Review for Tenchi Muyo OVA Collector's Edition [Blu-ray + DVD]
Now this is a very special title in my anime history. I first got into anime back in the nineties, with Channel 4’s Late Licence, and the whole Manga Video scene. That was when cyberpunk ruled the waves, when ‘fifteening’ was a thing, and if there wasn’t gratuitous sex, violence, and gore on the videotapes, this young anime fan wasn’t buying. It was a short lived dalliance, and it wasn’t until the DVD age that I was sucked back in, never again to be released from anime’s poisonous charms. But between the heyday of Manga Video and the DVD renaissance, the nature of anime had begun to shift, and shift for the better. It was less about spectacle, and more about quality and narrative. The second time around, I actually had a hard time figuring out what anime was with first few series that I watched. Dragon Ball Z, Transformers Takara, and the Ninja Scroll TV series fell into the ‘so rubbish that I don’t know if I like this anime stuff’ category. Kiddy Grade was cyberpunk fun with a dodgy name, Love Hina was hilarious but perverted, and Vampire Princess Miyu was the closest to what I had previously been used to. And then I had a couple of Tenchi Muyo discs turn up for review, and it was this title that finally settled in my mind just what anime was. This got me used to the animated shortcuts, the storytelling style, basically got me in sync with how the Japanese told stories, and helped me put those other series that I mentioned in context.
Tenchi Muyo is my touchstone anime, the show I always go back to when I might be feeling a little burnt out with the medium, might be feeling cynical at this season’s twentieth identikit moeblob fanservice anime, to remind me of why I love the medium in the first place. So you can bet that I was always eager to have the show on Blu-ray, even more so given that these first two OVA series were animated the old fashioned way, cel and paint, shot on film. You’re going to get genuine HD. It was just a matter of waiting for the Region B release, and I was a day one purchaser of MVM’s Limited Edition, which has the show on Blu-ray, collects the three disc DVD release as well as the bonus Tenchi Encyclopaedia and Mihoshi Special discs. Alas, no Mihoshi Special in HD.
Imagine if you will, being a teenage boy and having beautiful girls throwing themselves at you. The basis of many an adolescent fantasy, I can assure you. But for Tenchi Masaki this is no idle fantasy, especially after he unwittingly unleashes an attractive demon from a family shrine. Ryoko’s pursuit of him is merely the herald for increasingly strange events, as female visitors from space in the form of the Jurai princesses Ayeka and Sasami soon arrive, quickly followed by clumsy Galaxy Police Officer Mihoshi and super science genius Washu. If nothing else, he’s certainly kept on his toes.
The 13 episodes and extras are presented across the Blu-ray discs as follows.
1. Ryoko Resurrected
2. Here Comes Ayeka!
3. Hello Ryo-Ohki!
4. Mihoshi Falls To The Land Of The Stars
5. Kagato Attacks!
6. We Need Tenchi
7. The Night Before Carnival
8. Hello! Baby
9. Sasami and Tsunami.
10. I Love Tenchi
11. The Advent Of Goddess
12. Zero Ryoko
13. Here Comes Jurai
Tenchi Muyo gets a 4:3 pillarboxed 1080p transfer on these discs. Actually it’s a little less than that, as it is ever so slightly windowboxed, with thin black lines top and bottom as well as the pillars. Tenchi Muyo is a traditionally animated show, with paints on cels, shot on film. Going back to those elements for the Blu-ray transfer, with a little restoration thrown in has worked wonders with this show. You have the DVDs in this Limited Edition to compare it with, so the soft, video sourced, NTSC-PAL standards conversion is simply blown away by the wonderful film sourced Blu-ray image. The show gets a clear and sharp transfer, with rich, vibrant colours, and smooth, progressive animation. Detail levels are excellent, which given this show’s sci-fi credentials really do matter here. Mihoshi’s cruiser in the orbit of Saturn gets the majesty and grandeur across in a way that the DVDs never could.
You have the choice between Dolby True HD 5.1 Surround Japanese, and Dolby True HD 2.0 Stereo English, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. You read that right, this time it’s the Japanese audio which gets the native surround treatment, and it’s a decent audio track too, making good use of the surround speakers to throw effects and ambience about the room. The added clarity and depth to the audio is certainly appreciated, as is the music that the show gets, both incidental and theme music. The dub is the same as before, getting to some twenty years in age, and sounding distinctly creaky.
You have two DVD sized Amaray cases in this chipboard artbox You get two Blu-ray discs in one of the Amarays, and you’ll also find a 12 page art booklet slipped inside.
Blu-ray Disc 2 has the extras, which amount to the US trailer (0:51 HD), and the Omake: Here Comes Jurai Part 2 (7:16 HD) story.
There are five DVDs in the other Amaray case, one on a central hinged panel, two overlapping on the front, and two overlapping on the back. These are the three series discs that MVM released here originally, exactly the same in content as before. You get the Tenchi Encyclopaedia on one disc which came free with the DVD movie boxset once upon a time. It’s a quaint curiosity in the era of Wikipedia. Of more interest is the fifth and final disc, The Mihoshi Special (27:20 SD), a bonus episode on one disc that came free with the series DVD boxset from MVM. Alas, the transfer is the same, but it’s nice to have it for the sake of completion, and the US didn’t get it at all with their Blu-ray release.
The more I watch the original Tenchi OVAs, the more I love them, despite their flaws which I have pointed out on two previous occasions when I reviewed the individual DVDs and the DVD boxset release. After all this time, and so many re-watches, I’ve just come to appreciate the depth of the story more, the quality of the characterisations and the writing. This group of characters, Tenchi, Ryoko, Ayeka, Sasami, Mihoshi, and Washu are just so much fun to be around. The story has a rich and colourful background, and it deftly blends comedy, drama, action, and even a little romance. Certainly this particular harem, one of the earliest in the genre seems more wholesome and realistic than all the others that have assailed us since. What’s surprising is that they never really managed to capture the same magic again, certainly not in the two subsequent OVA series that were made, and not even in the spin-off series, which they keep churning out. It’s the Highlander of the anime world. The original was such a big impact that they just keep trying and failing to cash in on it.
What makes this release so special for me is quite obviously the Blu-ray release. Not for this title the ignominy of an upscale from an SD source, Tenchi Muyo was made at a time when anime was accomplished the old fashioned way, cel and paint, and shot on film. On top of that, this was an OVA release, not a broadcast series, so the episodes were made to a timetable of they’ll be ready when they’re ready. No short cuts or economising with the animation. Any better than this, and you’ll be approaching theatrical quality. So it goes without saying that the first two Tenchi Muyo OVA series look absolutely divine in high definition.
Speaking of theatrical quality, when are MVM going to bring us the Tenchi Muyo feature films on Blu-ray?