The Complete Guide to 25 Years of Tenchi Muyo!by Theron Martin,
When it comes to convoluted anime franchises, few short of Gundam can rival the endurance of the Tenchi Muyo! franchise. Over the course of 25 years, it has spawned two main 26-episode TV series, three spin-off 26-episode TV series, a 60-episode series of shorts, three movies, and a plethora of OVA series and one-shots, some of which don't even feature the titular character. That doesn't include the No Need for Tenchi! manga spin-offs either, or series like Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure, Photon: The Idiot Adventures, and Battle Programmer SHIRASE, which borrow elements from the franchise but aren't actually part of it. Tenchi's status as the original harem romcom and the current series of new OVA episodes continue to make it relevant, so let's sort out its complex history.
The Main Cast
Though the details can differ from timeline to timeline and supporting casts can vary widely, Tenchi's core cast remains essentially the same:
Tenchi Masaki – The titular male protagonist, he's a 17-year-old boy who lives with his father and maternal grandfather, after his mother died when he was very young. In all timelines, he has a heritage beyond being just an ordinary human. In two cases, his bloodline figures him into the line of succession for the Royal Family of planet Jurai. In many ways, he set the standard for harem protagonists.
Ryoko – A notorious space pirate, Ryoko is the ur-example of the wild, aggressive love interest. Her origins vary a lot, but she can always fly, teleport, and fire energy blasts, drinks heavily, and is the master of Ryo-Ohki.
Ayeka – A princess of the powerful planet Jurai, she's the original proper yet vindictive love interest. She becomes enamored with Tenchi early on and develops a fierce rivalry with Ryoko over him. (These days, they would probably be called “frenemies” since they do cooperate on several occasions despite their rivalry.)
Sasami – As Ayeka's little sister, she's also a princess of Jurai and comes to live with Tenchi and the others through one circumstance or another. She's a cheery girl who frequently does the cooking and often has some degree of childish crush on Tenchi. She becomes good friends with Ryo-Ohki, who joins her as the stars of several magical girl spin-off series.
Washu – This diminutive redhead is the group's resident mad scientist genius. In all timelines, she uses Tenchi as a guinea pig for experiments, and she's even the avatar of a cosmic goddess in one instance. While not one of the main love interests, she's also romantically interested in Tenchi sometimes (though whether it's genuine emotion or just scientific curiosity is hard to say).
Mihoshi – She's a tan blonde airhead who hails from a prestigious off-world family, probably in the Galaxy Police only because of her family influence. She's the epitome of the clumsy, ditzy harem girl, though her affection for Tenchi is usually more peripheral.
Kiyone Makibi – In some timelines, this dark-haired beauty is Mihoshi's long-suffering partner in the Galaxy Police. She's the only regular female cast member who never shows clear attraction to Tenchi.
Ryo-Ohki – This adorable furball is a cabbit, a cross between a rabbit and a cat, with behavioral characteristics of both. In all timelines, she can transform into a very powerful crystalline spaceship, and she eventually gains the capability to take on a humanoid form at one point. She can seriously pig out on carrots and adores Tenchi because he grows carrots for her.
Katsuhito Masaki – Also known as Yosho, he is Tenchi's Shinto priest grandfather. In two of the timelines, he is a self-exiled prince of Jurai who has lived on Earth for a long time. He's Tenchi's martial arts teacher and also quite capable in a fight himself if need be.
Noboyuki – Tenchi's architect father. In two timelines, he is notorious for being a pervert, never hesitating to sneak peeks at Tenchi's harem when he has the chance. In one series, he eventually remarries and fathers the star of one spin-off series.
Tenchi Muyo! spans so many titles and spinoffs that it's hard to keep track, so here's a list for exploring the franchise!
The franchise started in 1992 with the release of a six-episode OVA series. In this story, Tenchi accidentally releases a long-sealed "demon" that turns out to be Ryoko. This sets a chain of events into motion that leads to Tenchi cohabitating with several alien girls, including a central two who fight tooth and nail over him. The scenario was supposedly inspired by the work of creators Hiroki Hayashi and Masaki Kajishima during Bubblegum Crisis; they sought to make lighterhearted stories featuring Maki from that franchise as the center of attention instead of just a side character. As the concept evolved, Maki became reborn as Tenchi, and thus anime's most influential harem series came to be.
The success of the series spawned two one-shot OVA follow-ups – The Night Before the Carnival and Tenchi Muyo! Mihoshi Special – which were then followed by another six episode OVA series in 1994; except for the Mihoshi Special, these OVAs were commonly lumped together into a single series for American release and broadcast on Cartoon Network's Toonami and Midnight Run programming blocks in the late '90s and early 2000s. (The Cartoon Network version was sanitized, slightly trimmed, and had some scenes rewritten, and this version was also put out on DVD.) A third six-episode series and one-shot wrap-up OVA were added in 2003, with a fourth OVA series beginning in December 2016. (There are two episodes of it released at the time of this writing.) All of these follow the same timeline and alternate between serious, silly, and action-packed as characters get involved in shenanigans both personal and cosmic. The Jurai family tree is also insanely more complicated in this timeline than in others; see this image for a mostly complete version.
If a Tenchi series is merely referred to as Tenchi Muyo! Or Tenchi Muyo! TV then the name is probably referring to this 26-episode series, whose 1995 broadcast marks the franchise's first foray onto TV. This series covers the franchise's second timeline as a complete rewrite of the core story that resulted in several key differences. This time, the scientist Washu is trapped in a cave rather than Ryoko, Ryoko and Ayeka were fighting immediately prior to crash-landing near Tenchi's back yard, the cabbit Ryo-Ohki never takes on a human form, the revelation of Tenchi's true heritage is delayed much more, and Mihoshi's partner Kiyone, who had previously only appeared in the Mihoshi Special, is a regular cast member. Kagato is still a major villain but in an entirely different role, and cosmic goddesses never come into the picture. This series is generally lighterhearted in tone than the OVAs, but it also suffers from filler episodes. Once again, its Toonami version was sanitized with significant edits and scene rewrites and made available separately on DVD, so be careful about what you're getting when hunting down older copies.
This 26-episode 1997 series represents its third alternate timeline. It's set a year or two farther into the story than the previous two versions, and while most of the cast and basic character relationships remain the same, it varies up some character backgrounds (especially for Washu), entirely dropping Tenchi's connection to Jurai. Story-wise, it branches off in an entirely new direction by having Tenchi move to Tokyo to further his studies and meeting new love interest Sakuya, much to the dismay of the other girls. It also introduces an entirely new villain. It's the most plot-intensive of the Tenchi series, though it also has a greater propensity to descend into abject silliness, along with having the roughest production values. It's definitely the least of the core Tenchi series in most qualitative senses. The English dub also recasts some of the major supporting roles.
Tenchi Muyo!: The Movie
This 1996 movie is also subtitled Tenchi Muyo! In Love, though that name is a bit misleading since Tenchi has nearly zero romantic time in the movie. The “in love” instead refers to the budding high school romance of Tenchi's parents, which Tenchi and some of the girls get to witness firsthand when they travel back in time to protect Tenchi's mother from the vengeance of a recently-escaped galactic super-criminal; it seems he was once imprisoned by a member of the Jurai royal family, and he's determined that Tenchi's mother is the family's weak point. The movie is effectively a sequel to Tenchi Universe, and despite a plot riddled with holes, I consider it to be the apex of the Tenchi franchise, nailing the underlying sentiment of the franchise better than any other entry.
Tenchi The Movie 2: Daughter of Darkness
The second and shortest (at 60 minutes) of the three movies in the franchise, this 1997 movie is a blending of the TV and OVA settings that doesn't perfectly align with either; given that its finale spawns consequences not addressed elsewhere in the franchise, it could probably be considered a fourth timeline. It features Tenchi's encounter with a teenager who seems to be Tenchi's daughter. The assumption is that she's from the future, but if that's the case, then who's the mother? Despite some early hijinks, this ends up being one of the darker Tenchi tales, and its production values don't hold up too well.
Also known as Tenchi Muyo! in Love 2, this 1999 release is the franchise's third and final movie to date. It's part of the Tenchi Universe timeline but also the most stylistically distinct entry in the franchise in art and story. It's also the franchise's most mature title, as it features a somewhat older Tenchi who has been transported to another world where he's deeply (and sexually) involved with a new woman, and his normal harem is mostly absent, to the point that Ryoko and Ayeka have to track him down. It's almost entirely devoid of both humor and action, playing more as a straight romance with supernatural and sci fi aspects. While its technical merits are on the strong side for Tenchi titles, I'd only recommend the movie for franchise completionists.
This 26-episode 2002 series was directed by Shinichi Watanabe of Excel Saga fame. It focuses on Seina Yamada, a schoolmate of Tenchi's who's cursed with great misfortune but still winds up becoming a member of the Galaxy Police when they accidentally recruit him in place of Tenchi. He has many adventures there, developing his own harem along the way. This series is part of the OVA timeline and runs parallel to the timeline's core series, which results in occasional cameos by the main series cast. Familiarity with it will probably allow the Ryo-Ohki 4 OVAs to make more sense, since Seina gets referenced multiple times in them.
This 2009 OVA series consists of 13 double-length episodes and stars 15-year-old Kenshi Masaki, Tenchi's younger half-brother via Noboyuki's second wife. It falls much farther down the OVA timeline than the core series, and it's technically a sequel to GXP (since Kenshi's mother Rea was revealed to be pregnant with him during GXP), although its entire storyline takes place in an alternate fantasy world. It still has strong harem elements, with Kenshi literally being chased around by dozens of female admirers, but it's also the only true mecha series in the franchise to date. Though reasonably entertaining and capable of standing alone, it's hardly must-see fare even for franchise fans.
Magical Girl Spin-Offs
Three titles fall under this umbrella: the three-episode 1995-97 OVA Magical Girl Pretty Sammy, the 1996-97 TV series Magical Project S, and the 2006 TV series Sasami: Magical Girls Club. All revolve around the appearance of Pretty Sammy, the fanciful magical girl form of Sasami in the Mihoshi Special OVA, but they all follow their own timelines. Each also features Ryo-Ohki as Sasami's talking sidekick and use several characters from elsewhere in the franchise in alternate roles, but beyond these surface references, they're all standard magical girl fare.
This series of 4-minute shorts aired during Fall of 2014 and continued for 60 episodes, though every fifth one up through episode 50 is just a summary of the previous four. It was directed by Hiroshi Negishi, who directed all the Tenchi Universe properties, so it can be considered a later entry in that timeline – late enough that Sasami is now a teenager, anyway. The story involves Tenchi being asked by Washu to pose as a student teacher and infiltrate an isolated all-girls' high school, where he gets caught up in both school conflicts and dimension-hopping. Unusual format aside, it's pretty standard Tenchi fare, with new girls falling for Tenchi while the former cast still lingers, generous doses of harmless and not-so-harmless trouble, and another Jurain princess showing up.
The Legacy of Tenchi Muyo!
From the mid-'90s through the early 2000s, the Tenchi franchise was one of the best-known anime in Western fandom, due in no small part to its extensive airing on Cartoon Network. Of course, it doesn't enjoy that level of popularity today, and probably never will again as later entries have preferred to serve its older nostalgic fanbase. Its latest two series are targeted exclusively at established fans, but even if a new Tenchi series came along to try and appeal to newcomers, the wackiness inherent in a bunch of alien girls squabbling over a human boy just doesn't stand out now like it did in the '90s. I rewatched a fair amount of Tenchi material in preparation for this piece and was struck by how ordinary a lot of it seems nowadays. The OVA timeline in particular still has a complex enough story to hold your interest for a while though, and the legacy of the franchise can still be felt in innumerable other series through the standards it set for romcom premises and character archetypes. So while people may not feel the "need" for Tenchi so much anymore, he's still around - which plenty of fans still find comfort in.
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