Light Novel Club Kindling: Catching Up with Tenchi Muyo!

It’s been more than 25 years since the first Tenchi Muyo! OVA was distributed. My recollection of the first two OVAs is still crystal clear because of my obsession with the series when I was younger, but everything else Tenchi-related has either dimmed or remains a blank spot in my fandom memory. But the upcoming light novel discussion—we’ve chosen True Tenchi Muyo! volume one as our next selection—has me motivated to fill in some of those gaps. While I have neither the time nor interest do a full Tenchi dive, I decided to watch the recent fourth OVA, and I’ll delve a little into that and also explain what you need to have watched to understand the light novel we’re reading.

For those unaware, Tenchi Muyo is a series (now saga, really) revolving around the royal family from the planet of Jurai (and those related in some way) and their experiences on earth, particularly as seen through the eyes of Tenchi Masaki, a boy who discovers he is of royal alien blood. The first two OVA’s, along with an OVA special, The Night Before the Carnival, are classic series that established the harem genre (for better or worse) in anime, and which hold dear places in many western fans’ hearts because of their prominence on Toonami (along with other iterations of the franchise). They were the only canon portions of the franchise that existed when the light novels (three total) were published.

As the years passed, the franchise developed—a long-running manga, various television series and films, spin-off series featuring Sasami, and later canon series as well. We also got a third OVA that was a huge letdown for many Tenchi fans who expected it to reveal Tenchi’s choice of bride (spoiler: things become even more complicated). That OVA, however, basically accomplished two things: it advanced the storyline, particularly by explaining more of Kiyone’s (Tenchi’s mother, not the non-canon Galaxy Police officer) background and introducing Noike, and also demonstrated that spin-off series GXP that preceded it was not a money grab—Tenchi Muyo! is in it for the long haul. It will not be resolved by Tenchi picking from his harem and marrying—the story goes beyond Ayeka and Ryoko and the rest.

Ryoko fairs better in the fourth OVAs than others, but still isn’t given anything to do (most of her dialogue are complaints about that very fact) | art by いながた (reprinted w/permission)

In fact, the fourth OVA is not about those characters at all. It centers on the wedding between Nobuyuki (Tenchi’s father) and Rea. As a case in point, although it’s often commented that Tenchi is unnecessary to the series bearing his name (a translation of Tenchi Muyo is “No Need for Tenchi”), he really is only a minor character in the fourth OVA. Seina, a distant relative of Tenchi’s and the protagonist of the GXP series, gets more mention and screen time than the titular character! The fourth OVA is making a strong transition away from the original series; besides relegation of that cast to mostly minor character status, the episodes are really the beginning of a new adventure, as established by introduction of a young character in the final episode and an emphasis on the adventure he’s about to undertake.

Like the rest of the series, the fourth OVA has a unique tone. It remains sexualized (remember that Toonami made artificial swimsuits to cover nudity in the series) and there is little physical action. What we get are tons and tons of characters, with several from GXP playing major roles and lots of reference to that series, especially the women. In an equal opportunity sorta way, the fourth OVA demonstrates that Tenchi Muyo may ultimately be about perverted old women fawning over younger (sometimes by hundreds of years) men and thirsting for power. The original OVAs had some of that, but the show was far more accessible and far more fun.

Tenchi’s sister, aunt, and great aunts, and three of them are interested in Tenchi…which is a reason why this series remains one that’s fairly inaccessible

Thankfully, you don’t need to watch the fourth OVA or even the third to have an appreciation for the novels, which were written before those existed. They provide some interesting insight into how the events of yesteryear, covered in those novels, progress through the OVAs and into the present state of affairs, and they also give some glimpses into characters that get mention or even play fairly weighty roles in some episodes (Asuza will certainly grow in your esteem if you know more about him from the novels and fourth OVA as compared to his brief appearance in the second). Enjoy those episodes if you’d like, but the only required watching are OVAs one and two. I hope you’ll watch those if you haven’t and join us as we discuss the first novel that really starts to expand the universe of Tenchi Muyo on August 4th, a book that adds wonderful complexity to the series, but ultimately is a dip of the toe into this epic and confusing universe, which is perhaps all you’ll need of it.

featured illustration by washuu (reprinted w/permission)


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