Ah, Tenchi Universe. Trying to understand the Tenchi-Muyo “Universe” can be difficult, so much that the new Funimation package art has to try to draw a diagram of where you are in said Universe. The first full season TV show, Tenchi Universe takes you on a time and space adventure with Tenchi, Ayeka, Ryoko, and everyone else as they pretty much reenact Star Wars, harem-style.
Tenchi Universe premiered April 1995 to December 1995 as a full twenty-six episode TV series that is loosely based on the original OVA series Tenchi-Muyo Ryo-Ohki but with slight deviations. The story is an alternate retelling of the events that occurred in the OVA, where the characters converge around Tenchi in a different manner. The wanted space pirate Ryoko is the first to arrive on Earth, crashing landing with another craft. Tenchi notices both craft fall on the ground near his home and goes to investigate. Finding Ryoko unconscious, he revives her but not before a mechanized robot starts to attack them. They flee to his home but continue to be pursued under Tenchi’s grandfather defeats the robot, revealing everyone’s bumbling airhead Mihoshi as the pilot. Mihosi, a Galaxy Police officer, was attempting to capture Ryoko but fails, stranding both of them on the planet. They take advantage of Tenchi and his family’s hospitality and stay until someone can answer Mihoshi’s distress signal.
Not long after the crash, Princess Ayeka of Jurai winds up coming to Earth having received the distress call. She is annoyed to see that Ryoko, whom she knows from her past, is on the planet and mocking her as usual. Tempers fly and fights ensue between the two leading to a ship-against-ship battle between Ryoko and her recently-reborn animal/spaceship Ryo-Ohki, and Ayeka’s Ryo-Oh. The battle does not go well for either and they both end up crashed in the lake near Tenchi’s home, destroying Ryo-Oh and injuring Ryo-Ohki. With one more guest in the house, not to mention another girl with eyes on Tenchi, Tenchi’s quiet life continues to be turned upside down by aliens from outer space. Soon after, Sasami, Ayeka’s sister, comes looking for her when she fails to meet up as scheduled. Through more series of events, she winds up on Earth as well after her ship crash lands.
Not long after those events, Kiyone, Mihoshi’s partner at the Galaxy Police, is summoned to go to Earth in search for her. Constantly plauged by misfortunes due to Mihoshi’s bumbling personality, she hopes to find her missing or dead and get back to headquarters for a promotion, but finds her alive and well at Tenchi’s home. Her luck then runs very dry when Galaxy Police headquarters assigns the duo to the Earth solar system as permanent residents.
The Masaki shrine, which is tended by Tenchi’s grandfather, and is located up the hill from Tenchi’s home, was built to protect the lands from a demon that landed on Earth over 700 years ago. Ignoring Tenchi’s grandfather’s words, Ryoko and Tenchi venture into the cave for adventure and romance, with Ayeka and the others in hot pursuit. Unfortunately for the group, they manage to destroy the prison holding the greatest scientific genius of all time, Washu. Imprisoned for 700 years for inventing weapons of mass destruction, Washu’s prison capsule crash landed on Earth 700 years ago and became the basis for the Misaki shrine. Free from her shackles, she also takes up residence with Tenchi and the gang, operating in a subspace dimension connected to the storage room door. She continues to invent dangerous experiments and devices, but unlike the OVA, expresses no interest in Tenchi or his power.
With the whole cast assembled, it’s time for the real plot to begin, with a new emperor of Jurai taking his seat on the throne. But before we get into that, the gang gets mixed up in one of Washu’s experiments, that sends them all into alternate dimensions based on their “perfect world”, most of which revolve around capturing Tenchi’s love, but Kiyone’s predictably involves getting away from Mihoshi, and failing. By the end of Episode 13, the gang finally manages to escape back to the real world, after Ryoko renounces the last world, electing to take everyone back to the normal world.
The most obvious difference to the OVAs the connections between all of the Jurai family members are downplayed. Ayeka and Sasami are no longer related to Yosho and instead are just part of the royal family, and Ayeka doesn’t come to earth in search of Yosho to marry. Tsunami does not make an appearance, as the tri-fecta of “dimensional beings” does not exist either, making Washu just a 700-year old mad scientist. Ryoko is also not related to Washu in any way, and is just a wanted space pirate. Two new additions to the cast are Kiyone, Mihoshi’s partner as seen in the “Mihoshi Special” from the second OVA, who becomes a regular character cleaning up after Mihoshi’s messes, and Nagi, a bounty hunter who alongside a make cabbot-turn-spaceship Ken-Ohki, attempt to capture Ryoko to the point of obsession. Most of the first half of the show is character introductions and wacky adventures, but hints of the plot in the second half are shown with Jurai’s new emperor.
For any fan of Cartoon Network’s old Toonami block, Tenchi Universe is something you should revisit, especially in the original Japanese with subtitles. While Tenchi was one of the better series dubbed long ago, when it was good, having the opportunity to listen to the original voices is well worth reading subtitles. I don’t concern myself with many voice actors and actresses, but as I’ve mentioned probably in many reviews, anything Norio Wakamoto plays is gold, and you will know why in the second half of this show (and review).
I noted on Facebook and Twitter that the plot to Tenchi Universe is a lot like Star Wars, specifically A New Hope. Much of Tenchi Universe’s first half sets up all of the characters for their space adventure, much like ANH spends the first half of the movie gathering everyone together for that final Death Star strike. Characters themselves tend to mimic traits of Star Wars characters, Tenchi being Luke, Grandfather being Obi-Wan, Ryoko and Ryo-Ohki being Han and Chewie, and R2-D2 and C3PO being Mihoshi and Kiyone respectively. Obviously a lot of these comparisons come in the second half of the series, so I won’t elaborate too much now, but suffice to say, I own that poster somewhere, and I’d like that back in my apartment, because it’s pretty awesome.
Of 1990s anime, Tenchi is a must-see, so if you are able to find a copy of Universe, online or at a convention, buy it and watch it. It’s still fun as hell, 18 years later. I’m still holding out for a remaster and re-release on Blu-Ray, because god that would be perfect.