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Getting Back to my Roots Part 3: Tenchi in Tokyo
July 4, 2012Posted by on
In my previous entry for this series, I wrote about Tenchi Universe, a television show that captured my imagination way back in 2000. It was a cartoon that spoke to me at the time, and seemed to be a lot more mature and interesting than what else was airing on Cartoon Network. Looking back, of course, I see how ridiculous that notion is. Revisiting Tenchi Universe was a painful exercise for me, because without nostalgia goggles, that show is absolutely horrid. A month ago or so, I ordered several Tenchi in Tokyo DVDs ($3 each on Rightstuf.com) along with the Tenchi Universe DVDs I purchased (it’s really hard to pass up $3 for a DVD, even if the program is awful). It is for this reason that I am subjecting myself to more Tenchi. So, here goes!
The continuity in the Tenchi series can be confusing because of all the different iterations and the amount of time that passes between each series. Luckily, Cartoon Network aired them in chronological order (even so, there’s not really much of an order to these shows to be quite honest). CN first aired the original Tenchi Muyo! series in July 2000, following it up with Tenchi Universe immediately afterwards, and then finishing things out with Tenchi in Tokyo after that. For today’s entry, I want to make clear that I come not to bury Tenchi in Tokyo, but to damn it with faint praise. Why? I want to praise it simply because it is by the far the weirdest of the various Tenchi adaptations, and also a lot more mature and generally entertaining (though still bad) than it has the right to be. For these reasons, I can at least appreciate some aspects of the show.
The very first thing I appreciated about the show upon my re-watch was how it treated main character Tenchi Masaki. In previous installments, Tenchi is more wont to go along with whatever wackiness happens in his life. He is surrounded by women who constantly fight with him, over him, and with each other, and he never does much of anything about it. His decision to move to Tokyo to advance his education and train in Shintoism is a very welcome change of pace for his character. It signifies character growth, and I also appreciate how it is consistent throughout the series. Eccentric genius Washu eventually creates a portal between Tenchi’s Tokyo apartment and the family house way out in the country. This unnerves and rattles Tenchi, and he demands the girls never use the portal. Several episodes later, he sticks to his convictions, even going so far as to take the train back home to visit rather than just simply use the technological shortcut to go home quickly.
Tenchi also shows real character growth through his relationship with controversial character Sakuya. At the time, many anime fans disliked Sakuya, probably because of her status as a new character and outsider amongst the established female characters of the show. I imagine many fans wanted Tenchi to finally pick between Ayeka and Ryoko, and saw Sakuya’s addition to the cast as more wheel-spinning from the writers. I never saw it this way, because Ayeka and Ryoko are both awful people and Sakuya is comparably sweeter, more innocent, and a better match for Tenchi than either of them. The relationship between Tenchi and Sakuya is downright charming in a few places throughout the show, and much more mature than I remember (and also just downright healthier overall for Tenchi). It’s true however that what happens to Sakuya at the end is pretty much bullshit, and sticks in my mind as one of the low points of the series. I’m almost willing to forgive the writers for what they did to her though because it genuinely changed Tenchi for the better.
I noted in my Tenchi Universe review that one of the best things about that show was the music. Tenchi in Tokyo continues this. The music is good throughout the series, though it is recycled a lot (this is par for the course for anime I have found, however). Animation and colors are noticeably better and brighter throughout, possibly indicating a higher budget for Tenchi in Tokyo (though I have no way of knowing this for sure). Some of the more annoying character traits in the show have been toned down as well, noticeably in Tenchi’s horn-dog father and in accident-prone Mihoshi, two of my least favorite characters throughout any of the various Tenchi iterations.
Tenchi in Tokyo has a reputation for being a lesser Tenchi product, and the series is not without its faults. Voice acting continues to be absolutely horrid (this is in line with a lot of 90s dubs, but man is it ear-bleeding at points). Animation can be fairly sparse throughout, especially in busy scenes on streets and sidewalks. The nemesis in Tenchi in Tokyo, Yugi, is completely non-menacing, popping up here and there to give exposition, both necessary and unnecessary depending on the episode. She does little more than throw minor obstacles in Tenchi’s way, trying to cause division between Tenchi and his friends. She is very rarely successful in this. Yugi is probably the biggest problem with the show. Her motivation is never fully clear until the last handful of episodes, giving an almost comical edge to some of the earlier episodes in retrospect. For ages and ages it just seems like Yugi hates Tenchi for pretty much no reason. Her powers and crystal palace are never really explained all that well, either. Just who is she and where did she come from? These are important questions that Tenchi in Tokyo just doesn’t bother to deal with.
I can totally see how Tenchi in Tokyo would be a disappointment to Tenchi fans when it debuted in America over a decade ago. It is truly different in many ways from its predecessors. The tone is lighter, sillier, and overall more comical. Character origins, traits, and even motivations in some cases are altered, some slightly and some significantly. The writers throw in yet another love interest for Tenchi as well, which just had to peeve some people off. I actually found that I liked this show considerably more than Tenchi Universe in retrospect. I never thought that this would happen. A few weeks later, I am still surprised by how much I now dislike Tenchi Universe. Having re-watched Tenchi in Tokyo, I am pretty surprised by how much I found to like about it. It’s still a bad show, just not nearly as toxic as it is made out to be online.
Note: After these initial three television series and OVAs (of which I ignored the first due to the difficulty/price of obtaining it legally), there are three theatrical movies, each of various quality. The first, Tenchi Muyo: In Love is the strongest. I own this and eventually plan to re-watch it and review it for the blog. The second, Tenchi Muyo: Daughter of Darkness is more like an extended episode and is overall pretty uneven. The third, Tenchi Forever, is a film I have only seen once, but found it to be a bit too melodramatic for my tastes.