Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Friday, January 3, 2014

Anime Review: The First Tenchi Muyo OVA

So as hinted with in my review the most unforgivable sin of Tenchi Muyo: War on Geminar is that twice an episode it would remind me of other better shows I could be watching. It would remind me about something cool from Tenchi Muyo and then after I was done squeeing over jokes about how awesome Sasami's cooking was I would think, "Gee you know what? I could be watching all of the dinner scenes from Tenchi Muyo right now. Why don't I do that?"

So let's do this. While there is a plot the first two or three episodes are all about setting up the personalities and backstory of the main cast.

So the first episode in particular is all about explaining Ryoko. But also subtly the show's status quo. What life is like when there isn't some crazy crisis going on.  And it's pretty down to earth, taking place in modern day, well early 90''s, rural Japan.  Even then it hints at the more fantastical elements. Tenchi's grandfather more or less tells him the truth in the yarn he spins about legendary warriors, magic swords and demons in the opening moments.

Of course our young padawan, Tenchi Masaki doesn't believe him and unleashes the ancient space demon Ryoko. Part of what makes the show interesting is the characters and Ryoko is just plain fun. She's chaos, not exactly evil but an uninhibited hedonist with no impulse control. If she wants it blown up real good it will be blown up real good. You can see where that might be a problem. It's strongly implied later that her first episode appearance where she where blows up Tenchi's school (it was empty) was nothing more than her goofing around and blowing off steam after being trapped for so long.

The first episode ends with Ryoko realizing that figuring out Tenchi is her new ball of string when he somehow manages to best her in combat. Of course that whole demon thing isn't just for show. When ticked off or bored Ryoko tends to go overboard fueling the grudge of her primary foil Ayeka.

In the backstory Ryoko completely wrecked Princess Ayeka's home. Her brother/fiance (royalty are weird), Yosho left after her and has been MIA since. Once she came of age Ayeka's took up the search and blames Ryoko for her missing brother. Unleashing Ryoko brought Ayeka in pursuit. Ironically Ryoko has been trapped for so long that legally the galactic statute of limitations let's her off the hook, and it infuriates Ayeka. Ayeka is the exact opposite of Ryoko, reserved or at least always attempting to be. Her humor as well as her arc mostly comes from the massive stick up her butt. She starts the show as a pent up ball of repressed anger as she grieves. Tenchi empathizes with her, showing real compassion and they begin to care about each other.

That said Ayeka points out the driving mystery of the first OVA. What happened to Yosho. Between Tenchi's grandfather's stories, Ryoko and the weapon Tenchi used to defeat her Ayeka knows she's hot on the trail, but has given up hope of finding him alive.  But accepts Tenchi's aid in the matter.

I might have been a bit misleading while the second episode explains the basics of Ayeka's backstory it's actually fleshed out in the third the second mostly being about her little sister Sasami. All of that crap happened when Sasami was really young, or at least young by alien princess standards so her character isn't as driven by it. She functions mostly as the ego to Ayeka's super ego and Ryoko's id.

She has the benefit of for the most part not growing up on her home planet and doesn't take herself  or the princess thing anywhere near as seriously as her sister, yet she also has a pretty good head on her shoulders and knows when the fun has gone too far.

Not unlike Ayeka the space police have been after Ryoko. The heat is on because of the whole statute of limitations thing, but they put Mihoshi on it. Mihoshi comes from a long line of legendary space detectives but she's a complete ditz. She's pretty nice and all but just can't count on her

There Will Be Spoilers
The more I write the more I realize it's hard to talk about this show without delving into spoilers. Even explaining the characters and their motivations basically summarizes the first four episodes of a seven episode story.  I hesitate to go further but first of all what made me love the show was the last three episodes and how the show handled everything, and second of all the end of the first OVA pretty much forms the status quo for every other piece of Tenchi media save the first TV show which retells the story.

There were some real twists, yet everything was hinted at.

The Jurai Royal Power
While Sasami and  Ayeka are space princesses rather than Leia you should probably be thinking more along the lines of Arwen. In a lot of ways the Juraians are analogous to Tolkien's elves being responsible in some form or another for most of the society and technology in the show. And yes Earth is a long lost colony of theirs.

They can do this due to the Jurai Royal Power which is more or less The Force. It extends their lives, allows them to pilot space ships and use light sabers. Because of their status as the progenitors of all civilization in the universe, who runs Jurai is kind of important.

The Yosho/Ayeka partnership was going to secure the throne but Yosho being MIA has thrown things out of wack. The sword Tenchi's  (remember how I said that) been using up to this point is basically the sword in the stone declaring/choosing who is most powerful wielder of the Jurai Royal power is and who is king.

While Ryoko is the driver of the plot she is not actually the villain. She was made or rather commissioned by Kagato but is not him. He is much much worse.

Kagato created Ryoko as a tool to help him gain absolute control of the Jurai Royal power. Ryoko being Ryoko was like screw all that crap but became the terror of the galaxy not entirely of her own volition. Being created by him Kagato has certain mind control powers over her.

Kagato's goal is to find the sword and backwards engineer the thing thereby becoming the most powerful man in the universe.  But the sword and by extension the Jurai royal power has already chosen it's master.

Kagato's appearance is enough to make Yosho take up the sword once more.

What Happened to Yosho
You know how I keep comparing Jurians to elves. Well they generally don't like inter-species romances either, and Yosho was a product of one, being mixed race. The prejudice eventually got to him and he used Ryoko's attack as pretense to just book.

Since Ayeka was really young and hero worshiped the guy none, of this dawned on her. It was an arranged marriage and because she was massively crushing on the guy she was happy with it.

Yosho came to earth and made a life for himself getting married, having a daughter and eventually a grandson. You see where this is going. Yosho is and always was Tenchi's grandfather. Tenchi's grandfather officially passes the torch and sends Tenchi on a quest to save Ryoko before Kagato can reprogram her. Tenchi comes and it doesn't go so well.

Despite herself Ryoko had a soft spot for the boy and along with Ayeka vows revenge.

What is the Jurai Royal Power?
Ooookay. This is a doozy. In this story the universe was created by three goddesses. After creating the universe they went more or less their separate ways. Tsunami, one of the goddesses, eventually became the patron of the Jurai Royal Family. She's basically a benevolent Athena who literally resides in the olive tree.

The story doesn't actually explain all of this until the second and third OVAs but it helps to make sense of the ending.

The Jurai Royal power is basically her interference as she acts as mother to the entire universe. And do you really think she's going to let a bad guy usurp it?

This god is going to fix this machine.

Speaking of Mothers
Kagato didn't really so much  create Ryoko as commission her. He kidnapped the leading genius of the space science academy to create her. Washu used one of her eggs, yes those type of eggs, in the process making her literally Ryoko's mom. Even though she's pretty much impotent in this first OVA due to being trapped in a pocket dimension by Kagato for the duration, it's clear which side she's on. She uses her bag of tricks to help out where she can.

Sword Tenchi
The big explosive revelation is that the sword also called Tenchi isn't sword. Rather it's a tool to access Tsunami's power. It's actually not all that important in the grand scheme of things being only a corporeal manifestation of her will. For reasons, (second and third OVA stuff it's kind of unclear at this point), Tsunami takes a direct interest in Tenchi, loaning him a lot more of her power than anyone else in the known history of the universe.  This allows for an epic beat down. Kagato fatally loses but is satisfied actually figuring out what the sword is."

"Tenchi same name as the master key. Well done Tsunami. Tenchi can't be copied. Splendid plan. You've won boy.

There is a special that serves as sort of an epilogue but this is more or less where this story ends for me. The special is mostly just an extra episode for those who want to see more of the characters and their dynamic, though it does hint at the conflict of the next OVA.

What really strikes me about this show as a whole is how tight the narrative is. Even small character moments advance the larger plot and provide the mechanisms of the larger actions of the story.  For instance a hot tub argument creates an energy anomaly that leads to the introduction of Mihoshi. The reason why this review is almost a complete summary is because everything has importance here. The plot is a perfectly balanced Jenga tower.

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