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TENCHI UNIVERSE: He had a Harem before it was cool, right? - - DVD/Blu-Ray REVIEW

In English, it’s called “No Use For Tenchi.” I couldn’t agree more.

I’m not just a contributor to ANIME VICE, but also a fan of the site, as well. After all, I don’t sink hours of my life into reviewing anime because I hate it. However, I do typically make an effort to avoid any opinions or synopses of the series I’m currently watching, because I don’t like to have my own thoughts colored, however inadvertently, by someone else’s ideas.

So when I saw that ANIME VICE editor Tom had posted a review of the very anime spinning away in my Blu-Ray player, I thought best not to read it. But upon closer inspection, it appeared he hadn’t watched past the first episode, which I was already hours beyond. So I took a peek. And wouldn’t you know it - - here I am burning through a paragraph of my TENCHI UNIVERSE review talking about Tom.

But you know what? He was spot-on. After just one episode, he called it “alright, shrug-able, passable entertainment.”

And maybe that’s why it’s so hard for me to get to reviewing the actual show at hand. Because, who cares about a just-alright show?

For the life of me, I cannot understand the Cult of Tenchi that has grown around this franchise, spawning multiple spin-offs, alternate universes, movies, comics, plush toys (OK, I get those - - they’re pretty cute), etc. I also can’t understand the fact that it was a stateside hit, because this is one of the worst English presentations I’ve encountered in years. Just watching it calls into question everything I think I remember about the anime I watched as a younger man.

TENCHI UNIVERSE is the story of a very nice boy who inexplicably finds himself at the center of an intergalactic catfight when a number of sexy alien ladies crash land in his backyard and commence vying for his love and attention.

Let me confide in you, dear reader, that I’ve never been big on “harem” anime, especially when it involves inexplicably top-heavy, fully grown women fawning over a confused, barely-pubescent boy with the personality of a glass of tap water. To think that a renowned space pirate and a pair of princesses would cross an entire galaxy just to settle for Tenchi is patently absurd - - and not in the fall-down-and-get-laughed-at slapstick way that the show weaves in and out of.

But there must be more to it, right? How can a boy so bland get the love of so many busty beauties and invoke a miniature media empire of his own? Well, he harbors a deep, dark secret, you see...

Tenchi isn’t just any nice boy - - he’s a nice prince boy! Ooh la la.

The worst part about hating TENCHI UNIVERSE is that it’s not an actively horrible show. It’s just not very good. But for Tenchi’s sake, let me lay some blame for this squarely at the foot of Pioneer Entertainment.

While Tenchi’s adventures made their way to the US looking fairly clean and crisp, considering their age, I find it impossible to believe that the script presented here - - as either incomplete English subtitles or terrible, terrible dubbing - - is anywhere near accurate. As far as I can tell, it might as well have been projected on a wall and fan-dubbed live in an anime convention screening room, the result likely being more faithful and energetic than what got burned onto these discs.

Were all the anime I watched this poorly translated? I simply can’t believe that.

Since I’m starting to feel a big crotchety here, complaining about the quality of what surely must be a cartoon for children, I’ll say a few nice things about TENCHI UNIVERSE...

For starters, you could do worse finding something to watch if you keep the company of little kids. The character designs are cute and colorful, and the humor is generally good-natured. For all the harem-ness of it, it’s not as misogynistic and insulting as it could be, and the variety within Tenchi’s female friends means that there is probably going to be at least one character you can root for at any given moment.

The show also has a fun way of periodically reinventing itself, and just when things start to get mind-numbing, a well thought-out flourish of creativity always seems to pop up and do its darndest to be delightful.

Take that aforementioned space pirate, Ryoko (though I found her to be generally unbearable, I loved her spaceship). Not only is it a wonderfully menacing vessel when you first see it (there are lots of oddly sophisticated techy designs throughout the show), but it also transforms into a fuzzy little rabbit/cat (fine...”cabbit”) creature when not in use. On the one hand, the transformation solve the interesting puzzle of where a fictional space pirate parks her ship while visiting earth. On the other hand... well... it’s also damned cute.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the “Time and Space Adventures” portion of the series...

As if to say “we know this show is losing your interest,” TENCHI UNIVERSE goes ahead and drops a mad-scientist-created time-travel machine into the mix, which manifests alternate realities based on the secret inner desires of the show’s various characters. No, these side-quests aren’t any better written than the rest of the show, but hey - - it’s Tenchi with a mustache! Isn’t that silly?

I have to give the show credit for trying really, really hard, even if I think it ultimately fails. Maybe I’d like it more if I hadn’t seen the decade of better comic adventures that had come since. Maybe.

Alexei Bochenek is a lifelong tech nerd and film buff based in Los Angeles. He writes for various online publications and edits the Los Angeles events website LALookout.com. Follow his Twitter: @alexeigb.

Nightwolfon Oct. 19, 2012 at 6:33 a.m.

Tom said it best.

phantasm79on Oct. 19, 2012 at 10:24 a.m.

Ohhh Ryoko... I love you

Marshal Victoryon Oct. 19, 2012 at 3:34 p.m.

Not tried this series yet. The other versions i think i have seen almost all. Some of the newer stuff

http://www.hulu.com/#!tenchi-muyo-war-on-geminar

was not bad at all even good at times.But ya its alright entertainment.. Which means it beats reality tv hands down.Part of the franchise apeal tho i think is its use of ecchi like behavor but not crossing that line.kinda pg13 so to speek.With characters you can like.It could be the grandfather to harem shows .

Will watch this one some time on hulu. Just trying to keep up with this seasons anime is ruff enuff atm.

zaldaron Oct. 19, 2012 at 11:15 p.m.

ENCHI UNIVERSE is the story of a very nice boy who inexplicably finds himself at the center of an intergalactic catfight when a number of sexy alien ladies crash land in his backyard and commence vying for his love and attention.

Not having seen the show I can't really say much but I expect the above comment is the secret to its appeal. What somewhat nerdy not hitting it with the ladies boy wouldn't want the above to happen to him? (Hell some nerdy adults might like it to). Even better if the main character, as you describe him later, acts a good bit like them...

Marshal Victoryon Oct. 20, 2012 at 7:02 p.m.

@zaldar: Dont think its popular because of projection. Least what i watched the other series i sure didnt.But hey maybe pokemon was popular cause people really did want to cach them all?Power Rangers cause people want to fight other people in rubber suites?.. Maybe .

Dream moderator on Oct. 20, 2012 at 9:23 p.m.
Tenchi Universe is way more comedy-driven in its focus on Tenchi and his unwanted harem compared to most other parts of the series franchise. If you seen the OVA series, you'll likely notice some significant alterations to the personalities, backgrounds and abilities demonstrated by the group such as Washu being all out mad scientist, Mihoshi being way more the "dumb blonde" stereotype and Ayeka and Ryoko seemingly being attracted to Tenchi at first sight compared to the fleshing out provided in the OVAs over how they became attracted to him. The spinoff TV anime takes on Tenchi Muyo (Universe and Tokyo) aren't as well remembered as the OVAs, but much feedback I recall for Universe was decent thanks to its comedy, though not comparable to the OVAs thanks to the limited depth it had.
Eyzon Oct. 22, 2012 at 2:25 a.m.

Tenchi was awesome!

though I remember preferring the original OVA/OAVs over the tv series.

Dig Deeper into Tenchi Universe

A Alternate Retelling of Tenchi Muyo. One day while walking to school Tenchi remembers all the Adventures he when though. So from their the rest of the show is a flash back.

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