Ai Tenchi Muyo!
by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,
I rarely end up revisiting any of my old streaming review shows, if only because writing about a series every week forces you to get just about everything out of it on the first viewing. However, I ended up breaking that pattern last week, and for Laid-Back Camp of all things. It's been nice to just soak up that show's cozy vibe without having to analyze everything that's going on. As far as second viewings go, I think the low-key approach of the slice of life genre might actually age better than more dramatic storytelling. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Ai Tenchi Muyo!
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Shelf Life Reviews
I've been writing a lot of our reviews lately, but it's time for the rest of the Shelf Life crew to make a triumphant return to the spotlight. James kicks things off this week with a look at Ai Tenchi Muyo!, the most recent version of the influential harem comedy franchise.
The plot itself doesn't feel too off-base for the shenanigans-loving, continuity hopping Tenchi Muyo! that I remember: Tenchi Masaki is our stalwart hero, who has been entrusted with the job of cleaning up the mess of the mad scientist Washu, whose experiments have mucked up the balance of the universe. The solution revolves around the fates of a young girl named Momo and her friends, who all attend an all-girls school that Tenchi must infiltrate as a student-teacher. Over the course of the series Tenchi and company will have to endure the perils of time-travel, rogue robots, school festivals, and more, all so that Tenchi can once again put the universe back on track.
One of my biggest concerns with coming back to Tenchi Muyo! after all of these years was how much I've come to dislike many of the tropes and foibles of the typical harem anime, and Tenchi-Muyo! is the King of Harem Anime. Sure enough, the first chapters of this fifty-episode journey didn't do much to assuage my fears: We open with Tenchi getting a face full of crotch when Momo falls from a tree and lands on his face, and for a couple of episodes most of the gags involve Tenchi's students and co-workers lusting after him and/or putting him in incredibly compromising positions. I understand that this all meant to be humorous and not taken seriously at all, but I cannot escape my own personal distaste with any series that tries to mine humor and romance out of a young teacher and his harem of students.
While the questionable taste of these gags is rooted within Ai Tenchi Muyo!'s premise, things let up quite a bit for much of the series, and I was able to look past my own biases to enjoy the show more. Seeing the old Tenchi Muyo! cast is great, and the new girls are mostly all fine additions to the ensemble. Momo is cute, her frenemy Beni is one of the show's more interesting characters overall, and I was consistently entertained by the fierce sword-fighter Hachiko, who talks plenty tough until she's disarmed, which turns her into a blubbering mess. Ai Tenchi Muyo! is first and foremost a love-letter to the tropes that made the franchise and the harem genre of anime comedies famous in the first place, so none of these girls are going to offer any exceptional depth or surprises, but they're fun enough.
The same can be said for the story in general, though I often found myself wondering if the show's short format might not be to Ai Tenchi Muyo!'s benefit. Many of the episodes consists of small arcs that could have easily been stitched back together into a single traditional episode, and the series is serialized enough that one would have to watch them straight through in order to get the most out of the show anyways. There's also the fact that the present-day school stories are interspersed with flashbacks to a completely different time period that don't gel together until around episode 30 or so, and I don't think the show would have lost anything by saving the flashback for one single arc instead. Still, even though Ai Tenchi Muyo! is lacking in originality and cohesion, it has plenty of heart and silly old-school fun to offer instead, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't eventually find myself more entertained than annoyed.
Funimation's Blu-Ray is a standard release, giving us nothing but some trailers and the English dub, plus a code for a digital copy of the series through Funimation's website. The dub is nothing if not a nostalgia trip, reuniting many of the franchise's mainstays, and offering perfectly acceptable replacements for characters like Washu. Matt K. Miller and Petrea Burchard could play Tenchi and Ryoko in their sleep by now, I'm sure, so it was nice to see them back together again here. The new cast does a good job too, and even though much of the show's signature corniness occasionally gives the dub the feel of an aged, less sophisticated production, it fits in the context of an anniversary celebration of what many would consider to be a classic. If you have fond childhood memories of the old Pioneer dub of Tenchi Muyo! like I do, then you will probably appreciate Funimation's work for this series.
Overall, I enjoyed Ai Tenchi Muyo! more than I expected, but it couldn't quite recapture the magic from the franchise's glory years. The fanservice and harem elements are admittedly tame by modern standards, but the clichés still feel a bit stale and awkward for me, though the charm of the cast and the mostly interesting plot made it pretty easy to breeze through the few hours it took to finish up all 50 episodes. If you like no-frills harem comedies that move at a quick pace, or you're just looking for more Tenchi Muyo! in your life, then Ai Tenchi Muyo! just might be worth diving into.
That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading!
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