Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Anime Review: Tenchi Universe (The First TV Show)

So the second OVA was a mild disappointment for me but it did have it's merits. The TV show seems to be an attempt to bridge the domestic comedy of the second OVA and the narrative of the first, retelling the story. It's Tenchi Muyo but a different Tenchi Muyo.

Like I said there are a couple of differences in the set up but the largest one is the introduction of Kiyone a new character. Mihoshi's, the space cop's defining character trait was being nice but as dumb as a stack of bricks. Kiyone is a nice foil to her being smart and practical, acting as the sanest of the female cast.

Kiyone's addition makes it easier to map the characters. In most cases at least 2 of the girls share an origin. Kiyone and Mihoshi are space cops, Ayeka and Sasami are space princesses, and Washu and Ryoko are space outlaws. After that you have the Misaki's, Tenchi, his father, and grandfather.

After some thought I now realize the show can be split into three parts.

The Earth Adventures (Sitcom)
Like the first OVA the first few episodes are about establishing the female cast but rather than focusing on backstory like the first it, uses humor to explain their personalities, all of which are slightly exaggerated for the sake of the humor. The goal here is trying to get each of the girls stuck in the house where they have to deal with each other.  Someone will crash in Tenchi's yard changing the status quo, they'll have a space battle where both ships get so damaged that they're stuck on earth. Everybody has a well defined personality and those personalities conflict allowing for pretty good snark. Think a science-fiction Friends.

Once the status quo has been established the show settles into becoming a sitcom. You get the broke episode/new job episode and the festival episode and a few others. The point of these episodes are more or less the same as the second OVA giving the characters a place interact, but here is the difference. All of this stuff is early enough that it feels like they are still establishing the characters and they have enough time to do plot stuff later.

Time and Space Adventures/ AU Jumping
Every science-fiction show has one and Tenchi Universe has three. If you've seen Futurama's "Anthology of Interest" you know where this is going. Washu invents a machine that can warp time and space to it's user's wishes and the audience gets to basically jump around a bunch of Tenchi Muyo alternate universes.

These episodes pit the cast of the show, with their established personalities in other genres.each representing a character's ideal world. Despite being "ideal" nothing really changes and you get the same personality conflicts of the previous episodes.  No matter what genre they are in it is still all undeniably Tenchi Muyo, remaining pretty lighthearted.

From a character perspective we the audience get to see what in their minds ruins their ideal world.

The first of these is a traditional jidaigeki featuring Ryoko the "Demon of Rashomon" supposedly representing "Princess" Ayeka's ideal.

Okay the "Demon of Rashomon" bit was a brilliant inside joke and I feel the need to explain it. The Joker would not be amused. A running joke thus far in the series is that Ayeka and Ryoko's grudges stem from backstories that they remember or at least tell differently, which is the entire point of the 1950 Akira Kurosawa jidaigeki film Rashomon in which a Japanese court tries to figure out how the murder of a samurai was committed. There were a couple of witnesses but they all tell different stories. You know it's going on the list. Anyway back to our regularly scheduled programming.

For Kiyone's we get the opening scenes of a small town detective drama, which feels like Doc Martin

or since most of my audience is American Murder She Wrote, which is promptly ruined by Mihoshi.

If you read this blog at all you've probably guessed Sasami's is a magical girl parody, which got enough support to become a series in it's own right.

Mihoshi's is a lot harder to pin down, since it feels closer to the show's natural status quo. If I had to guess I'd say it's a more traditional domcom in the vein of the Dick Van Dyke show, except she's completely overwhelmed as a homemaker, it doesn't help that you have Ayeka playing the role the nagging mother-in-law.

Ryoko gets a nutty Bonnie and Clydeesk heist noir.

These adventures end on a bittersweet note as Ryoko has to forsake her perfect world. While running around knocking up banks was her idea of fun what she really liked was that she had won Tenchi in her world. After some thought she realizes the victory is entirely hollow if he doesn't choose her.

What's of particular note is that each of these worlds fit the character. If you stripped out all of the science fiction stuff each these characters feel like stock from those genres. Ayeka's a princess, Sasami's a girl, Ryoko's a crook, Kiyone's a detective, and Mihoshi is... needy.

Apart from being interesting in and of itself it serves as a tonal transition to the next part an action packed retelling of the last couple of episodes of the first OVA. Often times the Space and Time adventures get a bad rap being so different from everything else but within the context of the show they are absolutely needed. Tenchi Muyo is both a sitcom and a space opera and the show juggles to balance the two.

The Space Adventure (Tenchi Muyo! 2.0)
And they changed a lot. And you know what its actually more interesting in the TV show than in the OVA. The first thing you should realize though is the show has mostly segregated the dramatic and comedic, meaning they haven't yet introduced the any of the more any serious aspects of the OVA allowing them to change or ignore things while still having it make sense within the context of what we know about this world. This show is a new beast. The show plays with your expectations based on what they did in the OVA.

It all starts when Juraian military forces arrest Ayeka, Sasami and Ryoko. The audience has half been expecting "most wanted space pirate" Ryoko to get captured for a while, but the detainment of everybody else is a total surprise.

What the hell is going on?

 The legendary warrior Yosho who had previously renounced his claim to the throne of Jurai has comeback and decided "eh screw it".  After pretty much getting the Juraian government to just go along with it, (to be fair it would be as if John F. Kennedy rose from the grave and cast his hat in the ring for the presidency) Yosho's been hunting down all the other claimants Harod style,  and guess who's second in line. Ayeka. Well this doesn't sound like the Old Ben Yosho from the OVAs. Hint, it's not. The life of the villain would be so much easier if he could just resist the urge to kidnap princesses. Our heroes were in the butt end of galactic nowhere until this mope decided to pull a Bowser.  .

Our crew launch a successful rescue mission but are now intergalactic fugitives.

Just prior to all of this going down our two resident space cops were called back to headquarters and are now in the wolf's den, their superiors believing that they're still in contract with everyone else.  They're not, but Mihoshi who has crazy bad luck overhears talk of duplicitous traps. And then shit goes down!

Their bosses aren't going to just let them walk out of there to warn everybody so we get an epic giant space battle. Mihoshi and Kiyone who are still plugged into the com chatter decide to pull a Han Solo for their friends who are facing a space blockade after the breakout. The band is officially back together.

After that the show settles down for a while but with the stakes raised a bit. Not every episode can be that wild it would be exhausting. They're still mostly funny and charming, but these episodes can seem plodding and can make the moments when the plot does pick up feel a bit disjointed.

That said the changes to the plot are brilliant it feels like plot of the OVA but is different enough to be worth watching  along with it. You have to remember back in the day Cartoon Network didn't market these as two shows airing them as the same show so going into it as a kid it felt a little it like we were doing the same thing over until the plot picked up and did indeed became it's own thing in the last few episodes.

In terms of narrative craftsmanship the first OVA is a masterpiece with little fat and this one seems a little flabby in comparison, but it's only that way because rather than just trying to tell a space opera it's also trying to be comically amusing and in that way it works. In watching both it's clear the first one was written primarily as a space opera and the harem comedy angle everyone associates with the franchise was mostly introduced in the second OVA and perfected in this show as it tried to balance it and its space opera roots.

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