Welcome to the Tenchiverse

Started out as a post about what order to watch Tenchiverse stuff in. Ended up as that and a post about the actual chronology, the availability of the various releases in North America, which shows are worth bothering with, and reminiscences of me as a long-time anime fan.

Or, 2000+ word post… about Tenchi Muyo.

Or, a love letter to my teenaged self.

Or, something unwieldy and desperately full of love.

I must admit up front that this post originally started as a seriously long comment I just left at The Cart Driver, in which I gave an overview of the best viewing order of the franchise. But the Tenchi Muyo universe (not to be confused with Tenchi Universe) is pretty massive and ridiculous, so I wanted to expand upon my comment a bit.

First off, here is the chronological order of the Tenchiverse shows’ releases:

  1. Tenchi Muyo!: Ryo-Ohki OVA 1
  2. The Night Before the Carnival
  3. Mihoshi Special
  4. Tenchi Muyo!: Ryo-Ohki OVA 2
  5. Tenchi Muyo TV/”Tenchi Universe”
  6. Magical Girl Pretty Sammy OVA
  7. Tenchi Muyo in Love
  8. Magical Girl Pretty Sammy TV
  9. Shin Tenchi Muyo/”Tenchi in Tokyo”
  10. Tenchi Muyo: Manatsu no Eve/”Tenchi Muyo the Movie 2: The Daughter of Darkness”
  11. Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure
  12. Tenchi Muyo in Love 2: Distant Memories/”Tenchi Forever! The Movie”
  13. Tenchi Muyo! GXP
  14. Tenchi Muyo!: Ryo-Ohki OVA 3
  15. Sasami: Magical Girls’ Club
  16. Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari/St. Knight’s Tale

Phew. And I didn’t even mention the manga!

The chronological order for OVAs and TV series is when that particular show started being released or aired; thus, although Dual overlapped with Tenchi Muyo in Love 2, I have it listed first because it started airing before the movie hit the screens. The only one this causes much bother with is the Pretty Sammy OVA, as that was released over a period of three years and thus overlaps with quite a bit. However, it doesn’t really matter, honestly – Pretty Sammy’s a spin-off as opposed to a re-imagining of the core story, after all.

Basically, for the Tenchiverse, there are the mainline series (Ryo-Ohki OVAs, Tenchi TV, Shin Tenchi Muyo) grouped with the movies, then one degree out are the Pretty Sammy OVA and TV series, along with GXP, one more degree out brings one to Sasami: Magical Girls Club, and the last remove contains InSM and Dual.

If you saw the comment I had over at The Cart Driver, you know that I mentioned a show called Photon: The Idiot Adventures as well. Photon’s only related in the loosest way possible, as there is the occurrence of terms in Photon that come from the Tenchiverse and some of the staff worked on both. It isn’t typically considered part of the ‘canon’ of sorts (feels weird to call such a gathering of shows as ‘canon’, particularly when canon is something disputed by the creator, directors and producers of the Tenchi shows themselves), so I left it out here.

Here is the order I recommend watching the shows in:

  1. Ten­chi Muyo: Ryo-Ohki OVA 1
  2. The Night Before the Car­ni­val OVA
  3. Ten­chi Muyo: Ryo-Ohki OVA 2
  4. Ten­chi Muyo: Ryo-Ohki OVA 3
  5. Mihoshi Spe­cial
  6. Man­atsu no Eve (Ten­chi Muyo Movie 2)
  7. Ten­chi Muyo GXP
  8. Ten­chi Muyo TV/“Tenchi Uni­verse”
  9. Magical Girl Pretty Sammy OVA
  10. Magical Girl Pretty Sammy TV/“Magical Pro­ject S“
  11. Ten­chi Muyo in Love (“Ten­chi Muyo the Movie”)
  12. Ten­chi Muyo in Love 2: Dis­tant Memor­ies (“Ten­chi Forever! The Movie”)
  13. Sasami: Magical Girls’ Club
  14. Shin Ten­chi Muyo/“Tenchi in Tokyo”
  15. Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari/St. Knight’s Tale

Man­atsu no Eve is a weird one to place, as it fea­tures Kiy­one in the role she has in Ten­chi TV (which is to say, she’s liv­ing in the house­hold and clearly has been for a while), but the entire set-up with the Lighthawk Wings def­in­itely makes it of the OVA continuum.

Dual is best appre­ci­ated after Man­atsu no Eve but before GXP, but its also only really for those determ­ined to watch everything in the Tenchi­verse, as its rela­tion is slight and it just isn’t that great of a show. It is an altern­ate ver­sion of the Ten­chi Muyo: Ryo-Ohki universe.

Isekai no Seikishi no Monogatari/St. Knight’s Tale falls within the timeline encom­passing the OVAs, The Night Before the Car­ni­val, Mihoshi Spe­cial, and GXP, but it also isn’t some­thing I con­sider worth check­ing out unless someone is a diehard com­plet­ist. It takes place fif­teen years after the third OVA and con­cerns Tenchi’s younger half-brother. I will grant it that it is extremely ambi­tious (thir­teen epis­odes that are forty-five to fifty-one minutes each), but I would rank it with Shin Ten­chi Muyo in terms of qual­ity, and STM is gen­er­ally con­sidered the worst of the dir­ect Tenchi­verse (i.e. shows in which Ten­chi him­self fig­ures prominently).

Now, this is the watch order for folks actually interested in watching everything in the Tenchiverse. I don’t recommend that myself, as there is a real variance in quality amongst these shows, and some are in fact downright shitty. So my recommended what to watch and what order to watch in is:

  1. Tenchi Muyo!: Ryo-Ohki OVA 1
  2. The Night Before the Carnival
  3. Tenchi Muyo!: Ryo-Ohki OVA 2
  4. Mihoshi Special
  5. Tenchi Muyo TV
  6. Magical Girl Pretty Sammy OVA
  7. Tenchi Muyo in Love
  8. Tenchi Muyo in Love 2
  9. Tenchi Muyo: Manatsu no Eve

Magical Girl Pretty Sammy TV/”Magical Project S” is good for fans of the Lyrical Nanoha franchise… and also for people who like being snide about pointing out that massively popular franchises really aren’t as visionary as their fans claim they are. Its a fairly solid magical girl series, but it isn’t as funny as the OVA is and I don’t think its terribly necessary.

GXP is alright, nothing to write home about. Shin Tenchi Muyo is hype-watered down and just flat-out bad; a lot of the mythos was removed, particularly the more fantastical elements, and many of the changes have little point (Ryo-Ohki is now Sasami’s pet, not Ryoko’s spaceship/sidekick, for example). Additionally, the girl added to the harem has all the strength of will and personality of a bowl of soggy cereal – the whining gets old, fast. Dual is bad. And I’ve already mentioned InSM enough for you to get my feelings on the matter.

Oh! And you’ll notice I left out the third Ryo-Ohki OVA. My excitement over having more of the original OVA died very quickly, as it basically shits on the prior OVAs. A lot of character development to that point is undermined, with the staff definitely pulling more for comedy than in the first two OVAs… which is saying something, as the first two OVAs were frequently hilarious. But those knew how to balance the comedy with the drama, and the third doesn’t, which ends up running roughshod over prior characterization of several characters. I consider the whole thing best forgotten; if you want more of the OVA-verse style Tenchi after watching those and the movies, opt for the two manga series.

I do consider the first two OVA’s (along with Carnival) the best of the franchise, although Tenchi Muyo in Love 2 is a very close second. TMiL 2 is a pretty large departure from the entire franchise, though – it is a much more serious effort, and much more adult as well. There is virtually no comedy to speak of, and there really isn’t any fanservice, even though there is a sex scene. This alone, of course, should indicate that it was going for a more mature tone given how boobular the OVAs are.

(Actually, its interesting to consider the Ryo-Ohki OVAs and the first TV series in terms of fanservice versus harem shows these days; I think it would all be considered very low-key at this point, even with Ryoko parading around naked in the bath during the OVAs. What stands out most, though, is the absence of panty-shots – the panty-shot just hadn’t become the fetishized item that it has become by now. Yes, there are panty-shots in some of Tenchi’s peers of the time, and there were some in things predating, but it hadn’t exploded as a trend quite yet.)

TMiL is something I would really like to re-watch, because I didn’t quite appreciate it when I first saw it as a teenager. Its tone is a curious choice given the history of the franchise, and was certainly aimed at a more mature audience than most of the Tenchiverse shows are. I don’t know that it did terribly well at the box office as a result. I know I thought it was dull the first time I watched it!

I actually, of the movies, enjoyed Manatsu no Eve the most. Its the shortest, and its basically a story arc rendered into a movie. It also, as I previously said, doesn’t fit clearly into any of the chronologies of the three core shows, but makes the most sense in the Ryo-Ohki OVAs even though Kiyone is living with the crew during it. Its a pretty lightweight piece of entertainment, and I watched it enough that my video copy of it wore out. Yes, video copy. From Pioneer. And it was the dub! Bizaaaaaare.

So, now that you know all that, how do you get these shows?

Unfortunately, most of the Tenchiverse is out of print, as it was released by Pioneer/Geneon. Funimation has GXP, Sasami; Magical Girls’ Club, and the third Ryo-Ohki OVA (don’t be fooled by the fact that its labeled as ‘Tenchi Muyo Ryo-Ohki Complete Collection’). The remainder is all out of print, with the exception of InSM, which never was licensed for the North American market.

Now, there is a pretty large array of degrees of difficulty in obtaining the out of print titles. See below:

  • Tenchi Muyo!: Ryo-Ohki OVAs 1 and 2 are pretty much impossible to get; you can snag used copies, but expect to pay an arm and a leg. Pioneer released a really nice set of these ages ago, and even back then it was fairly expensive (we’re talking $125+). Not a lot of sets exist. Last time I saw any for sale, the person was asking $150 for a used copy. Individual volumes range from cheap as hell to appallingly pricey, depending on which volume it is (vol. 1 is wicked cheap, vol. 3 is not, for example).
  • Tenchi Muyo TV’s boxsets are expensive. If you want to collect by the volume, they range from cheap to reasonable, although if you want to buy new you can expect to pay out the nose for some of the volumes… and not be able to get some of the others at all.
  • Shin Tenchi Muyo is readily available in boxset form, and for cheap. Many places still have it in stock, so you can buy it new very easily. No one liked this one.
  • Tenchi Muyo Movies: Your best bet is to buy the collection of these from Geneon; it is still in stock in some places, and is cheap. Buying them individually is pricey and doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense – even if you’re not interested in one of them, its cheaper to just get the Collection and ignore the disliked one.
  • Magical Girl Pretty Sammy TV was released in two sets. The second set is still in stock in some places and is quite cheap. The first is decently common used, and the prices aren’t too bad, although some might balk at paying that much for used DVDs. $30 range for thirteen episodes of a long out-of-print show, though, seems pretty good to me.
  • Magical Girl Pretty Sammy OVA was only released on DVD in a package with the Mihoshi Special. Fairly common used, and the prices are decent.
  • Dual DVDs are common and cheap as hell. Have fun.

All of these, it may be worth mentioning, are also extremely cheap and common if you’re willing to watch them on VHS; my only caution is that you’ll have to be careful if you specifically want dub or sub tapes, as the folks selling them freqently don’t differentiate. I actually own the first two Ryo-Ohki OVAs on tape, as well as Manatsu no Eve, as I mentioned earlier. They’re all dub, since the dub was fairly decent and was also my first encounter with the franchise.

Oh, yes, I mentioned that there was some dispute as to canon amongst the folks who actually worked on the show, didn’t I? Scriptwriter Naoko Hasegawa, who worked on the first OVA and The Night Before the Carnival, has her own canon for the franchise, which includes the first OVA and Carnival, and then splits off completely. At this point, the canon is a series of light novels she penned for the franchise, and of which I know virtually nothing. They were never translated (lets all pretend to be surprised by that) and have been out of print for quite a while now.

Is it worth bothering to mention that Tenchi Muyo kind of used to be a big deal? I think that’s pretty obvious by the sheer amount of shows that exist for it and its universe (ok, multiverse is more accurate). But it was also pretty big amongst anime fans in the U.S. back when I was a young fan, which you should be able to pick up on by the fact that, except for InSM, all of it is available legally in English – the manga, too. Its not really a franchise I hear mentioned much any more, which feels really weird to me; this was one of the first shows I cut my teeth on, after all. Also virtually extinct are the debates that used to rage about whether Tenchi Muyo or Love Hina was the better franchise (short answer: Tenchi Muyo)… remembrance of which actually makes me think of the old arguments there used to be about Yoko Kanno versus Yuki Kajiura, although that’s clearly not related. (Bizarre fact: Shin Tenchi Muyo was directed by Shinichiro Watanabe!)

Sigh. I wouldn’t mind blathering a lot more about Tenchi Muyo. I know a lot of random bits of trivia about it, like the fact that before Ryo-Ohki OVA 3 shat on things, the creator said that Tenchi ends up with Mihoshi, of all people. Or that the much more recent Seitokai no Ichizon had a pun for Tenchi Muyo in an episode; ‘Tenchi Muyo’ can be translated as ‘This End Up’ and was scrawled onto a box in that show in one scene.

Actually, there is itself an intriguing little factoid: Tenchi Muyo’s title was left wholly intact for the video releases back in the late 90’s, something unheard of given that its all Japanese. Its also something that happens only very rarely now, even though in the mid-2000’s prior to the industry collapse in N. America it had become commonplace enough that it didn’t raise any eyebrows.

And maybe this is really what it all is, ultimately, this post – me waxing nostalgic about the way things were once upon a time. I’ve been an anime and manga fan for almost fourteen years now, more than half of my life. I’ve seen a lot of shows come and go in popularity, a lot of companies go belly-up, a lot of people pass into and out of the fandom, a lot of changes in genre popularity… maybe it sounds boastful, but sometimes I’m surprised at how much I know, how much I’ve absorbed over those years. I have a fairly good recollection of what shows have been licensed, to include those that no longer are licensed and those that are out of print, and I have a pretty good group on which studio did what, which company released which. Its not something I think on much, so it always kind of surprises me when I re-realize that I’ve stored up quite a bit of knowledge.

Anyway… maybe I’m just remembering love.

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3 Responses to Welcome to the Tenchiverse

  1. draggle says:

    Thanks for this, I may have to take your recommendations. So far I’ve only watched Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari and Tenchi Universe. I thought Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari was pretty good, actually, so now I’m quite curious to see how the others fare. Tenchi Universe started to bore me towards the middle though.

  2. TWWK says:

    Thanks for the wonderful post – I couldn’t help but get super nostalgic reading it. Tenchi Muyo! was definitely my “first love” when it comes to anime and I still adore the franchise, even if I haven’t popped in a series in quite some time. My OVA 1 + 2 collection from Pioneer remains one of my favorite DVD sets. I almost decided to sell it because of the extravagant prices you mentioned (and my wife urged me over and over again to do so), but I just couldn’t let it go!

    Now, if someone would finally translate those novels…

  3. JELEINEN says:

    I’ve always been tempted to have my personal Tenchi canon just be Ryo-Ohki 1, Night Before the Carnival and In Love. It’s amazing how quickly the animation went down hill and the characters get flanderized even by the second OVA series. The only part of the TV series I liked was the reality hopping story arc it had fairly early on.

    I enjoyed Dual, but I saw it more as an Eva parody than anything else, and I only recently became aware that it had an in setting connection to the Tenchi universe.

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