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Beginner's Guide to Tenchi Muyo

Catch up on this harem romantic-comedy anime

The harem romantic-comedy anime has often been popular among anime fans, both in Japan and in the United States. In this sub-genre, one of the more popular franchises has been Tenchi Muyo (translated as “No Need For Tenchi”) and its spinoff series, which were licensed for US release by Pioneer (later known as Geneon), and which has been kept in print by Funimation. This guide should help most anime fans who are new to the franchise get their feet wet, giving them what they need to know about the core series. 
 Tenchi Muyo
 Tenchi Muyo

What You Need To Know 

Tenchi Muyo is an anime franchise created by Masaki Kajishima and Hiroki Hayashi. The series was originally created for an OVA series animated by AIC and produced by Pioneer. The success of Tenchi Muyo helped them start several later OVA series, including El-Hazard, the original Oh! My Goddess!, and Battle Athletes.

In the United States, it also was one of several very popular anime series to be released here in the mid-90s, and helped jump-start Pioneer's media division (later Geneon USA)

The Story 

 While the series has several differing continuities, the basics of the series are the same.

Tenchi Masaki is an ordinary high school student in rural Japan, who with his father, a widower, and works and trains at his grandfather's shrine. One day Tenchi encounters Ryoko, a beautiful woman and an alien space pirate, who falls in love with him. Ryoko also has a living space ship, Ryo-ohki, which can also take the form of a cabbit, a cuddly animal that is half cat, half rabbit. Shortly after-wards, Ayeka along with her sister, Sasami, members of the royal family of Jurai come to Earth. There they also encounter Tenchi, and Ayeka falls in love with him as well, and begins fighting with Ryoko.

In the course Tenchi soon discovers that he too is part of the royal family of the house of Jurai, through his grandfather. He also meets Washu, a super-genius, and something of a mad scientist, along with Mihoshi (and Kiyone) of the Galaxy Police.

On Continuities 

 Like Patlabor, the Tenchi Muyo franchise has multiple continuities. The continuities have different lineups, and the characters themselves change somewhat between continuities, so before we talk about characters, we need to talk about the series and what continuities they fall into. 
Series and FilmsKajishima ContinuityHasegawa ContinuityTenchi TVTenchi In Tokyo
Tenchi Muyo: Ryo-OhkiTenchi Muyo: Ryo-OhkiFirst 6 Episodes of Tenchi Muyo: Ryo-OhkiTenchi TVTenchi in Tokyo 
Tenchi TVTenchi Muyo: GXPTenchi Muyo: Daughter of DarknessTenchi Muyo In Love 
Tenchi in Tokyo  Tenchi Muyo In Love II  
Tenchi Muyo GXP    
Tenchi Muyo in Love    
Tenchi Muyo: Daughter of Darkness    
Tenchi Muyo In Love II    
  • There is also a manga, released in the US as " No Need for Tenchi", which is similar to the Kajishima continuity, with a few differences, and isn't included in any other continuities outside of its own. However, for all intents and purposes, the characters in the manga are identical to the versions of the characters in the Kajishima Continuity. It is unclear what continuity the All-New Tenchi Muyo manga falls into - but it likely falls into Kajishima or Hasegawa continuity.

Characters 

 Throughout the continuities, the main characters stay the same, though their personalities and powers vary somewhat.
Tenchi 
Tenchi 

Tenchi Masaki: Tenchi Masaki spent most of his life thinking he was a, more or less, ordinary kid. His mother died when he was very young, so he was raised by his father and grandfather, and spent a lot of time around his grandfather's shrine. He would later discover that his grandfather was actually an alien, a member of the royal family of the Empire of Jurai, and because of this Tenchi, and his mother before him, had inherited great power. The first of the other characters he meets (outside of his own family) is always Ryoko.

In OVA Continuity (Kajishima and Hasegawa) : Tenchi's great power is in the form of the “Light Hawk Wings”, a combined energy shield and beam weapon, which can normally only be created by a ship. In this version Tenchi cares for all the girls as friends.

In TV Continuity : Tenchi's Great Power is the Jurai Power, a special ability held by all in the Jurai Royal Family. In this version Tenchi has legitimate affection for both Ryoko and Ayeka.

In Tenchi In Tokyo : Tenchi is a full human in this series, with no alien heritage. Instead, Tenchi is the latest in a long line of defenders of the planet, who can use special jewels to create a magic sword. Additionally, in this version Tenchi rejects all of the girls, in favor of an ordinary human girl in Tokyo, and he asks them all to leave.

 Ryoko
 Ryoko

Ryoko & Ryo-Ohki: An alien space pirate, who travels around the galaxy with Ryo-Ohki, a living ship that can also transform into a cabbit, a cute and cuddly animal that's half rabbit, and half cat, and has a carrot fixation.

In OVA Continuity : Ryoko came to Earth after being pursued by Yosho in retaliation on an attack against the Jurai capital, 700 years before the series began. Yosho forced Ryoko to crash, defeated Ryoko, and then imprisoned her. At the start of the series she was accidentally released by Tenchi. In addition to being able to turn into a ship in this continuity, Ryo-Ohki can also turn into a girl around Sasami's age with the features of a Cabbit. She also possesses the ability to summon and command demons.

In TV Continuity : Tenchi meets Ryoko after she crash lands on Earth after fighting Mihoshi and Kiyone. Ryoko no longer can command demons. From a personality standpoint, she's less violent then in the OVAs, but her affection for Tenchi is deeper.

 Ryo-ohki
 Ryo-ohki

In Tenchi in Tokyo : Tenchi meets Ryoko after she crash lands on Earth with the Jurai Light Stone, along with Washu, while being pursued by the rest of the main characters. Ryoko's personality is more violent then in prior versions of the character, but she's also more deeply in love with Tenchi.

 

  

  

From Left: Sasami and Ayeka 
From Left: Sasami and Ayeka 

Ayeka & Sasami: Members of the royal family of Jurai. Ayeka's apparent age is 20, Sasami's is 10.

In OVA Continuity : Ayeka & Sasami came to Earth while looking for Yosho, her fiancee (and Tenchi's grandfather). She encounters Tenchi after discovering the energy released by Ryoko being freed. In this continuity, Sasami has the power of Tsunami, the Tree-Ship that is the parent of all the Jurai Tree-Ships, and is the most powerful of them all.

In TV Continuity : Ayeka and Sasami came to Earth after receiving a distress call from Mihoshi and Kiyone. Ayeka possesses the Jurai Power and is accompanied by two bodyguards, Azaka and Kamidake. Sasami, on the other hand, does not and by all appearances is an ordinary 13 year old.

In Tenchi in Tokyo : Ayeka and Sasami came to Earth attempting to recover the Jurai Light Stone. Rather than possessing the Jurai Power, Ayeka simply has a force field, and Azaka and Kamidake do the fighting for her. Additionally, Sasami is more aggressive and prone to get angry and later sulk if she doesn't get her way. Ayeka, on the other hand, is more accepting of Tenchi's “new girlfriend”. 

Pretty Sammy: Sasami has her own separate continuity where she is a Magical Girl, called Magical Girl Pretty Sammy. Most of the other Tenchi regulars appear here with radically different personalities. However, this should not be considered a main part of the Tenchi Continuity. The Pretty Sammy character did make a brief appearance in Tenchi TV, during the "Adventures in Time & Space" episodes, which essentially consisted of a series of alternate universe stories.
 From Left - Mihoshi, Kiyone
 From Left - Mihoshi, Kiyone

Mihoshi & Kiyone: Mihoshi and Kiyone are members of the Galaxy Police, currently teamed together. Their personalities, and presence in the series depending on the continuity. However, Mihoshi is universally clumsy in all continuities. Similarly, Kiyone is universally incredibly competent in all continuities in which she appears.

In Kajishima Continuity : Kiyone does not appear. Mihoshi is competent, though she is also clumsy, and disorganized in her life and her work, though she is also absurdly lucky. She originally arrived on Earth while perusing the space pirate Kagato (one of the series enemies), and crashed landed due to a vortex created by one of Ryoko's demons. Following that storyline, she's assigned to monitor Earth, and during this time she falls in love with Tenchi. She also lives with Tenchi and the rest of the girls in this continuity.

In Hasegawa Continuity: Kiyone appears in this continuity. As with Kajishima Continuity, Mihoshi is competent, though clumsy and disorganized. Mihoshi also falls in love with Tenchi, though Kiyone does not. Also, as in Kajishima Continuity, Mihoshi and Kiyone live in the Masaki household. Kiyone's role in the continuity is minimal.

In TV Continuity : Mihoshi crash lands on Earth while perusing Ryoko, and Kiyone comes to rescue her after receiving her distress call, finding her living in the Masaki household. Following Kiyone's arrival on earth, both Kiyone and Mihoshi are assigned to this sector, and Kiyone and Mihoshi move out of the Masaki household into a low rent apartment, and have to support themselves doing part-time jobs. In this continuity, Mihoshi's clumsiness is due to her being incompetent and ditzy, while Kiyone has to cover for Mihoshi's mistakes and correct her (sometimes physically), making them a Manzai duo.

In Tenchi in Tokyo : The characters come to Earth while pursuing Ryoko and Washu. In this continuity, both Mihoshi and Kiyone have crushes on Tenchi. Mihoshi regains some of her luck from the OVA series, while Kiyone becomes something of a manic depressive.

 Washu
 Washu

Washu: Washu is a mad scientist, and one of the most intelligent minds in the galaxy. She is also older then Ryoko, and most other characters in the setting, though she takes on a child-like appearance. She also has the ability to create hyper-dimensional spaces, which she typically uses to build a lab in the closet under Tenchi's stairs.

In OVA Continuity : Washu is one of the oldest characters in the setting, being over 20,000 years old. Ryoko is her daughter, having been created in a test tube from Washu's own cells. Washu also is revealed to have had a biological daughter as well, the child was taken away from her by the father's family. Washu was imprisoned by Kagato, and is released on accident by Mihoshi. After this she moves to the Masaki house, to perform scientific research on Tenchi, while also falling in love with him.

In TV Continuity : Washu is the one imprisoned at the Masaki shrine, instead of Ryoko. She is released after a particularly violent fight between Ryoko and Ayeka. She isn't nearly as old or as powerful as she is in other series, though she is older then most of the other characters. Washu's personality is much more egotistical, and she has two small puppets that follow her around and compliment her in her moments of triumph.

In Tenchi in Tokyo : Washu is Ryoko's co-conspirator in the theft of the Jurai light stone. In this continuity Washu is still a mad scientist, though she's more mellow than in the other continuities.

Which Series Should I Watch or Read? 

 The Tenchi OVAs and Tenchi Universe are the most highly regarded series due to their quality. They're also easily available through Rightstuf and similar sites. They're also the most commonly watched series in the franchise, as they've been around the longest, and were broadcast in re-runs the longest on Cartoon Network's Toonami block. The manga are also still in print, though they assume the reader has some familiarity with the OVA series.    

Alexander Case (Count_Zero) writes about science fiction for Bureau42.com when he isn't writing stuff here, and he can also be found on Twitter (@Count_ZeroOR)
TWWKon April 6, 2011 at 12:47 p.m.

Excellent guide (though I found the table a bit confusing)!  Tenchi Muyo can be difficult for a newcomer to navigate - I remember being confused thinking the TV series and OVA were the same while watching them on Cartoon Network for the first time about 10 years ago.  Today, I still love this series, and I remember it fondly as my "first favorite series."
Godoton April 6, 2011 at 1:23 p.m.
Good guide! I found it all confusing as hell as a child, but I still retain some fondness for it (although I'll be damned if I can figure out which series I watched on Toonami). I reckon it must have been one of the first anime series I ever saw, after DBZ and Sailor Moon.

You might want to fix the links in the table though, they seem to be broken.
VinceAon April 6, 2011 at 1:45 p.m.
Nitpicky anime nerd comment incoming...

Kiyone does appear in the Kajishima continuity since I think the Mihoshi Special takes place in that continuity:
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mihoshi_Special
It marks the first anime appearance of Kiyone.
asian_prideon April 6, 2011 at 2:17 p.m.
I'm currently watching this series, and I'm enjoying it so far. Right now, Washu is probably my favorite character.
Count_Zeroon April 6, 2011 at 4:04 p.m.
@asian_pride: Same here - same with Kiyone, who makes a much better straight woman than the rest of the cast (Tenchi tries to be more of a moderating influence instead of attempting to correct some of the other cast members in their silliness).
sotyfan16on April 6, 2011 at 5:26 p.m.
Good stuff! Quite the change in the style but considering all the re-tellings of the original, it's a must. I saw the movies a long time ago when the series aired on Toonami. The boxsets are impossible to find (except GXP and the last 6 eps of the original). And if found, you will pay out the ass for them. The original (14 eps plus 6 ep Ryo-Ohki) is the best, followed by GXP, Universe, and Tokyo. Tokyo is an abomination. I don't want the manga but I'll what I must to get the original 14 ep series.
Dream moderator on April 6, 2011 at 6:51 p.m.
@sotyfan16:  I assume you're referring to this, the Tenchi Muyo diehard American fan's wet dream which hasn't been printed in over a decade.

Want a new copy of it off Amazon. Prepare to pay over $250 for it. :P

EDIT: To note, there are other spinoffs of the Tenchi Muyo franchise not noted in this guide. There was a Mihoshi special following the Hasegawa continuity which features the animated debut of Kiyone before her appearance on Tenchi Universe. This also marked the debut of Sasami's infamous magical girl alter ego known as Pretty Sammi. Said alter ego would have two other spinoff series to follow up her appearances in the Mihoshi special and Tenchi Universe's Time and Space Adventures arc: the Pretty Sammi OAV series and Magical Project S which features Sasami as the main character with the other cast members playing supportive roles.

A few years back, Sasami had two seasons of her own spinoff series (again) called Sasami's Magical Girls Club featuring Sasami in more hijinks as a mahou shoujo. There was also another OAV series called Saint Knight's Tale which is another series following the Kajishima continuity following Tenchi Muyo GXP.
Makoto_Mizuhara_Sakamotoon April 6, 2011 at 8:40 p.m.
@Dream: That, and it's never mentioned who the Hasegawa or Kajishima persons are in here. For those in the know-how, we fuckin' know who they are. But newcomers? Pfff...
Dream moderator on April 6, 2011 at 11 p.m.
@Makoto_Mizuhara_Sakamoto:  Okey-dokey then. For those not in the know...

-Masaki Kajishima- Creator of the Tenchi Muyo OAV series and doing various tasks in the artistic and directing processes of the series which includes animation direction, original character designs, planning and story concepts. While not totally responsible for the spinoff titles, he did some contributions for them such as original character designs for all three movies, both TV series spinoffs and the Mihoshi special. His work on the Tenchi Muyo OAVs is recognized by many Tenchi fans as the main continuity of the series.

-Naoko Hasegawa- A writer for episodes 3 and 5 of the Tenchi Muyo OAVs. Following the first six episodes of the OAV series, Hasegawa decided to create her own continuity of the Tenchi Muyo series with her creation of the Mihoshi Special, the Daughter of Darkness movie, a radio drama and 13 self-written novels. Despite the appearance of Kiyone in Tenchi Universe and Tenchi in Tokyo, she does not recognize those TV titles as part of her series continuity.
Chris2KLeeon April 7, 2011 at 1:18 a.m.
Enjoyed the first OVA series and most of the first TV series, but everything after that just lost me.
Theresonlyoneon April 7, 2011 at 1:42 a.m.
Great guide. I love the Tenchi series, it's one of the three that got me in to anime (DBZ and Gundam Wing) Another good thing about it that you can sit down with the missus and watch it too, something I haven't really been able to do aside from the Ghibli movies and HotD. Like a lot of people i thought the OVAs and TV series were the same for a long, long time. It's got to be one of the most confusing series for newbies.
Eelcireon April 7, 2011 at 2:55 p.m.

@Dream:  Wow! Never realized it went for so much now days. I remember buying that brand new and at the time only had the recommendation that is was funny series; seemed expensive at the time as well. First "box set" I had purchased too.

 

The OVA is my favorite, though I haven't watched GXP yet. Great series, though some of the jokes are a little better with the subs.

sotyfan16on April 8, 2011 at 7:20 p.m.
@Dream:
Yes, I was meaning that one. Someday, I'll own such a thing. Just hard to convince myself to spend so much on such a precious item.
amp___seeker_of_lost_knowledgeon Jan. 23, 2013 at 8:07 p.m.

Here's something more useful:

Dig Deeper into Tenchi Muyo

The Tenchi Muyo series follows the life of Tenchi, a young man who winds up with several alien girls living at his home having some sort of affection for him. Throughout the series, Tenchi learns more about having his own powers and alien origins.

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