Reviewby Theron Martin, May 28th 2013
Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar
BD+DVD - Parts 1 [Limited Edition] and 2
On the world of Geminar, the discovery of a mecha called a Sacred Mechalord, which was left behind by an ancient and long-gone civilization, led to the spread and development of spin-off models called Sacred Mechanoids, which have become staples in the military forces of most countries. Their pilots, Sacred Mechamasters, likewise become valuable assets, with male ones being rare enough that they have highly privileged positions. 12-year-old Lashara Earth, recently crowned Empress of the Shtrayu Empire in the wake of her father's passing, draws one such male Sacred Mechamaster into her service when a strange white Sacred Mechanoid tries to assassinate her and she discovers that its pilot, one Kenshi Masaki, was conned into doing so on a fake promise that he would be sent back to his own world. Upon arrival at a prestigious school in the Holy Land as Lashara's attendant (Kenshi's status as both a Sacred Mechamaster and visitor from another world – a hardly unknown phenomenon – must be kept secret lest Kenshi attract too much of the wrong kind of attention), Kenshi soon becomes a big hit with the female students, as he proves to be an indomitable fighter, efficient worker at just about anything, and a tireless runner when need demands, much to Lashara's money-grubbing delight. He also draws plenty of romantic attention, too, and not just from fellow students. Schemes are afoot in the Holy Land and Shtrayu Empire, however, ones that could throw the continent into war and disrupt established social conventions. And the biggest obstacle in their path is Kenshi.
Technically speaking, War on Geminar is an extension of the OVA continuity for the Tenchi Muyo! franchise, one which takes place 15 years after the events of Tenchi Muyo GXP. (This is a point that is never made clear in the series.) It stands well enough on its own, however, as the only direct links this series has to previous franchise installments are that Kenshi's design looks very similar to Tenchi's, that he is the son of Noboyuki (Tenchi's father) and his second wife/former secretary Rea (the child she is pregnant with at the end of GXP is Kenshi), and Kenshi's regular references to being so tough and capable because of being around his various “sisters” (i.e., Tenchi's harem). Those new to the franchise will only really miss the in-jokes of the latter point (anyone who had to put up with people like Ryoko, Washu, Ayeka, and Mihoshi for 15 years would have to become pretty durable just to survive!), and those are hardly crucial to following the story.
Despite the series' name, the “war” aspect of the story actually does not come into play until its second half. After an action-filled first episode, the rest of the series' first half primarily involves Kenshi getting acclimated to his setting, developing a reputation as a jack-of-all-trades, accidentally winning the hearts of innumerable girls, and getting into various sexy situations, although a different male character is actually the one who gets laid during the series. All the while various bits of scheming for the bigger plot transpire in the background. The return to an action-intensive focus happens in episode 8 as the scheming comes to a head and the eponymous war gets underway. Accompanying that switch in focus is a jaw-dropper of a plot twist about one significant character and a less stunning but still significant twists about the truths behind a couple of others, though in retrospect subtle hints were slipped in early on about the biggest of the bombshells if one knows to look for them.
The series succeeds best when focusing on its comedy elements, at least partly because certain aspects of Geminar's set-up are too silly to be taken seriously; the ceremony for knighting Sacred Mechamasters, which comes up in episode 2, is a prime example of this, even though a semi-reasonable (but no less silly) explanation for this is later implied. Kenshi being a full-blown Gary Stu character is also part of this, as it plays more as a deliberate joke than an accident. Seing what incredible stunt or stupefying feats of competence and endurance he can pull off next can be a lot of fun; in fact, this element is so important to the series that most of the first half will falter for those who cannot laugh at this gimmick. One of the best – and certainly sexiest! – jokes involves Kenshi being hypnotized into giving erotic massages, ones so intense that his female clients can take days to fully recover from them. Lashara's mercantile attitude and prickly relationship with her cousin Marie are also regularly amusing, as are the regular comparisons various characters make between Kenshi and a Koro (a creature similar to a two-tailed squirrel whose propensity for squealing when danger approaches makes “Koro alarm” a regular strategic defensive application), which are only further enhanced by Kenshi's tendency to draw any Koros in the nearby area to him. By contrast, the bits involving Maria's ditzy, sexy mother and her childishly enthusiastic behavior towards Kenshi are overplayed.
Harem lovers will also find a lot to like here. The nudity is restricted to an opener which is nearly as big a visual troll as the infamous opener of Brain-Powerd, but the series has no shortage of sexy women wearing figure-revealing battle or ceremonial outfits or otherwise in some state of undress and most of them have some degree of romantic interest in Kenshi. He is not the only male character who gets female attention, either, but he is the one who has dozens of young ladies literally chasing him around at one point or another. A quirk in the world's demographics which results in a female-dominated male-to-female ratio and Kenshi's impressive physical abilities give some legitimacy to the voluminous attention he draws, but this is still pretty standard harem content, down even to Kenshi being a romantic milquetoast (though he certainly isn't one otherwise).
That's good, because the action, plot, and setting do not carry the series. The social status of Sacred Mechamasters in general, and the rare and treasured male specimens in particular, is an interesting touch, as is the notion that duels are effectively tryouts for unaffiliated Sacred Mechamasters, but otherwise the setting is a fairly generic sci fi/fantasy construction with a flimsy justification for the presence and capabilities of mecha and no significant exploration into their mechanics. Sure, it has cool tech like flying ships that are essentially islands and immense fortresses and workshops, but the tech is a hodgepodge with no uniting theme; devices and weaponry just seem to get developed as needed for plot convenience. Dagmeyer's goal to free male Sacred Mechamasters from societal regulation has some merit, but otherwise the villains are generic in motivation and the plot is lazily straightforward in execution beyond the aforementioned big twists. The mecha battles rarely have quite the zing that one would expect, and Kenshi being so dominant takes some of the thrill factor out of them. Do not expect much for character development or depth, either, as the few attempts that the series makes to show layers to key characters ring hollow.
The artistry is another component where the production does not seem to be giving its full effort in any aspect beyond character designs. Most of the ladies have appealing looks and clothing when not in the frumpy school uniforms and the gentlemen are handsome enough, but the character designs by Hajime Watanabe (Kaleido Star, Kodocha, School Rumble) offer little in the way of originality; the Sacred Mechamaster/Mechamechanic Wahanly has a more womanly figure than one might expect for a character like her based on recent trends, and Lashara has a sharp dress and some amusing facial expressions at times, but that's about it. Mecha designs also look very derivative and in some cases even impractical by mecha standards, as they do not seem to protect the pilots enough. Architectural and ship designs are a little more impressive but, again, nothing too special. The same can be said for the animation, which uses a fair amount of CG but actually seems to do better in its choreography of hand-to-hand content than mecha battles. Quality control is also a significant problem for the series, as how sharp character rendering looks varies. While plenty of violence takes place, almost none of it is graphic, so the 17+ age rating is entirely based on nudity in the opener and clear implications of sexual activity and orgasmic reactions.
Akifumi Tada has done the musical scores for all of the 2000s-era franchise content, and this effort is no more exciting than any of his other franchise work. His largely orchestrated sound is never heavy, which means that it never dominates the main content but also does very little to get viewers enthusiastic about what they are watching or in a suitable mood for more dramatic events. How much of a flaw this is becomes increasingly apparent as the series progresses, as the first episode sounds fine but the score calms down as the material settles down and never again sufficiently breaks out of its long lull. Opener “Follow Me” is a likeable pop number which shows more energy than anything else the series does, and more low-key closer “Destino” is also respectable.
Funimation's English dub is also fully competent without being terribly exciting. The casting and performances are on-the-mark for most roles, with Cherami Leigh nailing Wahanly, Jad Saxton doing an excellent job of embodying Lashara's nature, and Jason Liebrecht managing an appropriately whiny quality to Kenshi's voice without going overboard, though an occasional minor supporting role is a less smooth fit. The performances do often seem constrained in their enthusiasm, but the Japanese dub had this problem, too, so the source material is the likely cause. The script flows nicely without altering anything too much, though it does typically refer to Lashara as “Empress” where the subtitles more typically use “King.”
Since the series' 13 episodes are all double-length, Funimation has made the title available in a pair of simultaneously-released DVD/Blu-Ray combo packs, one for episodes 1-7 and one for episodes 8-13; the former can also be purchased in a Limited Edition form which includes a sturdy artbox suitable for holding both cases. The Blu-Ray version is very distinctly visually sharper than the DVD version, though not quite as sharp as the Blu-Ray releases of some more recent series (this one was made in 2009). The upgrade from 5.1 Surround to TrueHD on the soundtracks is also significant. On both Blu-Ray and DVD versions that sound is louder and crisper on the English tracks than on the Japanese tracks. Both have the same Extras: English audio commentaries for episodes 1 and 13 which feature ADR director Joel McDonald airing snippets of interviews he had with various voice actors and production personnel; clean opener and closer; a plethora of sneak peaks, teasers, and trailers; a digest version of episodes 1 and 2 on the second disk of Part 1; and behind-the-scenes stills and clips concerning the making of the closer (Part 1), the soundtrack (Part 1), and the series' radio broadcast (Part 2).
Despite criticisms stated here, War on Geminar can definitely be entertaining, and watching out its roughly 11 hours of running time is hardly a major slog. As a whole, however, it is a mediocre series which never feels like it puts in enough effort to be a good one.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Some funny content, fans of womanly curves will find a lot of eye candy.
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