Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger wonders if Round Two of Tenjho Tenge is too round.
The Battle Bowl!
Tenjho Tenge: Round One was all about samurai swords and breasts. Tenjho Tenge: Round Two is different—it's all about throwing knives and breasts.
Yes, we're back for another round of high school martial arts mayhem. Whether it's because I've become acclimated to its pseudo violence or because the show has picked up steam, I enjoyed Tenjho Tenge more this time. Round One was all introduction, exposition, and meaningless fights. We were introduced to the ridiculous concept that senior students have formed a syndicate of Executioners who maim, but do not kill, lowerclassmen. Aya went gaa-gaa over Souichiro, a sentiment that Maya echoed a little later. Souichiro and Masataka tussle in the lunchroom. Many threads were introduced and clumsily thrown together. The disc ended with the rape of Bob's girlfriend and Souichiro's burgeoning mastery of the Force—I mean the power of Chi.
This volume assumes that you're on board with those themes, and breezes right past them to an all-out siege of violence. The Executive Council corners the Juken club in a bowling alley and goes for the kill. It is so early in the series that such open conflict is surprising; most anime series dance around issues like this for entire volumes before facing the tension head on.
Without giving too much away, all the members of Juken Club find themselves in desperate, lonely battles against foes who singularly seek them out. Round Two is essentially an extended series of fights. These fights are tense, but peculiar in that the combatants square off against each other, stand still, talk, trade a blow or two, then talk some more about what they just did:
Fighter A: "I see you are in a defensive posture. That is good, because
I am going to confront you with my magic crane move!"
These odd conversations draw out the action for hours, with the fringe benefit of letting the animators recycle frames without the audience getting too bored. Only in anime (and samurai movies, I suppose) could such blustery conversations seem normal. Despite the ridiculousness of it all, it somehow worked in this volume. Tension was kept tight, and enough character development squirted out between the cracks to make us feel we learned valuable lessons about everyone.
Those lessons may seem complex at first blush, but in retrospect, Round
Two boils down to these two conclusions:
It's shaping up to be rather straightforward. I wonder if any of the Executioners will defect and stand alongside Juken Club against Mitsuomi? I hope that is too obvious, that Tenjho Tenge has something else in store. Nonetheless, the generic stuff thus far has been dressed up with enough energy and characterization to make it interesting. I was surprised at the dark turn in art direction taken in this volume. It has fascist imagery, domineering composition, and some very odd projectile weapons thrown in for good measure.
The Tenjho Tenge: Round Two DVD is about the same as the last volume, with the exception that the disc has lost 25 minutes in the run time department. We get clean closing credits this time instead of opening credits. The character designs remain excellent, particularly the captivating Natsume sisters, Bob, and Souichiro. The animation employs shortcuts, but the action is glossy and intense, with spinning blades, spurting blood, and weird energy. Tenjho Tenge may be a neutered kaleidoscope of sex and violence, but some of the individual facets are revealing, and some are bloody.
In some ways, this series embodies some of the aspects I dislike in anime. It also reminds me of why I love anime to begin with, and sparks a response with its sheer spectacle and audacity. The bottom line is that Tenjho Tenge makes up for in sheer energy and sensuality what it lacks in depth of story.
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