at the Galaxy Police. In typical Tenchi fashion, all the women he meets instantly fall in love with him and fight over his (non)affections. The series still manages to shed new light on the main Tenchi background by featuring Mihoshi's mother, Mitoto, as one of the main characters. The series was aired on Western screens in the US throughout the autumn of 2004.
The Rest of the Franchise
The three films mentioned at the start of the article are Tenchi Muyo In Love (1997), The Daughter Of Darkness (1997) and Tenchi Muyo In Love 2: Tenchi Forever (1999). Of the three, Tenchi Muyo In Love is perhaps the most relevant to the overall background, revealing the significance of Tenchi's mother (the much-loved Achika) to the story. It is considered as part of the OVA continuity, despite featuring Kiyone. Tenchi Forever is, bizarrely, the sequel to this film despite no connection in the plot. The Daughter Of Darkness is the shortest film at 60 minutes, making it almost like an extended episode. It introduces a new girl, Mayuka, to the family, though it is unlikely she will ever return beyond this short appearance. Interestingly, Mayuka provides some of the most interesting scenes in the power struggle between Ayeka and Ryoko and provokes some unforgettable character development from Ryoko and Tenchi.
Viz Comics began a range of manga and graphic novels in 1996. As previously mentioned, it is highly unusual for an anime to precede manga, as the former are usually based on the latter. The comic media allows the bizarre humour of the series to really shine in typical comic form, accompanied with touches of chibi4 art makes these mangas very popular.
Tenchi Muyo! is also very prolific in the world of merchandising, though sadly the T-shirts, posters, action figures and plushies rarely see the light of day outside of Japan. A video game was also released in the mid-1990s in Japan for the Super Famicom (SNES), though it is not of any great significance and frequently overlooked.
As already established, despite everything produced so far, the most significant moments in Tenchi Muyo! will come with the third OVA. It will therefore be interesting to see how fans perceive the overall quality in comparison with the preceding two, and how much of an impact these revelations have. Ultimately, what everyone really wants to know is, which girl will Tenchi pick?