BtT Light Novel Club Chapter 11: True Tenchi Muyo! Volume 3 (Washu)

Welcome, dear readers, to the eleventh meeting of our Beneath the Tangles Light Novel Club. Up for discussion today is what is perhaps the least of the three True Tenchi Muyo! novels, but also the most satisfying in a number of ways. While Jurai and Yosho filled in important gaps that advanced the story of Tenchi Muyo!, Washu feels almost mid-story, a volume that raises more questions than answers while being the first of the books to focus on one of the main girls, and a fan favorite at that—the enigmatic genius, Washu Hakubi.

Framed in a unique way—reminiscent, actually, of the Mihoshi Special—the story begins by reminding us of “Hello Baby!”, the episode where we first got a glimpse into Washu’s sensitive side and learned that her back story was perhaps far fuller than we first imagined, far longer and deeper than any of the other girls’. The way into this tale is through none other than Mihoshi, who begins to regale the Masaki household with a family story that transitions into the main one, not realizing that her family’s account is part of Washu’s also.

Like the others in the series, Washu is a quick and exciting read. It is an absolute thrill to read about Washu’s childhood (or second childhood?) and her early years at the Academy. The story humanizes Washu, who in the original OVAs often flows between an absolutely lovable caricature of a mad scientist and a wise, ethereal being (note: only a very bit of her chousin origin is discussed here); the novel catches her during a time of innocence. In fact, the story really could be described as Washu’s loss of innocence, describing a journey from her years as a caretaker among orphans through education and her greatest loss, the one that still haunts her in the present time, as seen in “Hello Baby!” Covering so many years, the action often moves too fast and doesn’t necessarily feel like one big, coherent piece, though perhaps it wasn’t meant to—Washu continues to expand the world of Tenchi Muyo, which would of course later become larger and even more vast than fans would have imagined.

But enough from me—we want to jump into actual discussion. As we finish this series (the first we’ve completed!), I invite you all to answer the following questions in the comments. Feel free to answer some, all, or none, instead focusing on some other aspect of Washu which you’d like to discuss:

  1. In what ways do you better understand Washu after reading this novel?
  2. Do you see Mihoshi’s relationship with Washu differently after this novel?
  3. Why do you think Washu prefers to stay in the guise of a child after the events involving her family and into the modern day?
  4. Is Washu a more or less compelling character after you’ve read the novel?
  5. Did anything surprise you about Washu’s backstory?
  6. Do you understand Mikamo‘s decision to leave home with Mikumo?
  7. Did Washu make the right decision at the end of the book?

Jeskai Angel, our newest club member, also read along. Having never read the previous installments in the series nor watched the show, it presented a great opportunity to look at Washu as a standalone novel. I asked him some questions from that perspective:

Twwk: Was the novel confusing since you had little context for it, having not read the other novels or watched any of the anime?

Jeskai Angel: I found the novel less confusing than I feared it might be. The very beginning features a bunch characters I’m obviously supposed to know already, but the bulk of the book focuses just on Washu and introduces new elements or characters just fine. There were occasionally other things that an experienced Tenchi fan was expected to know (light hawk wings or whatever???), but it wasn’t a big deal.

Twwk: All the light novels are surprisingly accessible, contributing greatly to the larger canon and containing plenty of fan service (the big connection you wouldn’t know, and that which set the Tenchi community on fire when it first was published decades ago now, was Mihoshi’s relationship to Washu), but working as stand-alone works. I’m glad it worked that way for you!

Jeskai Angel: I assume the big revelation that Mihoshi’s is Washu’s great granddaughter? Interesting.

Twwk: Yes! Though an astute viewer might surmise that Mihoshi had a special relationship with Washu, it was still incredible to find out that they’re related, and comical as well, since they’re on quite opposite ends of the intelligence spectrum. But onto the content of the novel! What are your general impressions?

Jeskai Angel: I think I most appreciated the humor. There was a hilarious line about cooking potatoes in a munitions factory early on, more humor as the story went on (Washu going faster and faster every time she had to run anywhere). I found the book’s overall pacing a bit odd. Sometimes you’d get a super detailed fight scene, for example, then other times the narrative skips months or years into the future with hardly any summary. It wasn’t bad, just a bit perplexing. The book also tried to cover an unusually long span of time (at least compared to other light novels I’ve read that take place over days or months at the most), which I suspect accounts for some of the peculiarities. The book also lacked resolution — specifically, it made a big deal of Washu’s mysterious origin, then dropped the subject and never came back to it. I’m sure her true nature has been explained in some other element of Tenchi media, but in the context of this book it felt weird.

Twwk: Those are good points. Vol. 3 certainly rushes through a long period of time, and is especially speedy toward the end. The mysteries about Washu, too, feel strange within a self-contained book. I guess it would be a surprise to tell you that the mysterious jewels are connected to Washu’s actual being—she is one of the three chousin, goddesses who created the universe of Tenchi Muyo. And coming back to her, did you find Washu’s story to be compelling?

Jeskai Angel: Compelling is such a squishy word, but yeah, I’d say the story was adequately compelling (enough that I wanted to read to the end, at least). The author was successful at portraying Washu as smart without making every other character a buffoon, which not all books with would-be clever protagonists pull off. And Washu turned out to be a really noble person (at least as far as this story is concerned?): her tireless efforts to see son again, plus her love great enough to let him go because she believed that was in his best interest, is quite impressive.

Twwk: Speaking of Washu’s intelligence, I wanted to get your take on this as someone also in this world—what did you think of how life was presented at the Academy versus your own experience in academia?

Jeskai Angel: In real life, grad school isn’t nearly as…hmm…zany as Washu’s experience. Also, I received some really generous financial aid, but the Juraians (sp?) took the idea of the graduate fellowship to pretty crazy extremes. I just wish real-life history PHDs were valued as highly as Juraian philosophy students. LOL. The emphasis on independent study is definitely true to life, however. That’s how writing a dissertation is, but even before that, college involves a lot of unstructured time that requires self-discipline to use.

Twwk: Interesting, though I imagine your FAFSA package didn’t provide a cavernous laboratory or office spaces, or a hundred maids and butlers!

Jeskai Angel: Yeah, my fellowships let me afford a small apartment, not a mansion or astronomical observatory.

TWWK: Alright, one more question and then I’ll give you the chance to talk about anything else you’d like. If this was just a one-volume work, what would you title it?

Jeskai Angel: Probably just “Washu.” Or maybe “Washu’s Love”? Nice ambiguous title with multiple meanings.

As for other thoughts inspired by the book… Can I just take a moment to rant about what a scummy coward Washu’s erstwhile husband was? Let me get this straight: you marry a woman, but are too cowardly to tell her your real name. You marry this woman, but instead leaving father and mother to cling to her, you still prioritize dear old dad’s political situation ahead of your wife. You marry this woman and have a kid with her, but instead of telling her you’re abandoning her and why, you just disappear with your son and never communicate your wife / your son’s mother ever again. And then when you this woman has come to visit, you hide so you won’t have to face her. Am I missing something? Is this guy not scum? He seems as much a jerk as Washu seems a noble, loving hero. I feel sorry for both this guy’s wives.

On a totally different note, the idea of wooden space ships makes no sense but sounds super cool. The casual reference to self-mutilating surgery as if it’s normal and reasonable (i.e. gender “reassignment”) was a little disturbing. The equally cavalier mention of porn was likewise problematic. It reflects the acceptance of porn as normal that I’ve noticed in various anime. If pornography is really as normal as Japanese media seem to imply, that says their society has serious trouble. Not that America has anything to boast of…

And that’s it for us this time around! We highly encourage you to pick up the volume if you haven’t yet, and Jurai and Yosho as well, which I would describe as better written works and nearly as compelling. And stay tuned next week, as we announce our twelfth (!) selection for the BtT Light Novel Club!

Featured illustration by スギシン (reprinted w/permission)

TWWK

Husband. Dad. Occasionally Korean. Enjoys Star Wars, ASOIAF, and Meg Ryan movies. Tweets before proofreading. Ghibli. Oregairuuuuu. Jesus is King.

5 thoughts on “BtT Light Novel Club Chapter 11: True Tenchi Muyo! Volume 3 (Washu)

  1. As a long time fan of the Tenchi Muyo! franchise, and as the official adapter of the novels, I really appreciated the take of someone who’d never read any of the novels or apparently never even watched the original OVA series. It never even dawned on me that there might be someone like this out there. Maybe for the “Yosho” novel since it is volume 1, but not for “Washu” since it is volume 3. 😅

    > In what ways do you better understand Washu after reading this novel?

    This novel really made me appreciate the “Hello Baby” episode so much more. The episode gave us just enough backstory to allow us to understand what Washu was going through. The novel takes that to a whole other plane of existence.

    > Do you see Mihoshi’s relationship with Washu differently after this novel?

    The novel does help explain why Mihoshi is Washu’s foil for sure.

    > Why do you think Washu prefers to stay in the guise of a child after the events involving her family and into the modern day?

    That’s an interesting question. I seem to remember it being discussed on one of the forums back in the day. It is something I wish Kajishima-sensei explored.

    > Is Washu a more or less compelling character after you’ve read the novel?

    I think she’s a more rounded character after reading the novel.

    > Did anything surprise you about Washu’s backstory?

    Going through the official English translation–no. But back in the day, I think I was surprised to learn she was as old as she was.

    > Do you understand Mikamo‘s decision to leave home with Mikumo?

    Interestingly enough, I do. Jeskai’s complaint about Mikamo is a valid one. However, the novel is written with a VERY Japanese take on the universe. As such, for Mikamo, the Kuramitsu clan was way more important than anything else. Today, that’s unthinkable, but in Japanese history, if you were born to a powerful family, the needs of said family trumped everything else.

    Mikamo was wrong to not tell Washu the truth, and I would say he was wrong to not stand up to his family. But I understand why he did what he did.

    > Did Washu make the right decision at the end of the book?

    Yes, because she put her child’s needs ahead of her own needs.

    Something else I’d like to add. I liked how the novel helped explain the antagonism Dr. Clay felt toward Washu. The OVA gave us a sense of things, but no details. So I appreciated that.

    1. Thanks for the responses! I’ve frequently referred to your work in the past, so it’s might honor for you to comment here!

      I’m also glad you brought up Clay—more than fanservice, his inclusion really felt necessary to fill in his arc in the 2nd OVA.

  2. I’ve frequently referred to your work in the past, so it’s might honor for you to comment here!

    You’re too kind. 😊 I’ve been aware of your reviews here. I don’t think I responded before, not because I didn’t want to, but more because my work life is usually quite insane. But I’d just gotten back into town and wasn’t overrun (yet) by my job, thus my response.

    I’m also glad you brought up Clay—more than fanservice, his inclusion really felt necessary to fill in his arc in the 2nd OVA.

    While Kajishima-sensei does have his writing flaws, he doesn’t tend to write about story things just for fanservice sake. (Mostly naked babe fanservice is another matter, of course. 😅😅😅). That’s what’s made his doujinshi works so interesting at times. He did one immediately after the publication of “Washu” that put even more information about Washu’s past into it. Even though it was pretty much impossible, I was hoping Seven Seas might get permission to add it to the end of the novel as a bonus feature. Oh well.

  3. Hi, I am Japanese who likes Tenchimuyo. I’m lucky I found this blog and Tweet. I’m not good at English, so I haven’t read this whole article yet, but I would be glad if I could talk about the True Tenchimuyo story.

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