Tenchi Muyo! (the show with sexy girls on Toonami)–the gateway to the ecchi side of the animesphere. Transport your mind to the year 2000–the year Cartoon Network threatened to turn the youth into polygamists. Co-creators Masaki Kajishima and Hayashi Hiroki, sensitive to male libidinal urges, create a fantasy–a coterie of attractive young women who all happen to inhabit the same house and fancy the same man.
But what does one do when faced with the existence of a quality harem anime–the mere notion inherently oxymoronic? Does one run, hide, cry, and crumble into an existential pool of self-doubt? No. One bravely marches into the brave new world, basks in the warmth of the rising sun, and shouts into the free air: “I enjoyed a harem anime and I don’t care who knows it!” Can one indulge, vicariously through Tenchi, the Freudian Pleasure Principle? One must answer that for oneself.
Like many seventeen-year-olds, Tenchi Masaki spends his days learning martial arts, visiting magic shrines, and accidentally waking demonic nymphomaniacs from 700-year-long slumbers. The chaos begins when Tenchi’s grandfather, after binge-reading the How To Guarantee Your Grandkids Will Sneak Past That Off-Limits Gate manual, warns Tenchi to never, ever, enter the super-magical-Hades-secret-girl-erotic-doorway-to-pleasure gate.
Of course, our Casanova opens the gate, and the ensuing chaos plays out like a farcical horror flick–the awakening of an ancient curse, said curse’s stalking of Tenchi through an abandoned school building, yet lightened by Tenchi’s slapstick antics and the Sonic the Hedgehog-haired-heroine’s distractedness. The animators dazzle with dynamic laser-sword battles. Indeed, from the beginning, the production gushes with fluid, rarely static cel animation–pre-digital, with a creamy depth of color now abolished by the digital age–and styled by Tenchi’s exaggerated manga “face faults” throughout.
Bucking harem anime protagonist trends, Tenchi exhibits desirable characteristics (realistically naïve, but hardworking, physically strong, assertive, and adequate social skills to boot) rather than embodying otaku stereotypes and serving as a pervert-proxy. As such, Tenchi tames his former enemy, removing a power gem from her hand, and, lo and behold, the turquoise-haired ex-demon appears in his bed. Thus begins the rollicking misadventures of Tenchi and the Gals–a hilarious, indulgent freefall through a universe stitched together by sexual tension.
Incidentally, Ayeka, the alien princess from Planet Jurai, happens to be on the hunt for her future husband (her big half-brother) and on a quest to flaunt the worst Onii-“sama” Complex in the history of anime. She wishes to incarcerate her brother’s enemy, the infamous Ryoko (ever heard of her?). Ayeka pinpoints the villain’s whereabouts, Tenchi’s pad, and proceeds to throw herself on the protagonist under the guise of keeping tabs on the criminal.
Despite its lewd underpinnings, Tenchi Muyo! prioritizes humor. Much of which stems from the characters’ nonchalant acceptance of the outrageous situations they find themselves in. For example, Ryoko, Ayeka, and Sasami (Jurai Princess Jr.) eat breakfast with Tenchi and his father and casually discuss their near-death experiences.
The characters’ self-awareness reflects the OVA’s loyalty to its comedic rather than fanservicey aspects. Well, except for the made-for-nosebleed hot springs scene in which Ryoko fights spirit monsters sans clothing. Okay, fine, most scenes featuring Ryoko negate the first sentence of this paragraph.
The writers offset the haremic infighting and one-upmanship with gags a-plenty. One stemming from Sasami’s assumption that Tenchi had a cat-baby with Ryoko leads to some curious musings on procreation (Ryoko doesn’t lay kitten eggs, but spaceships do?). And thus Ryo-Ohki, the cute lil’ alien spawn, follows the characters around to up the kawaii factor when Tenchi and the Gang can’t.
The writers endear Tenchi to his female compatriots without relying on hanky-panky alone. At times, Ayeka and Tenshi share some authentically romantic scenes, such as Tenchi’s carrying her on his back, caring for her injuries in the shed, building a fire for her, respecting her privacy, betraying genuine care in his conversations, and protecting her from the evil clutches of Ryo-Ohki (who can’t stop lunging at breasts). Such interactions, devoid of lasciviousness, resemble those of an actual couple.
Mihoshi, an airheaded galactic police officer with an astounding amount of responsibilities, literally falls from the sky into Tenchi’s arms. Before our protagonist can properly integrate her into his caravan, the mega-villain Kagato appears, casting a pall over the hormone-charged tomfoolery occurring in the Masaki complex. The writers take great pains in ensuring that the audience understands the “infamous” nature of this “brutal criminal”. He contributes nothing to the plot besides derailing the Horndog Express and attempting to transform Tenchi’s harem into a vampiric and altogether nefarious counter-harem.
Not so fast! Before we galavant into space for the final battle, let’s ruminate on the fact that Ayeka’s long-lost Onii-sama = Tenchi’s grandpa. All the Jurai clan have the ability to live in suspended animation, warding off age–a plot device which allows the 700-year-old Ryoko, Ancient Jurai Royalty, and Tenchi to all exist within the same timeframe. Well, guess that means Tenchi can now call himself a prince and the Ayeka/Tenchi ship prospects just skyrocketed.
Kagato kidnaps Ryoko for dubious reasons. Regardless, the OG Haremite undergoes a dramatic shift throughout the final two episodes. She evolves from a demonic killing machine (episode one) to a Machiavellian schemer (episodes two through four) to a lovesick battle angel. While Ryoko cares for Tenchi, the first four episodes give the audience little reason to assume she would sacrifice her life for him. Ryoko stalks the boy to regain her former, malevolent glory via his jewels (pun intended). Apparently, a few steamy minutes in the hot springs with the lad gave her all the motivation necessary for a passion-fueled suicide mission–stretched logic characteristic of the genre.
The final episode sports a bare-bones plot–the harem-honeys storm Kagato’s ship to save Tenchi (who died) and clear dungeons before triggering the final boss (he waits on the bridge, playing an organ and cackling). The ship has upside-down and right-side-up sections, Ayeka now knows how to fly, fight, and use ki, Washu (the final piece of the harem puzzle and Ryoko’s creator /“mother” [she used her ovum in the test tube]) appears, Tenchi gets resurrected by mature Sasami, er, Tsunami, er, well, the human version of Ryo-Ohki who lives inside that Jurai Tree and, ah, whatever–Tenchi comes back, lightsabers the bad guy, and irreparably woos his already wooed fan club.
The writers stuff the final episode with as many confusing plot points as they can muster, completing the OVA’s abrupt shift from harem comedy to space opera.
So, with one cour of Tenchi under our belts, we must sit back and reflect on the question every harem anime posits–why, really, do all the girls love this man?
- Ayeka: She digs incest–Tenchi’s her half-nephew.
- Ryoko: Watched (in spirit-mode) child-Tenchi grow up and urinate on things, needs him to unleash her powers, wants to devour his body and soul.
- Sasami: Does whatever sis does, likes whoever sis likes, thinks Tenchi’s funny when he falls and stuff.
- Mihoshi: Fell out of the sky into Tenchi’s arms–instant soulmates.
- Washu: He can do material metamorphosis AKA make swords appear (scientist porn).
The first installment of the Ryo-Ohki OVA selects five eligible bachelorettes for our protagonist. Yet Kajishima and Hiroki manage to concoct an otaku fantasy without pandering to otaku. Tenchi, both a major and minor character in his own OVA, earns the girls’ affections through virtuousness, gentlemanliness, and all manner of charm. Yet a tiger cannot change its stripes. Likewise, a harem anime cannot escape its tropes. No matter how luscious the animation, well-crafted the universe, or gut-busting the comedy, the crux of the show remains fenced in by its generic boundaries. The first six episodes set the stage for a battle royale–a high school-aged male overseeing a girls-only Hunger Games for his affection.
Good For: polygamists, sentient spacecraft nerds, Freudian analysis.
Bad For: monogamists, viewers who prefer spineless protagonists, fuddy-duddies.
And, please remember:
~ Don’t Shoot the Messenger
All screenshots and promotional images are the property of AIC, Geneon Entertainment USA, and Funimation. The AniMessenger does not claim ownership.