I have to confess that, a lot of the time here, I suspect I might be enjoying a particular show a lot more if I were watching it in a group instead of alone in apartment at night. If there’s any “job hazard” to writing up shows on this site, that could be one of them, I suppose. I get the feeling I probably would find TENCHI UNIVERSE a litle funnier at a convention screening room or at a college anime club.
Watching it this way, though, is kind of like seeing a sitcom with the laugh track removed.
We actually got Funi’s re-issue of this series in the mail last week, so you can expect a more in-depth review of the series from Alexei sometime next week, or the week after. I’ve heard the title before, certainly, but I don’t have any attachment to the show’s reputation and am thusly watching it with maybe a little more objectivity.
As such, I’ll objectively say that one commonality I’ve noticed from all the revered 90’s series is that they all jump into the thick of their fantasy with as brief and basic set-up as they can get away with. In this case, it was rather comical how the show literally just opens with Tenchi walking away from home, saying bye to some unspecified family, and then having the familiar wild outer-realm girl dropping right into his world in the space of maybe two minutes. You get the sense that the crew was utterly bored with anything coming before her arrival.
I say “familiar” there because this whole episode plays like a parody of shows I’m not familiar with - - the catty outer space robots of Show X + the magical alien/fantasy girls of Show Y + the regular Joe of Show Z.
There’s also the matter of the dub. Maybe this is a relic of the lawless days when translation teams weren’t taking the material that seriously. The whole episode plays like an extended sketch from some late night talk show where the host and his sidekicks run ridiculous, random anime clips up on stage and just improv lines with the most ridiculous voices to fit what they’re seeing. (Of course, I doubt the original material was played any straighter - - no matter how “inappropriate” this dub seems to purists).
Improv is really the right comparison point, here. Much like absurdist humor, it’s a kind of comedy that will work awesomely as long as you’re on exactly the same wave-length as the characters. That’ll only happen maybe one out of every ten times - - and you’re just kind of shrugging those other nine times. It also generally plays better - - you guessed it! - - when you're in a group!
So yeah, all by lonesome, I found TENCHI UNIVERSE to be alright, shrug-able, passable entertainment.
Watch this episode, "No Need for Discussions!” here and decide for yourself.