No Need for Tenchi! and The All New Tenchi Muyo! – Hitoshi Okuda
Seventeen-year-old Tenchi Masaki used to have a normal, quiet life–until he woke up a sleeping demon who turned out to be from outer space. One by one, five more alien women show up on his doorstep to complicate his once peaceful life. These manga series are a continuation of a classic anime from the early 90’s, originally published in Japan as short monthly installments and collected into trade paperback format for American readers.
I’m a huge fan of the whole Tenchi Muyo! franchise–I did the research to make sense of its many continuities, hunted down English translations of novels, and of course watched every episode, spinoff and movie both subbed and dubbed for the full effect. Aside from the original 13 episodes of the anime OVA, which precede your storyline, I like your No Need for Tenchi! and The All New Tenchi Muyo! the best out of all that Tenchi stuff. Which, of course, means I like it a whole lot, and I re-read the volumes at random at least once a week. So where do I start? There are so many volumes that it seemed easier to review your run as a whole rather than one at a time, and yet I love them so much that I want to give them the attention they deserve. Still, pragmatism won out, so here I am reviewing a total of 22 volumes of awesome Tenchi-ness.
Let me start with the storytelling. Tenchi Muyo! is inherently kind of absurd–I mean, all these lunatic women from outer space somehow manage to fall in with a kid living in the remote mountains of Japan? And then they all fall in love with him? And THEN he turns out to be part alien himself? Come on. But that absurdity is one of the great things about the show, and one of the aspects you embraced so fully. From little Sasami thinking she’ll die if she hiccups too much to bubblehead Mihoshi trying to learn to drive an Earth car to genius Washu designing an artificial intelligence that plays ridiculous pranks on her–not to mention all the one-time characters and bizarre situations that happen throughout your run–you’ve got more than just a touch of the absurd here. The reason it works so well is that it’s tempered with delicious melodrama. Ryoko, in all her hot alien/demon/space pirate splendor, is one of my favorite characters, tied with her mother Washu. You seem to agree with me, because your books are Ryoko- and Washu-heavy, and you bring out the most hidden warmth and softness in both of them that I could hope for. Of course, you write the other characters with tender skill, as well–even prissy princess Ayeka, who I generally could take or leave, blossoms into a woman who’s not only courageous and caring to save the man she loves, but also to save her friends. Swoon! Of course, the best part is the relationship between Tenchi, Ryoko and Ayeka. Since they’re the two main rivals for his love, fans inevitably pick some kind of side–I myself think Tenchi belongs with Ryoko, and you give me enough amazing stories of connection and emotion between them that I can imagine he’ll choose her when he grows up a little. Of course, you give Ayeka her limelight too, and don’t do any more than imply a future outcome, which is just as it should be. Tenchi choosing a girl would be like…Charlie Brown finally kicking that football.
Then there’s the art. You’ve got this fluid style that’s ostensibly cuter than the anime–the eyes are bigger, and the noses sometimes disappear in their little kawaii faces even when they’re angry–but you’ve got a command of page layout that I covet and envy. You always know when to zoom in or out, how much of someone’s face or body to show in order to get the emotional effect across. Like how you know I’m gonna cheer out loud when, in a dire situation, at the bottom just before the page turn you give me a glimpse of Ryoko’s foot or Tenchi’s sword or something else I recognize right away, and tadaa! The drama of the page turn! You’ve also got a way with silhouettes that makes me want to paper my walls with them. Like your writing, your art is a mix of absurd and dramatic, and it serves the story well.
Ok, this is just turning into a long-winded love-fest, and clearly I think about Tenchi Muyo! and your manga a lot, so I’ll wrap it up. You’ve got it all here–a little campy, a little corny, a little hyperdramatic–and in the end, it’s all about love. Five happy happy stars.