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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.