Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jan 21st 2013
Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar
Episodes 1-3 (Dub)
In the land of Geminar, Princess Lashara is about to be crowned Empress of Shtrayu—much to the displeasure of Lord Babalun, the de facto ruler of Shtrayu. After her coronation, as her ship makes the pilgrimage back to the Holy Land, she is attacked by a white Sacred Mechanoid. The pilot spares her life and is subsequently captured, but turns out to be Kenshi Masaki, a confused boy from Earth being manipulated by masked evildoers. Lashara recognizes the utility of her strange visitor and decides to take him in. He is hired as an assistant and accompanies her to the Holy Land, a vast fortress that serves as a school for Sacred Mechamasters. Hijinks soon follow, but so too does the organization that used Kenshi.
The latest in the venerable Tenchi franchise is a light harem romp set in an elaborate alternate world and wrapped in a needlessly complicated web of politics and deceit. It's nice that it tries to be more than an agglomeration of light humor and empty titillation, but it's only really any good when its plot doesn't strain its modest abilities.
The show's first episode is a mess. It's an endless barrage of in-show jargon, ill-disguised explanatory dialogue, and poorly-introduced characters—set against a running backdrop of inconclusive mecha fights. Among the characters we are introduced to are Lashara, her no-nonsense bodyguard Chiaia, Kenshi, an unpredictable enemy known only as Doll, her masked handler, evil mastermind Babalun, elf princess Aura, Chiaia's lusty sister Mexiah, hapless mecha teacher Ulyte, and mad girl-scientist Wau. Most of them are fighting someone at some point, relationships are implied at best, and unknown agendas are like lederhosen at Oktoberfest. In the meantime we have to learn about Sacred Mechanoids, Sacred Mechamasters, the Church, the Holy Land, the Highlands, Aho energy, and much other world-building nonsense that we know must be important because it's all capitalized.
It's enough to make your head spin, and none of it is presented gracefully, or even cogently. Much is just thrown out, trusting that we'll pick up on it as the show proceeds. Some things are laboriously pointed out, during unnatural exchanges between characters who really shouldn't need to point such things out. Characters are tossed into the fray willy-nilly, and do things for reasons never clearly indicated. It is a strategy intended to intrigue, to entice viewers further into the show to figure out who these people are, what they are plotting, and what the hell is going on and what it all means. And indeed, watching on explains a lot of what doesn't make sense in the first episode. Unfortunately, the episode itself is such a chaotic jumble, its characters so poorly delineated and its mysteries so clumsily presented, that there's little desire to forge on and puzzle things out.
Which is a shame, because it's afterwards that the show develops some actual entertainment value. Not too much, mind you. The two episodes following are pure fluff, the weight of competing schemes and fantasy world-building mostly lifted and replaced by a lot of buoyant silliness. Kenshi is brought to the Holy Land Academy, where he meets a great many girls—it is explained to him that men are reasonably rare—and gets into rows with some of them and compromising situations with others. He gets a job helping at the school, and is so skilled and chivalrous that he gains a stampede of rabid fans. He intrudes on naked girls in baths, participates in some accidental nudity of his own, and is at one point turned into a “massaging machine” that molests women with disturbingly sensuous hands.
It's all quite light and kind of goofy and utterly inconsequential. The fan-servicey parts are eye-rolling bad, especially the orgasmic aftermath of the massage debacle but also including the herds of Kenshi fans and all the scenes of girls going gooey for the sweet, goofy guy from another world. A lot of the rest of it passes with a shrug—so mild and unimportant that there's no reason to think ill or well of it—and the sense that the show is nothing but an affable waste of time never abates.
There's good in these episodes too though. The more relaxed pace allows the girls to stretch out and develop distinct personalities. They're still cardboard cutouts, of course, but by episode three we can at least distinguish the cutouts from each other. The extra space also allows the show to explore its fantastical setting more smoothly, giving us what we need to make sense of it without feeling bludgeoned by factoids or lectured by characters. The setting itself turns out to be a generic anime fantasy thing, with competing feudal states, familiar fantasy races, and the requisite groundwork for societally-mandated harems, but at least it isn't a pain to learn about.
Most importantly, however, these episodes have Kenshi. Where he was a passive lump in the first episode, here he's a character: a polite, good-natured kid with a big streak of the wild child in him. He's like a forest animal that has been taught human manners, but who reverts when startled or prompted. He's also ridiculously adept at everything and hopelessly innocent about love and romance. It's a fairly charming mixture, and the main source of (successful) humor in the later episodes. His godlike part-timing skills are a particular kick. Given that he's essentially the world's most useful pet, and kind of cuddly to boot, it isn't hard to see why girls like him.
From a technical standpoint this is as unremarkable a series as it is from every other standpoint. Animated in 2009, it looks like it was made ten years earlier: shiny and colorful, yet stiff and artificial. The all-important female designs are refreshingly womanly, another throwback to about ten years earlier, but move in such stilted and unnatural ways that the fan-service flops dead whenever it intrudes. The mecha action is merely competent; animated well enough to look good, but staged without any real panache. The world of Geminar itself is sufficiently alien—with its floating fortresses and underground workers' cities—to get its otherworldliness across. It is illustrated, however, without a whole lot of imagination or effort. A lot of the background art is noticeably low on detail. The forest where Kenshi hunts is pretty, and the mecha quite unique (they're metal skeletons encased in gelatinous eggs that form unique exteriors when the Mechanoids emerge), but nothing else of importance sticks to our visual cortexes. Ditto for Akifumi Tada's score, by the way.
This screener disc comes with Funimation's newly minted dub for the series, and it is appropriate in its own way: exuding the same stolid professionalism and general lack of enthusiasm as the show itself. There's nothing glaringly wrong with it; it's just kind of colorless. Kenshi has the mildness and cracked voice of a teenaged anime wuss. Chiaia has the angry spunk of your average ill-tempered romantic interest, and so forth. This is a dub made by actors doing stock characters in stock ways, and it takes a toll. The acting is never quite as lively as the episodes themselves are, and when it tries it comes across as forced—as it does when Mexiah is doing her sexy-older-lady thing. It has its grace notes—Lashara's reaction to the money that Kenshi's part-timing brings in is hilarious—and as far as I can tell by comparing this disc to the streaming Japanese version it is faithfully and not too flabbily re-written. It's not going to make anyone's week though. And neither is Geminar. As I said: appropriate.
Overall (dub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ Can be funny; mostly painless when being light and fluffy; Kenshi's pretty great.
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