Third Time's No Charm: The Problem Of Tenchi Muyo OVA 3
(SPOILERS AHEAD, but don't worry, the third OVA is shit, so if its spoiled, it won't matter.)
Anime, you might say, is a passion of mine, and growing up, an OVA by the name of Tenchi Muyo! (or, "No Need For Tenchi!") aired on the little-known Turner cable television channel, Cartoon Network. It was on the now deceased Toonami block, airing in the afternoon/early evening hours. It had been advertized for a while. "Coming soon: Tenchi Muyo! Love stinks." All right, I thought. Looks good. Science fiction, comedy, maybe some romance. I'd seen a little of the first movie, dubbed, on the Sci-Fi Channel's Saturday morning anime block. I was wondering what it was really all about.
So, it premiered. It was pretty enthralling. Here you had a normal teenage boy (as normal as a boy who trains in sword fighting constantly can be) who accidently awakens a "demon" hidden away near his family shrine, and what results is a collection of women from space and the dangers of a hidden power the boy had no clue he had inherited from an extraordinary bloodline. So, besides the rigors of wacky harem comedy hijinks, you had some decent science fiction as well, with some laser sword action. It wasn't Asimov-quality, but it was entertaining enough and blended well with the other elements. The only problem was, Tenchi Muyo, the original OVA, was unfinished. That is, the story was.
Technically, there were two OVAs. And then there were spin-offs. Reworkings. Movies. Manga. Novels. Oh, the novels. What problems that they created. But nothing from the main OVA continuity after episode 13 (in the big picture). Most of the major works were based on the TV series, which was pretty good. The first and the third movies were based on this continuity. The second was based off of novels by Naoko Hasegawa, a script writer of the original OVA. It was seperate from creator Masaki Kajishima's main canon, which had been continued by his own novels. For a while after the Tenchi in Tokyo television series (itself in yet another continuity), no new Tenchi productions were created. Then, in 2002, the spin-off Tenchi Muyo! GXP, about Tenchi's friend Seina, was made. Three years later came the third portion of the original OVA.
This is where things get confusing. Yes, just now. The GXP program took part in Kajishima's main OVA canon and introduced several new characters into the continuity. However, many fans of the OVA weren't going to bother with another spin-off. It might as well not have existed. Those new characters, though, several from the Kajishima novels, were reintroduced into the canon in the third Tenchi OVA, which came out in 2005. The result was that the highly anticipated sequel to the first two Tenchi OVAs became a complete and utter clusterfuck.
Tenchi faithful had already been introduced to popular character Kiyone Makibi, Mihoshi's GXPD partner, in the Tenchi television series, Tenchi Universe. They'd also been introduced to Tenchi Masaki's deceased mother Achika in a movie taking place in the same continuity, Tenchi In Love from 1996. Now, seperate as these were from Kajishima's canon, they indirectly confused what would follow in the third OVA. Kajishima establishes the character of Noike as Tenchi's arranged fiance and Mihoshi's former partner. Tenchi's mother's name is Kiyone, and she died at the age of 200+, instead of early on in life as Achika did in the TV series. But why bother with these changes? Even if Kajishima had intended this previously, it only further confused things and irked the audience. Why bother making Tenchi's mother so old and die of old age? There were already so many characters who were older than they seemed. Hell, according to some thing I read about Tenchi's father, Nobuyuki, even he's a couple hundred years old. It's so unnecessary.
A character named Tennyo Masaki, an eighty year old woman who looks like a twenty year old, and is Tenchi's older sister, is introduced. The biggest surprise is that she looks identical to Tenchi's mother. Actually, the biggest surprise is that she's a completely pointless character who adds nothing to the already stuffed ballet box of Tenchi's live-in family. Not to mention she appears, disappears, and reappears at the director's whim, while not assisting in the advancement of the plot, characters, or even comedy. Another character, Rae, Nobuyuki's new fiance is introduced, as well. One of the few new characters who seem to make sense as an addition, it's nevertheless strange that the viewer is to believe that she'd been an integral part of the family's life for years, especially when she never appeared before this point. Does Tenchi's family really need to be any more complex than it already is? Of course not. I don't need Kajishima's character splooge all over my fine Tenchi OVA canon, thank you.
What's more, we get introduced to Yosho/Lord Katsuhito's wife, Airi, who was arranged as his bride by matchmaker Seto, Katsuhito's step-grandmother, who also appears. Wait a minute. Didn't Yosho use Ryoko's attack on Jurai as an excuse to flee from the responsibilities of court life and an arranged marriage to his sister Ayeka? And didn't he stay on Earth because he had found a woman, as according to the last episode in the second OVA? And didn't he refuse to come back to Jurai because of this? Then why should he accept an arranged marriage to a woman who wasn't from Earth when he had already married a woman from Earth and denied his responsibilites towards the court? This directly contradicts the already established characterization of Yosho. Not to mention that neither Airi nor Seto add anything, either. Airi sets off with Tennyo to Hawaii and doesn't return until the special that takes place after the final episode of the third OVA. Seto appears during the episodes with Mihoshi's brother and does nothing whatsoever, except make small talk with Washu, which we don't even hear. More character spooge. But since these characters were in Kajishima's novels, we're expected to just accept their complete lack of rationale or competent execution in the plot.
At this point you might ask, "Where's Funaho, Misaki, and Azusa?" You know, Yosho's mother, Ayeka and Sasami's mother, and Ayeka and Sasami's father? The two queens and the king of Jurai. Azusa swore that things weren't over between him and Tenchi, but he never returned to Earth. Funaho would have been more interesting to see than Seto. Misaki appears, in a way, but it's a way that doesn't make any sense and isn't explained. Again, you had to have read Kajishima's novels to understand it at all, but apparently she's some sort of power negator to the three goddesses. Oh yeah, we see Tokimi again, and I'll get to that eventually. But no Azusa, no Funaho, no Misaki in any real sense.
Let's move onto the premise of the third chapter of this saga. If you recall, the goddess Tokimi sent an observer to keep an eye on Tenchi, but not to engage him in combat. This observer was Z, a being who can control five Lighthawk Wings, as opposed to Tenchi's three. But Z decides to mix things up by sending an e-mail to Mihoshi's brother Misao that leads him to believe that Mihoshi is some sex slave that Tenchi is keeping. Misao decides to take his spaceship and go wreck Earth, and specifically, Tenchi, while reclaiming his sister. Z violates his instructions to... wait, send an e-mail? Set up a fight between Tenchi and Misao? Misao sends his lackies, led by Mashisu, a woman with a huge crush on Misao, to round up Tenchi's friends to prevent their intrusion on his scheme. What follows is the worst time-wasting section of the entire OVA. Bad enough that several of the previous episodes were pointless blabbing and preparing for meals, but two episodes that revolve around Misao's lame revenge mission and his hechwoman's secret crush is ridiculous. Especially considering that this is Z's big plan. What a huge letdown. But his next plan is a lot more extreme: blowing up a huge chunk of Earth.
Oh, yeah. The big climax of the series. This is priceless. After Z's big plot to get Tenchi in trouble with Mihoshi's adoring brother, he decides to follow it up with blowing up a huge chunk of the planet and confront Tenchi directly, in space. How did he know Tenchi would survive? And why was Tsunami unable to react in time the way she was when Kagato attacked? How did Tenchi get to Saturn so quickly? Nevermind these questions, because it's time for the big.... wait, a huge chunk of the planet is gone! Except that, for some reason, Tenchi's gang seems to be perfectly safe. What? All right, now it's time for the final battle! It's all been leading up to this!
Except there is no real battle. Tokimi comes out to stop Z, since he's disobeying her orders, but for some unexplained reason, he summons Misaki, Ayeka's mother, who for another unexplained reason, is the "counter-actor" who can negate Tokimi's powers. Tsunami appears, too. Then Tenchi is cut by one of Z's Lighthawk Wings and there's some weird imagery. Tenchi finds himself in the past, comforting some little girl who cries out something about being Kagato. Uh, all right. Then he's back to where he was for some reason, and calms Misaki. Washu, by the way, has suddenly, without any lead-in, regained her memory of being one of the goddesses, and now she's talking with the other two. Tokimi decides to revert Z back to a baby and send him back into the past to relive his life. Then time restarts.
I'm sorry, did I wander into Ideon: Be Invoked? Or is this a little of the climax of the second season of The Big O, with a little of the final episodes of Evangelion thrown in? Wasn't I just watching Tenchi Muyo, the sci-fi harem comedy? This makes absolutely no sense. And when they finally try explaining it all in the OVA 3 +1 special, it comes off as forced and lame. Not to mention they use a good portion of that special episode talking about Misao. Did Kajishima ever hear of a little thing called pacing? You can't have your characters prepare for dinner for several episodes and then cram every little plot detail you can into two.
It turns out, a long time ago, the three goddesses created the universe, but became aware that they had somehow created a power that was even greater than they were. In their attempts to recreate that power, they created many powers and cultures, such as Jurai and the Lighthawk Wings. Tenchi was an interesting subject to Tokimi and Dr. Clay because he was somebody who could create Lighthawk Wings on his own. Tokimi had a similar experiment, Z, but he was far too unstable. Of course, none of this explains why Tenchi can create Lighthawk Wings, what those things really are, or make up for the lack of decent battle scene between those two characters. Instead, this and other mysteries unravel while a chibified version of Tokimi makes silly faces at the Masaki residence. Oh yeah, that's right, time went by again, but this time Noike sent the e-mail and it was Misao's spaceship that caused the trouble, not Z. I know. I don't get it, either. It's annoying.
With that abomination over, it was time to completely trash Tenchi's mother.
It turns out that, unlike Achika Masaki from the Hiroshi Negishi canon (Tenchi Universe), Tenchi's mother Kiyone (not Kiyone Makibi, mind you, because the OVA has Miss Perfect, Noike) died not from losing her power, but from old age. She was in her 200s! Yet, somehow, Nobuyuki, also in his 200s, is fine. Not only that, but in her last years, she was a batty old prankster who used to draw on Tenchi's face and do insane things. In addition, she arranged several eleborate stories about her possible deaths just to pull one over on her own son from beyond the grave. Turns out, Tenchi's mother was sort of a douchebag. Also, most of Tenchi's warm memories of his mother were actually either of his sister Tennyo, who looks identical to his mother, or Rae, who helped take care of him as a child. Understandably, Tenchi is as enraged as I am as a fan. Unlike him, I didn't get over it.
Then, it's revealed that the little girl Tenchi saw was Kagato's female half. It turns out that he was born a hemaphrodite and he took his female half and got rid of it. Apparently Kagato is able to take a vagina and turn it into an entire little girl. Neat trick. Then, Dr. Clay found it somehow and put his little symbol on it, because I guess he likes little girls, and Z decided to use it by hiding it in Noike and using it to spy on Tenchi. Kagato-loli is seperated from Noike and all's fine with the world again.
I am not making any of this up.
A keen reader may find a lack of references to Ryoko or Ayeka in this whole essay. Well, that's because they're not even really in this. They don't do anything. You see, Noike is the new star. Noike is perfect in every way. Noike can cook, clean, and is amazingly intelligent and judicious. She knows how to do the right things and say the right things. All the time. Without fail. She completely and utterly surpasses Ryoko and Ayeka in every way and is engaged to Tenchi. And they say Mary Sue characters can't appear in canon. She is a Canon Sue. She is the fanfiction-iest character I have ever seen since Sakuya from Tenchi in Tokyo. So, upon watching, don't expect to see Ryoko or Ayeka do anything of note. Or Sasami, aside from that brief battle (yeah, that doesn't suit Sasami at all) scene in one episode. Mihoshi doesn't even play a big role in the episodes featuring her own brother. Tell why me they couldn't have just put Kiyone Makibi in this instead of Noike and made it better. Or at least not as frustrating.
So, what could possibly come after this? I mean, we didn't see Azusa. We didn't gain any real insight on Tenchi's power or why he in particular is capable of it. We didn't get any satisfying combat. Tenchi still hasn't chosen any of the women to be his. There are several new characters who confuse the established plot points. And it just sort of ends without any real punctuation. No big bang, but an exhausted whimper, a surrender. Fans waited a decade for an impressively unimpressive facade of a Tenchi Muyo OVA.
By the way, I've been told that the Japanese fans of the Tenchi franchise would have already been accostumed to the new characters, as they had already read the novels by Kajishima. So, perhaps my view is limited, given I'm an American. Still, I can't help find it insane that it would be neccessary to consult with books to enjoy a cartoon. Not to mention that no matter what his intent was, Kajishima's execution was abominable.
Where does a Tenchi Muyo fan go from here? I could say that perhaps nostalgia accounted for some of what I appreciated about the OVAs to begin with, but even with a serious, critical eye of the original OVAs, it was exponentially superior to the soulless garbage that was the third OVA. The hues were subdued. The art was less exaggerated and cutsie. The art more rich. The scenery more alive. The music more atmospheric. The comedy more funny. The action more exciting. The story more engaging. It may not measure up to some of the anime that have come into my life since. It's not as good as Fullmetal Alchemist, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, or even Death Note. It was, and continues to be satisfying. Or at least, up until the end of the second OVA. Then it loses its spirit. It becomes just another anime. It transforms something as inventive and intricate as Tenchi Muyo into something it was never before- generic. Because of that, I mourn for the franchise.