Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tenchi Muyo – Series 2 (1994)

After the astounding success of the first Original Animated Video (OAV) series, and a well received one off episode (with a bit more skin on display). It was natural for the creators of Tenchi Muyo to dive back into the well and get a second series of animated adventures out there. Did stick to the formula or strike out in a new direction?

Tenchi (Matt Miller) is still trying to deal with all the hot alien girls living in his home. Ryoko (Petrea Burchard) is constantly picking fights with Princess Ayeka (Jennifer Darling). Detective Mihoshi (Ellen Gerstell) is still kind, friendly and clueless. But the biggest changes are coming for the other three girls.

Princess Sasami (Sherry Lynn) may be a cute as a button, but she holds within her the massive power of Tsunami. Just who or what Tsunami is and she wants with Tenchi is another matter all together. Then there’s one of Washu’s (Kate T. Voigt) old university buddies, Dr. Clay (Wess Mann). He’s found Washu and has the perfect plan to get his revenge on her. Poor little Ryo-Oki just isn’t content being a cute Cabbit all the time. She wants to help around the house and make Tenchi smile. A little trip to Washu’s lab may make her wish come true.

Even if our gang manages to survive all these adventures, there is still a small problem. Ayeka and Sasami have been missed. And the royal family of planet Jurai is on the way to find out just what is going on at the Tenchi home. More laughs and space opera adventures are on the way with this second series of Tenchi Muyo.

Good Points:
  • The English voice cast is now fully comfortable with their roles and is obviously having a great time.
  • Visual design remains top notch and inventive
  • Contains some of the funniest scenes in the entire OAV series 

Bad Points:
  • You’ll feel a serious case of rehash with these stories
  • Dr. Clay never feels like a real threat
  • Hope you like Washu, because she becomes the star of the show


There is a whole lot of familiarity going on here. This goes for the plot, the music the types of jokes and the character arcs. When the series tries to throw in a twist, it doesn’t work out so well. But each episode contains some very funny moments, or some cool animated action. It is entertaining in the end, but feels like a missed opportunity to really explore the world they set up in the first series.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 2
Music: 3
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

In Depth Review

Ah, the dreaded sequel conundrum. People want more of the show they liked. Producers are eager to comply. But what do you do? Keep it too familiar and it feels like a tired retread. Change too much and you lose the elements people liked in the first place. Try to walk down the middle and you could end up with a muddled product.

Muddled Is a good way to describe the second series of the Tenchi Muyo OAV series. Much like the second series of El Hazard a few years later, it just doesn’t carry the original story threads forward in any meaningful way. Most of the new stories or super light and fluffy, or just a rehash with a new coat of paint. We do get some back-story for Washu and Sasami, which is nice. But by the end of the series, our little group is pretty much where they started at the beginning of this set of episodes.

Luckily the visuals and sound have remained very good. In audio department, it’s not a big surprise. They are using the Skywalker Sound archives, so you get to hear familiar noises from Indiana Jones and Star Wars in here. But for me, one of the great appeals of the Tenchi Muyo franchise is the interesting design. We get to see more of planet Jurai and their culture. The tree-based technology is very organic and beautiful. Dr. Clay presents us with a new set of technology based on his swooping designs. Because he is a representative of the mysterious Lady Tokimi (Jennifer Darling in a duel role!), there is a lot of rounded and very female design for his devices, including his robot Zero (Petra Burchard in a duel role!).

The other area that seems improved is the voice acting. All our leads are fully into their characters and are having a good time with them. Voigt actually gets to do the most work in this series, since many of the episodes focus on her relationship with Dr. Clay, her motherhood and her amazing scientific abilities. She does a very good job balancing the jovial and silly moments with the drop dead serious moments. Washu is a lot of contradictions, but Voigt makes them all sound very natural in one person.

As I mentioned above, there is some double duty going on in this series. This is partly by design, and partly because it was cheaper than hiring different voice actors. In the case of Lady Tokimi, Darling slows down her speech and lowers her voice an octave or two, adding a bit of mystery to the strange being. Still Darling’s vocal style is distinctive and you recognize her after a couple lines. Luckily Tokimi doesn’t say much in the series. The rest of the doubling has to do with actual variants on current characters. Burchard plays Ryoko and the robot Zero. This works great, because Zero captures Ryoko and then masquerades as her. Burchard does a great job with both roles, keeping them just different enough that we know which is the real Ryoko. Miller gets to play Tenchi as well as his grandfather when he was younger. It’s a solid performance, with Miller able to drop the frantic confusion that Tenchi often has. But my favorite is Sherry Lynn when she voices Tsunami. It takes a while, but you can tell it’s the same voice actress and that is fine, because Tsunami is an aspect of the future Sasami (it all makes sense when you see it). But the cut little squeak is gone and replaced by the voice of a woman. The change is dramatic and effective.

 The musical score keeps in the same area as the previous series. Most of it is performed electronically, but it builds tension and supports the laughs when it needs to. The biggest change are the opening and ending credits. The end credits are typical stuff. But the opening credits features the song “Pioneer” sung with amazing verve and enthusiasm in both English and Japanese. This became the theme song of the series for a lot of folks - partially because it was so darn catchy, but also because the animation was owned by the company Pioneer. The irony wasn’t lost on anyone.

The downside comes with the script and execution of the stories for Tenchi Muyo Series 2. The series opens with one of the most infamous “jump the shark” moments in any television show. To make things more wacky… now Tenchi and the girls have to take care of a baby! Hi-jinks ensue! Actually boredom ensues, because we have all seen these endless clichés before. None of the girls are actually good at taking care of the baby – except for Sasami (who is a child) and Washu (who looks like a child). The humor in this episode falls very flat, with the exception of when Mihoshi tries to take a bath with the baby and you hear her trying to explain to the baby why lunch is not being served, if you catch my drift. We do get some insight on Washu’s previous life and how she had a child somewhere in her past. But this also starts the trend of Washu taking over the plot from the rest of the characters in the series.

Up next is the episode where we find out more about Sasami and her connection to the super powerful woman Tsunami. This episode takes place at the hot springs featured in the previous series, but instead of turning this into one of the more fan service focused episodes, this focuses on the mystery of a ghost at the resort. The whole thing falls flat, with slow pacing, badly placed comedy, and no lead up to the revelation of Sasami/Tsunami. This could have been the perfect place to develop the relationship between the sisters Ayeka and Sasami, but instead Washu acts as Sasami’s mentor. For what is touted as such an important plot point, the episode really feels lackluster.

Episode three fares a little better. It’s a pure comedy episode where Ryo-Oki feels frustrated at not being able to help around the house. In addition she’s also got a bit of a crush on Tenchi (who doesn’t at this point?), so she wishes she could be a full sized girl. A strange alien creature in Washu’s lab picks up on this and attempts to help. It’s a cute and harmless episode in itself, again focusing a lot on Washu and her science as well as her relationship with the girls. The end result is that now Ryo Oki has a “girl type” form she can shift into, rendering her even cuter than before, or kinda creepy if the new form doesn’t appeal to you.

Some conflict finally appears in the next two episodes, with the arrival of Dr. Clay and his desire to be avenged. You see Washu (AGAIN!) made him look like an idiot in the distant past and now he wants to destroy her, or something like that. The thing is, Clay comes up with an over convoluted plan to execute this revenge. Not only that but he is tasked by the goddess-like being Lady Tokimi to find out about Tenchi’s mysterious power. Clay captures Ryoko, and then sends his robot Zero to impersonate her and kill Tenchi, thereby also destroying Washu’s plans.

Since Zero assimilated all of Ryoko’s feelings now she is crushing on Tenchi. But since she doesn’t have all of Ryoko’s baggage, she tries to express her feelings in a completely naive way. This whole dynamic works really well actually, forcing Tenchi to examine his feelings for Ryoko, as well as dealing with the robot zero actually becoming a fully conscious organism.

The final confrontation with Dr. Clay is a rehash of the final battle against Kagato from Series 1. But it lacks the tension, because Dr. Clay is too bumbling and comedic to be taken seriously. He and Washu have some very funny banter, and the resolution of Zero and Ryoko is satisfying, but in the end this conflict just feels limp.

Tenchi Muyo series 2 does end with a funny episode. Since the royal princesses of Jurai have been missing for a while, the King and his consorts arrive to find the girls. Nearly the entire episode is played for laughs, as the king of Jurai attempts to command his steadfast daughters. The girls’ mother comes across like a complete emotional rollercoaster who will hug you one minute and threaten to destroy you the next. Then there’s the whole scene with Tenchi’s grandfather and his mother! It’s basically an info-dump exposition scene meant to build up for the third series (which didn’t arrive for nearly a decade). It slows down the comedic momentum of the episode and goes on way too long with too much cryptic dialogue. The episode climaxes with a dual between Tenchi and one of Ayeka’s suitors from Jurai. It is all very silly, but an entertaining way to end the series. Well almost, after the end credits there’s a strange storyboard like sequence which acts as an epilogue to Dr. Clay’s fate, and gives us some almost nude Ryoko fan service.

I was never a huge fan of Tenchi Muyo series 2. It always felt too much like a rehash and revisiting it, I see how muddled and unfocused it is as well. Instead of exploring the universe they created, the series feels more like it meanders around unsure of what to do with the characters. Seriously, introducing a baby into the mix is a kiss of death. The baby is only in one episode, but it still feels like a half ass attempt at comedy. In a way, I appreciate that they decided to create the Tenchi Universe television series, which is essentially a reboot but brought back Kagato as the main villain and balanced the space opera and comedy with greater skill. While the first series is a milestone in anime history, this series is pretty skippable, especially since I’ve heard that the long delayed series three was pretty awful. 

No comments:

Post a Comment