Tenchi Muyo, though taking place mainly on earth in the here and now, is like Star Wars, for the entirety of what happens in the series is because of things that happened long ago in a galaxy far away. Fans of the original OVAs who have tuned into the more recent ones and seen decreasing roles for our beloved characters like Tenchi, Ryoko, and Aeka, wouldn’t be surprised if they had read the True Tenchi Muyo! light novels, companion pieces to OVAs one and two which take us back hundreds and hundreds of years to reveal not only context for the series, but also that the franchise is far bigger than just our boy and his light hawk wings. And finally, thanks to Seven Seas Entertainment, the novels are available in the U.S., where we can read about the past, and most specifically in volume one, about Asuza, the future father of Aeka and Sasami.
For our fourth Light Novel Club discussion, I’m an army of one, so I hope you’ll join me as I dive into a few questions. I’d love to hear your answers as you read through my own.
1. Is Azusa a compelling protagonist?
I’ve come away from this light novel feeling that Azusa is perhaps the best developed character in the entire franchise! I remember disliking him immensely after watching the second OVA, but by the end of the light novel, I changed my opinion entirely—and the thing is, his character really didn’t change. The light novel Azusa is entirely consistent with the 2nd OVA Azusa, who is consistent with 4th OVA Azusa.
I think it helped that we moved backwards in his life. We’re first introduced to Azusa in the anime as an old man. Then we get to know him a little bit better as a younger man in the initial chapter, and then finally as a young boy. What once seems liked an overbearing version of his daughter, Aeka (in the afterword, Yousuke Koroda ponders, “How did Azusa turn into such a crotchety old man?”), now feels like a real character, and his stubbornness and pride are suddenly appealing characteristics. I was very surprised at how well he was written.
2. Does the novel improve the Tenchi Muyo! series for you?
It absolutely did—in two ways. First, it fills in gaps, which was part of the purpose of putting out these novels. The first two OVAs tell a small tale in a far larger story, and volume one of True Tenchi Muyo! helps to further explain that bigger narrative.
But for me, it also does something more. I wasn’t a big fan of the third OVA, and while I did like the most recent one, it still doesn’t nearly reach the heights of the first two for me. What volume one of the light novel does is emphasize the importance of those first two series, which is what I want to see, even as the franchise moves away from them. If we’re near the right side of the Tenchi timeline now, the light novels are on the far left, drilling toward the meaty center of OVAs one and two. Thus, it feels like they’re adding to the parts I like best, rather than drawing away from them.
3. Does the light novel stand on its own?
Maybe the biggest surprise to me was just how readable volume one was. Long ago, when I was relying on fansites to summarize the novels, I assumed these books would be like those companion works you buy for series, the kind that are more encyclopedic in nature. Further, the afterword explains that the plot by Kajishima and scripting by Kuroda were adapted to make this novel, which doesn’t sound like it would lead to compelling writing.
But it is a really good read. Although really a set of short stories, the material flows together well, telling a cohesive tale that is supplemented by, and supplements, the Tenchi OVAs. The translation is smooth, in that the novel reads like it was originally written in English to standalone as a novel—really a very solid work.
4. What genre would you characterize the novel as?
I included this question because the novel could be classified in a number of ways. In fact, each short story seems to fit a different genre, from coming of age to adventure, and all within the realm of sci-fi.
But it came as a surprise to me that the novel is very romantic, so much so that I feel that trait rises above the others. There are two main romances in the novel, both very different but equally sweet (though there’s a strong argument to be made that one is icky, basically a kind of romance only normalized in the Tenchi universe). The first chapter had me thinking that this would be an action volume above all else, but I was surprised (and happy) when it turned to focus on relationship.
5. Is there ample fanservice for Tenchi fans?
Yes! A couple of Easter eggs especially got to me. The first was totally random: “By the way, 800 years in the future, Masaki Tenchi’s son will end up having to listen to [a different Masaki as an astral projection] for the rest of his life. But that’s another story.” Any mention of Tenchi’s future marriage and offspring is a tease!
The second Easter egg is a little more substantial, mentioning how Tenchi would be able to stop Misaki’s “true terror”—now that has me interested, both in the wondering of what “terror” means and how this might relate to Aeka and Sasami, Misaki’s daughters.
Oh, and of course, there’s the return of Kagato. I can almost hear Michael Scott Ryan voicing Kagato’s dialogue and thoughts. Definitely a treat!
6. What didn’t you like about the book?
Although I suggested that one not need to watch the fourth OVA to understand this book, I think maybe I did it right by watching that first after all. It made me care about these characters more. I’m not sure I would care much for Seto and Azusa if I hadn’t seen a series that not only gives them considerable roles, but which also prepared me for much less of Tenchi, Ryoko, Aeka, Mihoshi, and the rest. This is not a flaw necessarily, but a warning as to what to expect. I should also also note that the action in the novel isn’t very good, but any Tenchi aficionado should expect that—exciting action scenes are few and far between (and for the most critical viewers, entirely non-existent) in Tenchi Muyo.
And that wraps up my portion of this light novel discussion—now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear your responses to the above questions or any comments you have about volume one of the this light novel series.
Volume two of the True Tenchi Muyo! series comes out on October 30th, and around that time we’ll cover that one as well, as we make our way through this series on Beneath the Tangles. But for next book—we’ll be announcing that next week, so stay tuned!