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Annals of Anime: Return of Tenchi!

posted Nov 21, 2012, 1:15 AM by Douglas Sun

So I'm going through my email this morning, and I find an advertising broadside from Funimation pushing all the DVDs they want to push at the beginning of the holiday shopping season. In such exercises, you usually lead with your newest and your hottest releases. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I saw a large JPEG of "Tenchi in Tokyo," the 15 year-old Tenchi Muyo! "alternate retelling" at the top of the page. Combine that with the fact that Adult Swim just started airing "Tenchi Muyo! GXP" as part of its Saturday anime block, and I think I can be forgiven for conjuring the old saw that, "Everything old is new again."

The very mention of Tenchi Muyo! always brings a curl of a smile to my lips. The first two OAV series remain among my very favorite anime, and my dinged second-hand copy of the Pioneer DVD set is something I am loathe to loan to friends just because I never know when I'll want to watch something from it again. With few exceptions, I don't think you'll find a more pitch-perfect blend of farce, drama and action, and all of it mixed with a delicate sense of wistfulness that gives it a unique flavor.

Since that initial success, however, the franchise has spun itself off, but in ways that remind me of that Halloween episode of "The Simpsons" in which Homer clones himself, but each successive generation of clones are progressively degraded copies of the original. "Tenchi (TV)" (aka "Tenchi Universe" when it aired on Cartoon Network's Toonami block) changed the relationships between the characters and tilted so much toward farce that it sucked out just about everything that made the OAV series interesting. In the OAVs, all of the major characters — but in particular, Ryoko, Ayeka, Washu and Mihoshi — are blessed with such depth of character that the tension between their serious sides and the farcical situations that they create for themselves makes them profoundly endearing. "Tenchi Universe" removes their serious sides altogether; that tension disappears and important characters become little more than gag-generating machines.

"Tenchi in Tokyo" tries to redress this imbalance a bit, but mostly by introducing a new character to serve as a relatively conventional romantic match for Tenchi. The result, however, is that the characters we came to know and love in the OAVs are marginalized, and without restoring any of the dignity that made them so attractive in the original. To be honest, I tried watching the first few episodes, and left off after that.

And then there's the whole Sasami-as-maho shojo thing, which strikes me as getting darned close to the point at which the spinoff becomes entirely detached from the original.

For that reason alone, I don't expect to make "Tenchi Muyo! GXP" appointment TV, even though I'm glad to see the franchise get some love. I may catch up with it on TWC video-on-demand, but I'm not feeling the urgency.

But none of that should stop you from taking advantage of Funimation's big "Black Friday Week" sale on Amazon. That seems to be their big reason for emailing me at this particular time, and if you enter the site through the link below, I'll get Amazon Affiliate credit for everything you buy. So, consume!