Reviewby Carlo Santos,
DVD 3: Round Three
The bowling alley battle between Todo Academy's ragtag Juken Club and the school Executive Council escalates when council president Mitsuomi shows up. Meanwhile, Aya's rooftop battle with staff-wielding Tagami takes a dark turn when she gives in to the power of her prescient Dragon Eye. Maya and Souichiro, having won their fights, head down to the ground floor to face Mitsuomi after he overpowers freshmen Bob and Masataka. Maya's confrontation with Mitsuomi, however, reveals a complex past that involves her older brother, Shin Natsume, and the events that led to Mitsuomi's takeover of the school.
There is a moment at the end of the big fight where Takayanagi says it took "just over 30 minutes." In regular anime-watching time, that's almost five episodes, continued from the previous DVD. This isn't to say that Tenjho Tenge is slow, or boring, or packed with filler—it's just that there's a lot going on between these characters, and the series is going to take as much time as it needs to tell the story. With sharp visuals and convincing drama, this is a fight tale that's worth sticking around for.
The promise of a detailed backstory is finally fulfilled in Volume 3 as the extended fight ends and Maya slips into a flashback about her history with Mitsuomi. After his merciless behavior in the brawl, it's surprising to see him with a kind heart (and less insane hair) just two years before. Unfortunately, Maya's flashback has barely begun when—surprise!—the episode ends and you have to wait for Volume 4. The gradual plot development makes the series frustrating to follow at three episodes per disc, especially when it stops just as things get interesting. The story arcs would probably be better spaced and more satisfying at four episodes each.
Within these three episodes, however, there's enough material to learn new things about the characters. Fans of extreme fighting will get their fill, of course, but it's what happens between the kicks and punches that make the show compelling. Aya is the first to reach a personal crossroads when her Dragon's Eye consumes her with bloodlust—now that she can see every move her opponent is planning, is the urge to kill him going to destroy her as well? The arrival of Mitsuomi, however, is the main anchor here: his presence brings out the next level of skill in Nagi, not to mention the next level of personal drama in Maya, and it gets the entire Juken Club to ponder their motivation. The beginning of Maya's extended flashback also introduces elder brother Shin Natsume in a key role, although it'll be a few more episodes before we find out what eventually happened to him.
Although billed as a fighting and fanservice show—and there are some spectacular moments of the latter, like Mitsuomi stripping Maya and a full-on pantyshot attack—Tenjho Tenge always puts fighting first. In these episodes especially, you'll see blood more often than boobs. Background blurs, slow motion and exaggerated physical damage take these fights beyond the realm of realistic and into intense, palpable pain. Rich colors and details, along with fluid animation, add to the heady feeling that the fight is about to jump off the screen. The same might be said of the characters: even though all the women are impossibly curvy and all the men impossibly buff, the personalities come through in their distinctive features and make them easy to tell apart.
Catchy rock beats still set the tone for the fight scenes, but the background music becomes more serious as character development takes precedence over action. Tense, drawn-out chords establish the right kind of mood as Aya, Maya and others mull over the philosophy of fighting. The lack of a strong melodic theme, however, makes the soundtrack less than memorable. On the other hand, the opening song is still as catchy as ever (Bomb A Head!) and the opening sequence itself is not to be missed.
Whether you choose to watch this show in Japanese or English, one fact becomes clear: most battle dialogue is hilariously cheesy. With these kids, it always sounds like they're going to either start trading punches or pull out their Pokemon. Hackneyed as the lines may be, the English cast (Bang Zoom! at their usual high standards) brings plenty of excitement to each role, working from a script that's been adjusted for the most natural delivery. In an effort to respect the original Japanese dialogue, some honorifics make it into the dub, like "Souichiro-sama" (ironically, the subtitles say Lord Souichiro—would this count as the dub being more accurate?), but the real awkwardness is when the actors have to wrap their tongues around long attack names that would probably sound cooler if they'd simply been translated into English.
Don't expect any extras on this disc, unless you count previews as extras—this package is surprisingly bare-bones; even a small gallery of production art would have been a nice addition.
Everyone loves a good fight, and it's even better when the fight has a personal history behind it. After finishing up a no-holds-barred brawl, Tenjho Tenge Volume 3 sets out to establish that personal history, but cuts off too soon with a "To Be Continued." Perhaps the best thing this disc accomplishes is setting up the anticipation for Volume 4. Make no mistake: the series is still very much about eye-candy fights and eye-candy fanservice, but unlike other anime of its kind, it's got a serious story to tell—a story that's just begun to surface.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B
+ Goes beyond the eye-popping fights and introduces some serious backstory.
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