Geneon // 1992 // 120 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // March 20th, 2004
"It's been the forbidden area of the Masaki Shrine since the time of our ancestors. And you are no exception." -- Grandpa
Tenchi Muyo! is one of those infrequent and transformative anime series that gets everything right. When it was released in 1992, Tenchi Muyo! seamlessly integrated many anime standards (such as the harem plot, the reincarnated warrior, and the space opera), but made itself seem groundbreaking. Many anime fans consider Tenchi Muyo! the indirect precursor to stylish anime such as Cowboy Bebop. Regardless of how much weight you grant the series, it is undeniable that Tenchi Muyo! is very popular.
Tenchi is a young apprentice in the Masaki Shrine. His grandfather teaches Tenchi the old ways of service, philosophy, and fighting, but cannot restrain Tenchi's natural curiosity. Tenchi sneaks into the forbidden area of the shrine and awakens a demon that has been entombed for 700 years. The demon strikes fear into the hearts of men, razing entire villages and obeying no law or reason but it's own will. The demon is, naturally, a young and beautiful woman named Ryouko.
Ryouko is but one of many strange and powerful women who will shortly enter Tenchi's life. Princess Ayeka and her little sister Sasami come looking for Ayeka's fiancée, and the signs have led them to Earth. When they land, Ayeka finds that her fiancée is not there...but her mortal enemy Ryouko is.
No single element of Tenchi Muyo! is wholly responsible for its enjoyableness. The intriguing plots are supported by great music and animation, and peopled with complex characters. There is a perfect blend of action with romance, with humor, and with drama. It all works together.
The first element that grabbed my attention was the music. The opening song is catchy and sophisticated. Not only is it an exceptional theme song, I would listen to it around the house as regular music. It has an Eastern pop aesthetic with a hint of moodiness. The rest of the soundtrack maintains the style and high level of quality, but isn't presented in "song" format. The ending song is our next opportunity to focus solely on the music, and it doesn't disappoint.
The animation is more detailed than most anime, with intricate backgrounds and lots of movement. Characters come alive through posture and facial expressions. Few shortcuts are taken, which gives the series a rich sense of vitality.
The four episodes on this Signature Series release display a broad range of mood and focus, which leads to constant reassessment of the characters. I'm still not entirely sure what Tenchi Muyo! is about...and that's great praise. Spoilers follow.
Episode 1: "The Revival of Ryouko"
This is a variation on the classic story of waking a sleeping giant, told with finesse and tension. Tenchi is clever enough to obtain the keys to the tomb, but not clever enough to avoid using them. Grandfather's retelling of the legend gives the entry a sense of deep apprehension. Tenchi is later forced to fight the demon, which takes the form of an attractive woman. It is only near the end that you realize the demon is playing with Tenchi, and that she probably isn't going to kill him. The conclusion is surprising and amusing, setting up in a heartbeat the direction of the series.
Episode 2: "Ayeka Arrives"
It doesn't take long for Tenchi to get in over his head. Princess Ayeka arrives in a foul mood, seeking to capture Ryouko. She assumes that Tenchi is with Ryouko. Tenchi is like a piece of driftwood caught in the tide. He has to figure out who is going to aid him at any given moment. Loyalties shift so fast it is hard to keep up. Ryouko is bad but acts good. Ayeka is good but acts bad. Sometimes they flip-flop. Good thing Sasami is bored enough to help Tenchi. These shifting alliances keep the viewer interested and a little dizzy. We learn some vital information about Tenchi and his lineage that adds a twist to the rest of the story. Where the first episode was mythical and monolithic, this one is nimble and tense.
Episode 3: "Konnichi wa! Ryo-oh-ki-chan"
Gears shift yet again to a character study of despondency, romance, and jealousy. Somehow, Ryouko has gone from mortal enemy to tolerable roommate. Ayeka breaks out of her formal wrath a little bit and opens up to Tenchi. Ryouko taunts Ayeka cruelly, which makes for interesting subtext. It is becoming clear that both women are interested in Tenchi. The pace slows down a bit here and lets the character interactions do the talking.
Episode 4: "Mihoshi falls in to a town where stars fall"
All subtlety is abandoned in Episode 4. Ryouko brazenly comes on to Tenchi and openly provokes Ayeka. Ryouko spends much of the episode naked, clinging to Tenchi and enraging Ayeka. She really is a minx. The two women have it out in anime style, with Ayeka summoning swarms of blocks and Ryouko invoking a water demon. This episode has it all: action, sex, comedy, tragedy, emotion and tension. The series is really picking up steam.
In four episodes, we have already covered lots of ground. Tenchi Muyo! delivers something for everyone.
This release is very basic, and kept to one single-layer DVD. As such, there is no 5.1 mix, which was present in earlier releases. Since 2.0 is the original mix, this isn't really a problem. There are no extras. The biggest difficulty in keeping the disc single-layered is that the video quality suffers. There are obvious (and ubiquitous) compression artifacts. The backgrounds crawl, colors shift, and pixel swarms surround edges.
The English track is pretty bad. It doesn't match the subtitles very well, and the voices sound cheesy to boot.
The technical presentation isn't great and no extras are included in this release. The flip side is that you get a great series at a reasonable price. If your anime budget is slim, you should consider the Signature Series release. If you want the best image and the option for 5.1 sound, look at older (more expensive) releases. Either way, I urge you to look into Tenchi Muyo!.
Geneon is giving anime fans welcome price relief, but the Court encourages them to ease up on the compression. No formal inquiry is necessary at this time.
Review content copyright © 2004 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated