No one TENCHI MUYO series is exactly the same, but there are familiar threads that run throughout each retelling. There's always a space pirate and a Jurian princess who constantly fight, bicker and argue with one another. Just as there is always a genius scientist, so too are there a pair of dedicated yet mismatched Space Police officers and young girl who wants nothing more than to play happy homemaker. TENCHI IN TOKYO is the third TENCHI MUYO revision/reimaging that slams all of these different personalities together.
The show kicks off with Tenchi Masaki announcing his intention to move to Tokyo, where he will attend high school and continue his training to be the next caretaker of the Masaki family shrine. The girls are upset by his absence until Washu creates an interdimensional portal that allows them to travel to Tenchi's apartment. Tenchi's life is further complicated by the daily disruptions from a woman named Yugi who spies on our heroes and sends minions and demons to cause all sorts of havoc in order to break Tenchi's bonds of friendship. Far worse than any powerful being is Sayuka, a classmate who develops a special interest in Tenchi, sending Ayeka and Ryoko into a jealous rage. At first, Sayuka appears to be nothing more than a normal high school student, but as the series develops, there are hints of something hidden behind her warm, caring persona.
The bulk of the series depicts the girls trying to visit Tenchi as much as possible. This is cute at first, but after a few episodes of Ayeka's constant whining, the schtick gets old fast. Ayeka's characterization in TENCHI IN TOKYO is different from the last two shows. In the past, she's been shown to be a confident woman, if slightly headstrong and quick to anger. However, being apart from Tenchi causes her to develop severe attachment issues leading her to do things somewhat out of character (for example, steal money from Sasami and Tenchi's father to fund a trip to Tokyo). This has the added effect of making Ryoko appear to be the more rational of the pair. Ayeka just isn't very likeable. When events come to a climax after a visit from the girls leads to a disastrous end to a school cultural festival, Tenchi's lashing out towards Ayeka was a wonderful sight to behold. Apart from Ayeka and Ryoko, most of the characters more or less retain their previous personalities. Mihoshi is still a ditz, Kiyone is hungry for a promotion, Sasami is the dutiful family cook, and Washu continues to serve as a deus ex machina.
The one thing the show has going for it is its attempt to shake up the narrative of how the girls arrived on Earth. Rather than use up the first third of the show to tell how Ryoko, Ayeka, Sasami, Mihoshi, Kiyone, and Washu reach Tenchi's doorstep, the series begins one year after their planetfall. A nice change of pace that is ultimately ruined by its Cliff Notes-style approach. "The Day We Met" and "Tenchi Anniversary" flashback/origin two parter episode is fairly weak and is in service to introduce the series' MacGuffin -- a set of crystals signifying Tenchi's bond with his friends.
Despite my overall negative experience, the show does have its moments. Throwing a new female love interest into Tenchi's life puts his relationship with the other women into much needed emotional disarray. There's one scene in particular that presents the toll of Tenchi's spurning of Sayuka. Over the course of the franchise, it's become easy to treat the love-inspired infighting between Ryoko and Ayeka as well as Tenchi's aloofness to their emotions as nothing more than comic effect. This makes the scene in which Sayuka weeps openly in front of Tenchi after being seemingly rejected for Ryoko that much more of a gut punch. Seeing Sayuka burst into tears was, in a way, refreshing.
The best compliment I can give TENCHI IN TOKYO is that it's serviceable. It accomplishes what previous shows have done in the past by supplementing action adventure with harem comedy. Its biggest problem is that the filler episodes aren't very interesting and some characters are more annoying than they used to be. Sayuka does throw a monkey wrench into the group dynamic as a new love interest, making for a nice change of pace. All in all, a decent offering, but not as good as previous franchise offerings.
TENCHI MUYO!: TENCHI IN TOKYO
directed by Yoshihiro Takamoto
650 minutes, Number of Discs: 4
Company Age Rating: 14+