Monday, 5 January 2015

Anime REVIEW: Ai Tenchi Muyo!


Tenchi Muyo! has become somewhat of a relic to 90s anime fans, particularly those in the West who were treated to the often-horrendously censored version that broadcast on Cartoon Network's Toonami block during its heyday. But since the franchise has fallen into something of a slump, with no mainline instalment since 2003-05 and a number of spin off's that have been met to mixed reception (2002's Tenchi Muyo! GXP, 2009's Saint Knight's Tale aka War on Geminar and 2005's Sasami: Magical Girls Club - the latter of which is completely unrelated to the Tenchi timeline). That is until now, as AIC have breathed new life into the show with Ai Tenchi Muyo!  - a series of 50 (plus 10 recaps) 3-5 minute episodes created to promote tourism in the city of Takahashi in Okayama.  It seems like a bizarre concept for something like Tenchi which draws most of its plot from outer space, but it certainly beats no new Tenchi at all.

Tenchi posing as a teacher
School is in session

When one of genius scientist Washu Hakubi's experiments goes typically awry, Tenchi Masaki is forced to go undercover as a student teacher to investigate a space-time distortion. Here he quickly get involved in one of his typical female entanglements, often acting as a middleman between the student council and their president Momo Kawanagare, and the Science Club led by Yuki Fuga. As Tenchi helps the students, battles robots and tries to avoid the wrath of senior teacher Ukan Kurihawa - he learns more about the secret buried underneath the school and how it connects to Momo, a girl very similar to one he met long in the past and is key to averting the universe from the brink of destruction.

And of course Ryoko, Ayeka, Sasami and Mihoshi aren't too far behind to give Tenchi a helping hand - whether he needs it or not!

The Student Council
The Student Council 

Anyone even slightly familiar with the weird and wonderful world of Tenchi Muyo! will know that it features a number of different continuities all with their own convoluted family trees or plot lines - the main OVA continuity possibly being the worst offender in all of this. With that in mind, it isn't all that clear work out which continuity Ai Tenchi Muyo! takes place in. With Hiroshi Negishi taking up up directing and writing duties there's definitely a strong argument for it taking place in the Tenchi Universe timeline (which he helped create), but the absence of Universe staple (and personal favourite of mine) Kiyone means there's also grounds for it being set in the OVA universe. I personally take the lack of Washu's godhood, mention of the Universal Science Academy and appearance of A and B (Washu's personal cheerleading dolls) as proof that it's part of Universe, but there isn't any conclusive proof either way. Just take it as its own thing as enjoy the return of a Tenchi series featuring the original cast.

Not that the original cast are the main focus of the series however, with Tenchi's main harem of space girls taking a backseat to introduce a new selection of high school students to become infatuated with our lead character. Ai Tenchi Muyo! introduces a total of eight new female characters - four members of the Student Council, three members of the Science Club and the aforementioned Ukan. The council is made up of central female protagonist and all round "perfect" girl Momo, chivalrous sword fighter Hachiko, flirtatious Hana and clever/Sasami stalker Tōri. Meanwhile the science club is made up of the quick-tempered Yuki, the shy Rui and the brutish Beni. But really, Momo and Beni are the only ones worth giving a damn about because they're the only ones relevant to the main story.

The Science Club
The Science Club

Putting the EXTREMELY lenient school uniform rules aside (it seems skirts are entirely optional), the new characters just simply aren't funny or interesting. Middle ground characters like Momo are just boring, while the more over the top ones like Yuko and Hana are annoying. While Tenchi Muyo! certainly can't be defended as some sort of pinnacle of taste for the harem genre (if that even is a genre), it's charm came from the characters interesting backgrounds and how they reacted to each other. Ai Tenchi Muyo!'s girls on the other hand are bland, cliche versions of every high school ecchi anime cast with nothing to make them truly unique. One can only hope that if the franchise continues this will be the last we see of them.

The original Tenchi girls
The reason why people want to watch this show

The original harem of Tenchi girls unfortunately don't show up straight away (other than maybe a few brief shots of Washu), but once they do start making regular appearances the show begins to pick up considerably. The return of original voice cast (save for Ayeka) means every character feels instantly at home despite being away for so long, and although their adoration is heavily played down they all manage to get a few moments true to their characters. As the plot really comes to a head in the last 7-10 episodes things really begin to feel like classic Tenchi, but the format doesn't really allow things to develop or be explained as much as they should. Older Tenchi plot lines usually allowed for a heavy amount of explanation (usually from Washu) to fully determine just what the hell was going on - OVA 3, I'm especially looking at you. Here exposition can only really be crammed into a 3-5 minute slot, before the next episode moves onto something entirely different. Ai Tenchi Muyo! is a series where you'll understand the basics of what's going on, but the specifics may leave you scratching your head.

As for the tourist element? Well, there's not actually a whole lot to say about it. In fact if you didn't go into Ai Tenchi Muyo! knowing about this second purpose then you wouldn't notice it at all. Perhaps those more familiar with the area will notice some real-life spots or obvious promotion, but to the average anime fan it all just looks like the same traditional, picturesque scenery that appears in every Tenchi Muyo! series. Well, that and a high school of course.

Mihoshi also makes a return
And what kind of show would it be without Mihoshi?!

Ai Tenchi Muyo! certainly isn't the return to form to the franchise many fans have hoped for. The format is less than ideal for a show that frequently deals with convoluted sci-fi amongst it's fan service, although this is perhaps less of a problem for those watching now that the show has finished airing. Regardless, Ai Tenchi Muyo! places far too focus on its huge cast of new characters, especially when only a fraction of them actually have any real baring on the plot. The jokes are tried and cliche, somehow managing to set a new low for a show that's always had its fair share of panty jokes and nude bath scenes. But alas, it is what it is. And if this somehow manages to give Tenchi Muyo! the kickstart it so desperately needs, then it will have all been worth it.

No comments: