The Universe of Tenchi Muyo
With three core series (and a fourth one coming!), two spin-off series, a special, and three movies, Tenchi Muyo is one of the most successful and enduring anime franchises of the past decade. The regular airing of the core series on Cartoon Network’s Toonami and Midnight Run features in the late ‘90s and early 2000s ensured the franchise’s popularity on this side of the Pacific as well. The franchise is also significant in anime history because the founding OVA series introduced the “harem” story to anime, a format which has since been used extensively in anime romantic comedies.
The name “Tenchi Muyo” translates loosely as “No Need for Tenchi,” which should explain the naming conventions used for the English adaptation of the manga series and the episode titles in some series.
What’s it all about?
All core Tenchi series (each of which presents an alternate version of the Tenchi story rather than a single contiguous story) and the movies are about seemingly ordinary teenager Tenchi Masaki, who lives with his architect father and Shinto priest grandfather and practices kendo. Through various odd circumstances (which vary from series to series) Tenchi becomes surrounded by a bevy of young beauties, most of whom are aliens and many of whom take a distinct romantic interest in the young hero. At some point in each series it also becomes clear that Tenchi is more than just ordinary; he is actually, unbeknownst to himself at first, a Prince of an interstellar power called the Jurai Empire and thus only half-human himself, which means that he has access to the potent power that is the Jurai royal family’s birthright. He is living in obscurity on Earth because his grandfather, a Jurai Prince in his own day, went into self-imposed exile there many years before and married a local girl, by whom he had a daughter who became Tenchi’s mother.
All of the Tenchi material is a blending of comedy, action, drama, and romance to varying degrees, with the emphasis most heavily on comedy in the series and special and on drama in the movies. Though originally intended partly as a parody of other anime series, it has itself become an institution over the years that has been heavily copied and parodied by other series.
On the Jurai
The Jurai come from a planet of the same name, which is the heart and capital of the interstellar Jurai Empire. Among spacefaring powers the Jurai are peculiar in that they channel power through sentient trees. Bonding with such a tree grants Jurai rulers incredibly long life spans. Trees are also at the heart of their spaceships.
On the Galaxy Police
The Galaxy Police is an interstellar police force charged with protecting and policing the spaceways. They work in conjunction with the Jurai Empire on most matters. This organization pops up to one degree or another in most of the series, movies, and special and is the focus of one of the spin-off series.
The Main Characters
Tenchi is the male lead of the story. He is a Jurai Prince, which means that he can use the sword of the same name (depicted here) to generate a powerful energy blade. Though a kind and decent young man, he is overwhelmed by all the female attention he receives. His mother died when he was very young, which becomes an important plot point at some points in the series and in the first movie.
Ayeka/Aeka (spelling varies)
Ayeka, who is generally considered to be in her late teens in human terms, is a prim and proper Princess of the Jurai Royal Family who is destined to wed the Prince who will become the next Emperor. Because of this and Tenchi’s inherent kindness, she quickly becomes enamored with Tenchi and duels fiercely with Ryoko (around whom she always loses her cool) for his attention. As a member of the Jurai royal bloodline she has considerable power that is mostly defensive in nature.
Ryoko is a space pirate and the master of Ryo-Ohki. She is a wild, hard-drinking, aggressive, and chaotic soul with a wide array of powers whose scope varies from series to series. These always include flight, short-range teleportation, passing through solid objects, and firing energy blasts. Although the circumstances vary from series to series, she becomes enamored with Tenchi and vies fiercely with Ayeka for his attention. In some Tenchi material her rivalry with Ayeka predates Tenchi.
The younger sister of Ayeka, Sasami is also a Jurai Princess, although she does not demonstrate any meaningful powers during any of the series. She is a kind and industrious girl who delights in cooking and playing with Ryo-Ohki, who effectively becomes her pet. In some series she has a bit of a girlish crush on Tenchi, who treats her like a little sister.
Mihoshi is an officer in the Galaxy Police, primarily (one gets the sense) because her father is a VIP. She is the prototypical ditzy blonde and also the franchise’s resident klutz and Character Who’s Always Hungry, although she has moments of competent brilliance. In some Tenchi material she is partnered with Kiyone, and in that material she seems lost without her partner. In some Tenchi material she also has a bit of a crush on Tenchi.
Kiyone does not appear in all Tenchi material, but when she does she is the ambitious, sensible, and long-suffering partner of Mihoshi in the Galaxy Police. She first appears in the Mihoshi Special.
Her exact nature varies from series to series, but Washu is always the diminutive mad scientist; she is the self-proclaimed “greatest scientific genius in the galaxy!” Her interest in Tenchi varies between the romantic and seeing him as a subject for scientific examination due to his powers. Although she has childlike qualities and appearance, she is distinctly older than any of the other characters and, in some Tenchi material, has a background connection to Ryoko.
This irrepressibly cute creature is a cabbit, a cross between a cat and rabbit. She speaks only in catlike meows in most Tenchi material and has catlike curiosity and responses to danger, but also hops around like a rabbit and is obsessed with carrots. She can transform into a powerful spaceship that is typically used by Ryoko, although Ryo-Ohki is more commonly in the company of Sasami and a mascot of the whole group.
Known to those on Earth as the Shinto priest Katsumoto Masaki, the man who is Tenchi’s grandfather is actually the self-exiled Jurai Prince Yosho, who is the son of the Emperor and his human wife. Thus it’s not surprising that he fell in love with a human woman and had a daughter by her, who becomes Tenchi’s mother. He is Tenchi’s wise trainer and adviser and is very capable in a fight when he needs to be, although he also has a mischievous side.
Noboyuke is Tenchi’s father. He is an architect by trade, always enamored of the latest technology, and more than a bit of a pervert; he spends a good amount of time in all three series trying to catch glimpses of the young ladies disrobed. When he is shown as a young man, it is clear where Tenchi’s looks come from.
Guardians (Azake and Kamidake)
These Guardians are servants of Ayeka, who obey her without question and protect her. In some Tenchi material they also contain the essences of two Knights of Jurai of the same name. Ayeka can generate smaller versions of them with her Jurai power to use for attack and defense. They appear little or not at all in some Tenchi material.
Achika: Tenchi’s mother, who died while Tenchi was still a toddler. She only appears as a teenager in the first movie (where she is a main character) but is referenced elsewhere.
Amagasaki: This teenager with exaggerated facial features is the only friend of Tenchi other than the girls who appears in any of the series. He appears briefly in the original OVA and more prominently in the second TV series and one of the spin-offs.
Azusa: The Jurain king and the father of Ayeka, Sasami, and Yosho.
Dr. Clay: An immensely egotistical rival of Washu who is one of the main villains of the original OVA series.
Funaho: Yosho’s human mother and the First Queen of the Jurai. It is also the name of Yosho’s bonded tree on Earth.
Haruna: Yosho’s first love, whose spirit draws Tenchi into a parallel universe and pretends to be his love interest in the third movie.
Kagato: The leading villain in two of the core series. His exact nature and powers vary widely between the series.
Kain: The main villain of the first movie.
Mayuki: A cute girl who claims to be Tenchi’s future daughter in the second movie.
Misaki: The Second Queen of the Jurai and mother of Ayeka and Sasami.
Nagi: A bounty hunter at odds with Ryoko in the core series. She has a cabbit named Ken-Ohki who gets very friendly with Ryo-Ohki.
Sakuya: A girl Tenchi meets at school in Tokyo in the second TV series who becomes very close to Tenchi. She only appears in this series but is a major player in it.
Tsunami: A powerful sentient tree who is also one of the main goddesses of the Tenchi Universe. In some Tenchi material she is bonded to Sasami.
Yuki: A Jurain mutant girl who is the chief villain in the second TV series.
There are many outdated Tenchi-related sites out there. The following two are reasonably up-to-date:
http://www.unitedanime.com/neelick/ - Contains music, character bios, voice actor reports, and extensive details on various Tenchi storylines that in places go well beyond the details in any available anime. (The site’s creator mines the Tenchi novels and manga heavily, I believe.)
http://www.tenchi.250x.com/ - Lots of Tenchi-related material. Many pictures on this page are courtesy of this site.
Tenchi Muyo GXP (spin-off TV series, not reviewed) Mihoshi Special (special one-shot)
Pretty Sammy/Magical Project S (spin-off series, not reviewed)