The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
'Tenchi Muyo!'
leads new pack
of anime on DVD


July 8, 1999
By Franklin Harris

Fans of Japanese animation, or anime, are a notoriously contentious lot. We argue about the merits of subtitled videos vs. English-dubbed ones. We bicker over the business practices of America anime distributors, usually over the inability of some to release videotapes in a timely fashion. We even argue about why subtitled videos cost so much more per tape than dubbed ones.

But ask an American anime fan to name the best anime series ever to make its way to the United States, and the same titles are likely to crop up again and again.

One of those titles is "Tenchi Muyo!"

"Tenchi" is a genre-warping series. Part space opera, part slapstick and part romantic comedy, it truly fits the description of having something for everyone, which is probably why it attained such heights of popularity as it did in its native Japan.

Originating as a 13-episode OAV (original animation video) series, "Tenchi Muyo!" has spawned numerous direct-to-video, television and feature film spinoffs. Most are already available in America on video. The third and final "Tenchi" movie, "Tenchi Forever," is due out on video and DVD this August.

Pioneer has recently released the original OAV series, regarded by virtually all "Tenchi" fans as far superior to the later installments, as a three-disc DVD boxed set, retail-priced at $119.98 (but available for much less at most online retailers).

So, what is "Tenchi Muyo!" anyway? I thought you'd never ask.

"Tenchi Muyo!" -- sometimes called "No Need for Tenchi!" -- follows the adventures of Tenchi Masaki, an ordinary schoolboy who finds his life made suddenly more interesting by the unexpected arrival of five beautiful, young extraterrestrial women on his doorstep. It doesn't help matters that two of them, the ex-space pirate Ryoko and the prim-and-proper space princess Ayeka, constantly fight over him.

With all these strange women around the house -- marooned on Earth because they all wrecked each other's spaceships -- you'd think nothing else odd could happen. Of course, it does.

Tenchi soon learns that he himself is descended from the powerful royal family of the planet Jurai and that, now that his own powers have begun to awaken, he is the target of the intergalactic criminal Kagato.

All of this adventure, comedy and romance would probably be enough to make "Tenchi Muyo!" popular, but it's the series' large and bizarre cast of characters that makes it a classic.

There are Mihoshi, the scatterbrained Galaxy Policewoman who takes it upon herself to track down Kagato; Sasami, Ayeka's younger sister with the huge, pink eyes and a dark secret; and Washu, the "greatest scientific genius in the universe," who wants Tenchi's body for her experiments.

And then there is Ryo-Ohki, a half-cat, half-rabbit creature with an obsessive love of carrots and the ability to transform into a giant spaceship.

With the aid of Tenchi's grandfather -- about whom there is more than meets the eye -- and lecherous, peeping-Tom father, Tenchi and the girls face such menaces as Kagato, mad scientists, irritable extraterrestrial royalty and one troublesome baby.

Pioneer's DVD release comes with everything a videophile could want: a state-of-the-art Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, THX-certified video and sound quality, television commercials and theatrical trailers, a "Tenchi" encyclopedia and previews of the "Tenchi Forever" film.

The 13 OAV episodes are contained on two DVDs, with the third DVD reserved for the encyclopedia. Thanks to releases like "Tenchi," DVD is rapidly becoming the medium of choice among hard-core anime fans.

Most American anime distributors have started releasing their newer titles on DVD.

Also, a few older titles are just coming out, with popular series like "Bubblegum Crisis" getting the same boxed-set treatment "Tenchi Muyo!" received.

Surprisingly, however, the company with the U.S. distribution rights to the bulk of the most popular anime series has been slow to catch on.

Fortunately, ADV Films announced recently that it is planning to release its first batch of DVD titles later this year, starting with "Queen Emereldas" (from the legendary Leiji Matsumoto, creator of "Space Pirate Captain Harlock" and "Space Cruiser Yamato"), "Battle Angel" and Go Nagai's "Cutey Honey." ADV also plans to release the fan-favorite series "Neon Genesis Evangelion" on DVD in the near future. Of course, for those of you still without DVD players or DVD-ROM drives on your computers, all of these films and series are also available on videotape.

With all these high-quality DVD releases and the upcoming theatrical release of Mayao Miyazaki's masterpiece, "Princess Mononoke," American anime fans have never had it better.

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