One of my favorite and first anime experiences was the Tenchi Muyo! OVA series from the nineties. Fueled by nostalgia and a love of harem anime I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Ai Tenchi Muyo! to see what sort of crazy adventures Tenchi and the gang have gotten themselves into.
Washu is up to her old tricks as a chaotic good force in the universe and she needs Tenchi’s help to fix what she broke. In order to do so Tenchi must travel through time and across different dimensions to find and reunite a Jurai princess and her caretaker. Failing this mission will result in the universe tearing itself in half!
The majority of Tenchi’s mission has him in an undercover role as a student teacher at Jinai Academy, a high school for girls. While there he quickly becomes close with Momo Kawanagare and her friends Hachiko, Hana, and Tori. Momo and her friends are part of the student council, with Momo in the role of student council president. They take their roles very seriously, which often causes tension between them and the science club. The science club is run by Yuki Fuka, a quick-tempered girl who is adamant that the club deserves more funds. Her friends Rui and Beni round out the other core club members.
Why does the science club deserve more funds? Because they’re looking for treasure! After finding a cell phone buried among rubble from nearly a thousand years ago, Yuki is convinced there is something rare and worthwhile buried deep underneath the school. This is a mission Yuki considers super secret, but is one she has no problem loudly recruiting others for.
The mysterious cell phone Yuki finds brings us to the other part of Tenchi’s mission, which includes time travel. Tenchi initially travels back to the past and finds a younger Momo, who is really a princess of the Jurai Royal Family. The pair travel, running into past versions of the other students of Jinai Academy as they search for the person Momo is trying to find. They find someone Momo recognizes in a crashed spaceship; a past version of Beni.Assuming his mission is complete, Tenchi hits the universe reset button on the phone Washu gave him. Not only does this not reset the universe, it causes the ground to split and sends Tenchi and the others into the future with Jinai Academy. During the chaos Tenchi accidentally ends up dropping the phone, which is how Yuki finds it buried under the school.
Back to the present (future?), Momo and Beni are realizing that any time they get close the two glow pink and peach blossoms appear. Not only that, but the Galaxy Police are showing up in droves to fix the universe and arrest Washu. On Earth, the Galaxy Police are being led by Ukan Kurihara, the principal of Jinai Academy and Tenchi’s mentor. As the universe begins to split and implode upon itself Tenchi and Momo find themselves thrust through time and different universes, trying and failing to connect with each other. They are eventually able to reconnect and reunite in the past, which saves the future (and the universe) from destruction.
A new anime in a new decade means new character designs for some of our favorites. While Tenchi, Washu, and Mihoshi look about the same, Sasami, Ayeka, and Ryoko have pretty intense character changes. Ryoko’s hair is a little tamer and her outfit is way more revealing. Ryoko has always been more of a free spirit, and her outfits generally show off cleavage, but Ai Tenchi Muyo! takes it to the next level. It feels like fan service more than anything else. While Sasami and Ayeka don’t have any major wardrobe changes, their proportions are drawn much smaller, as is traditional with the current anime style.
One thing that Ai Tenchi Muyo! has taught me is that there is a right way and a wrong way to revive characters. Tenchi, Ayeka, Sasami, and Washu behave exactly as they have in every other iteration of the Tenchi Muyo series. Tenchi, as the classic male lead in a harem anime, is a kindhearted guy who often ends up in compromising situations. Washu has a flawless ability to cause destruction allows the story to progress and gives the characters a conflict to resolve. Sasami and Ayeka are more or less background characters in this iteration, providing calm when there’s tension while also introducing moments of comedy in the story.
Where the story gets a little meh is with Mihoshi and the newest batch of characters. Mihoshi seems a little more clueless in this series, which is more cringeworthy than it is endearing. It’s not entirely clear why she’s at Jinai Academy; if she’s working undercover it is never mentioned. As for our new characters they basically fall into three tropes: infallible protagonist, sexy sidekick, and apathetic tough girl. Both the student council and science club have one of each trope, which is a little played out at this point.
I think one of the most upsetting things about watching Ai Tenchi Muyo! was realizing that I was more annoyed by Ryoko than I was by Ayeka; a drastic change from how I felt about the two in the Tenchi Muyo OVA. Over the years I’ve come to terms with Ayeka’s annoying, haughty behavior and looked up to Ryoko’s cool girl persona. Tenchi Muyo! and Dragon Ball Z basically wrote the book on apathetic and violent characters with cool hair (looking at you Vegeta). Unlike Vegeta – who has grown and developed a depth to his curmudgeon character – Ryoko has stayed the same, a decision that ultimately makes her characterization seem corny.
According to the internet, Ai Tenchi Muyo! was created to commemorate the franchise’s 20th anniversary, as well as a revival project for the series. In that regard, Ai Tenchi Muyo! is a wonderful and nostalgia-filled throwback to the harem anime of the past. In terms of a show in this decade, the dialogue and klutziness of the female characters feels a little dated. While it was nice to see the Tenchi gang again and hear some of of the original voice actors reprise their roles, the clunkiness of the plot left a little to be desired.
Fans looking to add Ai Tenchi Muyo! to their anime collection can purchase it here from Funimation.
Ai Tenchi Muyo! - The Complete Series37.49
- New character styles bring a modern look to a classic show
- Plot provides a solid harem story
- Great reintroduction of fan favorite characters
- Minisode format makes show feel rushed and disjointed
- Ryoko's attitude should have been left in the past
- Cookie-cutter characterizations make the new characters feel generic