In those far-off days when I was a newcomer to the world of anime (I don’t think that my childhood viewing of Samurai Pizza Cats really counts), one of the series that the limited offerings of UK TV brought to me was Tenchi Muyo. Often regarded as the grandfather of all harem series, the tale of a normal teenager living with a group of powerful alien girls may not have been a particularly sophisticated one, but for the most part, it was at least entertaining.
For a long time after I went on expand my anime horizons, Tenchi still held a special place in my heart, particularly the first TV series and, of course, the original OVAs that had spawned the now expansive franchise in the first place. Unfortunately, all was not perfect with these OVAs; the second one seemed to end partway through a storyline about the hyper-dimensional life forms known as the Three Goddesses, leaving viewers in the dark as to what was meant to happen next. Imagine my delight, then, to learn that from 2003-5, a third OVA would slowly be released to finally continue the story that had begun some ten years previously.
Was it inevitable, then, that when I finally came to watch the new OVA, I would be disappointed? Had I set my expectations too high even as my tastes moved on and new series pushed Tenchi off the favourites list? I have no doubt that this played a part in my feelings about the third OVA, but it must be said that it would be equally valid to point the finger at the quality of the OVA itself.
Six episodes of ‘fun’, plus one special
Given the length of time between OVAs, I could forgive the opening instalment for being a recap episode; 45 minutes of recap wouldn’t be my first choice of viewing, but I patiently sat through it because I was certain that bigger and better things awaited me on the other side. From my impatient reading of Tenchi Muyo: Another Universe’s episode summaries, I knew that we could expect new characters and fresh adventures, and I was wholeheartedly looking forward to experiencing them all.
Unfortunately, the influx of new faces was simply far more than a six episode OVA could ever hope to handle; alongside GXP staples such as Seto and Airi, the series added new girl Noike, Mihoshi’s brother Misao, his would-be fiancée Mashishu, Tenchi’s sister Tennyo, Nobuyuki’s girlfriend Rhea and specially appointed antagonist Z (a character so dull that he doesn’t even get a proper name). Yes, Tenchi has a previously unmentioned eighty year old sister (just how old is his apparently human father, then?), Nobuyuki has a previously unmentioned girlfriend of many years, and Mihoshi has a previously unmentioned brother- because really, who bothers to keep themselves apprised of their closest family members? Worse yet, there isn’t time to give these characters anything more than superficial personalities- even the potentially Noike has all the mysteries behind her origin explained away in the special episode’s dull exposition scenes.
The story itself fares little better- what starts off as a potentially interesting arc about the Three Goddesses soon transforms into something quite different with the arrival of Misao. Having been convinced that Mihoshi is a captive member of Tenchi’s harem, Misao brings his spaceship to Earth with the intention of rescuing her, thus beginning a tiresome and nonsensical storyline that sees Earth partially destroyed, and later reset. This is precious time that could have been spent exploring the mysteries of the Goddesses, but instead such information is saved for the exposition stretches, where any sense of interest is erased by paragraph upon paragraph of “oh, and by the way, here’s a trite explanation that totally erase whatever value the story originally had”.
It is said that ‘you can’t go home again’, and in a similar fashion, Tenchi OVA3 was too late an addition to a franchise that had already had its time in the spotlight. Throwing more characters at the franchise could not disguise the fact that there really wasn’t much of a story to tell- it would have been better to let the OVA saga remain unfinished than to tack on something as unsatisfying as this.