Tenchi Muyo: Ryo-Ohki Vol. 1 - Here Comes the Bride!
Tenchi Muyo has long been a staple of American anime fandom, even before the movies appeared on the Sci-Fi Channel and the series earned legions of fans on Cartoon Network. It is by no means the first harem comedy, nor is it necessarily the best, but it is one of the longest running, and it will always hold a special place in the hearts of many anime enthusiasts.
By some bizarre streak of fate, Tenchi Muyo is one of the most popular series that I have barely watched. Just as I've never seen Serial Experiments Lain, Trigun, Gundam Wing, or Visions of Escaflowne, it's one series that I keep putting off. Perhaps it's because the Tenchi Muyo universe is so darn big. I have seen Magical Project S, Tenchi Muyo: GXP, and even one of the movies, but I've never seen Tenchi in Tokyo or the original series.
However, this actually puts me in a position to avoid some of the controversy surrounding this particular release. Most American fans were introduced to Tenchi Muyo on domestic television, thus they're intimately familiar with the English dub cast. The casting of this series raised a bit of a stink when the actress who originally played Ryoko, the nefarious space pirate who is one of the first women vying for Tenchi's love, was replaced by a new voice actress.
Since I don't listen to the English-language version of most shows, this has no effect on me whatsoever. However, if that is an issue with you, decide here and now whether or not a new Tenchi Muyo anime is worth watching without the original Ryoko.
If, like me, you're a Tenchi Muyo newbie, then I can give you the gist of the convoluted storyline. Tenchi thought that he was a typical Earthling until he disturbed the slumber of an ancient demon in a nearby cave. As it turns out, the demon was Ryoko. While she's scary at times, and incredibly powerful as well, she's not a demon, but a dangerous alien sealed away by Tenchi's grandfather. More than that, she was created by the greatest scientist in the universe, Professor Washu.
As Tenchi learned more and more about the truth of life outside of Earth, he ran into many other women who fell in love with him. By now, he lives with a number of attractive women, including Ryoko, Washu, and the royal sisters Ayeka and Sasami.
The two princesses aren't the only siblings under his roof. Washu created another daughter aside from Ryoko -- the cute Ryo Ohki. Ryo Ohki is an interesting character; much like Mokona in Magic Knight Rayearth, there's more to the little cabbit than meets the eye.
She spends most of her time in cabbit form (half cat, half rabbit, all adorable), but she can also shapeshift into the humanoid form of a furry little girl with spiked hair and unusually large eyes. She also serves as the core unit for Ryoko's pirate ship. In many ways, she IS Ryoko's ship. She's just a ship that enjoys carrots and catnaps.
There's never really enough going on in a given Tenchi Muyo plot, so this new series tosses another variable into the stew: Noike, a woman who is announced as Tenchi's fiancée. This naturally does not sit well with Ryoko and Ayeka, but Noike appears to be the perfect woman. Motherly, intelligent, hard-working, easygoing, and as with every other woman in the Tenchi Muyo universe, stunningly beautiful, she has little trouble competing against the two other women. Yet there's more to the story than it seems, and it wouldn't be Tenchi Muyo if there wasn't.
The animation for the series has come a long way since its inception, which shows when flashbacks from the original episodes are used to summarize the plot so far. Colors are brighter, animation is smoother, and images are generally sharper than ever before. The series isn't quite as pretty as GXP, but the character designs remain as one of the most appealing aspects of the show. This series has a look of all its own, which is important, because fanservice is an integral part of the Tenchi Muyo continuum.
As far as the timeline is concerned, this show actually appears to take place before the events in GXP, which is surprising since GXP was released over here first.
The show's music is also very well done, and the sound effects are the same sound effects people are used to hearing throughout other Tenchi Muyo shows. Nostalgia is strong in Ryo Ohki, even for series newbies like myself.
Extras are practically nonexistent in this release. There are character profiles, but those really should be standard inclusions on a disc, not bonus material. If this follows the pattern established by GXP, the same profiles are going to be the extra material on every disc from now own. At least the MSRP is lower than the standard $29.95 per DVD.
People who are not familiar with Tenchi Muyo might have trouble getting into this series, but then most of us know enough of the general plot even though we've never seen the main storyline. Fans of the series (with the exception of those enraged over the loss of the original English voice actress for Ryoko) should love this as much as any other Tenchi Muyo release, although the story has only begun to get moving. It's hard to predict where a series is going after only three episodes, and it's doubly tough to figure out where shows set in the Tenchi Muyo universe are headed.
Personally, I'd suggest tracking down the old series and watching them in order to get the most out of this particular plot thread. I'll eventually follow my own advice, when I finally have the time to go through my collection of older DVDs. I really need to watch Trigun while I'm at it, as well...