Tenchi Muyo GXP: The Complete Series
Do not buy this boxset! That's not the ideal way to begin a review, but there it is. I've already made the mistake so that you do not have to. Seriously, you will thank me that you've avoided the mess that I stepped in, just in my haste to acquire a bargain. You see in 2007, Funimation decided to go green, to be ecologically friendly, to save the planet. They did this by creating the Viridian range, boxset re-releases of complete series, with packaging that would contain no plastic whatsoever, excluding the cellophane wrapping and the discs themselves. The resulting nightmare meant that 12 months later, the Viridian packaging was quietly ditched, in favour of something a little more disc friendly. Unfortunately, the Tenchi Muyo GXP Viridian set comes from that 12-month period.
I wouldn't be having this dialogue had not the UK and US anime industries not got their contract wires crossed, as so regularly appears to happen. Following their release of the Tenchi Muyo Ryo-Ohki OVA tin, Revelation had a Tenchi Muyo GXP boxset scheduled for August of 2007, and there I was, rubbing my hands like a miser in eager anticipation of increasing my anime wealth, when at the last minute, the rug was pulled, and the boxset vanished from the schedules, never to reappear. It's a shame really, as we in the UK have only just scratched the surface of Tenchi Muyo, having experienced the three OVA series. the Mihoshi Special OVA and the three feature films. We've missed out on Tenchi Universe, an alternate full-length retelling of the first two OVA series, Tenchi in Tokyo, another alternate universe series unrelated to the first one, the Pretty Sammy OVA spin off, and the Magical Girl S full length series. Tenchi Muyo GXP is the only full-length series that is set in the same reality as the original OVAs, and as such really should have been released in the UK to complement them. It's set a year after the most recent OVA series, even though it was made a year earlier in 2002. That also makes it the most recent of the Tenchi Muyo spin-off series, not counting the forthcoming Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari spin-off, scheduled for Japanese release in 2009.
Tenchi Muyo is perhaps the apex of the harem genre. You have your hapless teen Tenchi Masaki, through no fault of his own come to live under the same roof as a bevy of beauties, Ryoko, Ayeka, Sasami, Washu and Mihoshi, all of who fall in love with him, and comedy and relationship hijinks ensue. Tenchi Muyo elevated the genre by giving the story a sci-fi fantasy heart. The girls surrounding Tenchi were all aliens, Tenchi himself was a descendant of an alien who found shelter and love on Earth, and alongside the peril of several rambunctious girls lusting after him, there was a galactic threat every so often to keep him on his toes.
Tenchi Muyo GXP: Galaxy Police Transporter doesn't feature these characters or that story at all. Which is fine by me for two very important reasons. First of all, Shinichi Watanabe, director of the anarchic Excel Saga, directs it and I'm eager to find out what happens to the Tenchi universe when seen through his surreal eyes. The second thing is that Tenchi Muyo was a very earthbound series, with Tenchi and his harem living in domestic bliss near the Masaki shrine. Whenever we got glimpses of the larger universe, the world of the Jurai Royal family, the Galaxy Police, the Space Pirates, that's all they were, hints of a large and complex storytelling universe that was never really exploited fully in the confines of a short OVA series. Tenchi Muyo GXP introduces a new character, a new harem of beauties, and sets the story in that wider galactic context. We now get to see the back-story of the universe, which for me is even more tantalising than the identity of the series director. If a few familiar faces do make the occasional cameo, all the better.
Seina Yamada is perhaps the unluckiest boy in Japan. He's is a jinx to the world around him, and no matter where he goes, he, and the people around him are destined for mishap. It's why he decides to take a shortcut cycling to his friend Kiriko's place past his upperclassman Tenchi Masaki's house. It's why he gets a flat tyre on the way, and has to stop and repair it. It's why a UFO practically crashes into him, and he winds up being engulfed by a lake. It's not why he gets fished out by a busty blonde named Amane, and why he wakes up with her lipstick smeared across his face, although it may be why she gives him a recruitment pitch for the Galaxy Police. Later, seeing the brochure, his family mistake it for a competition entry, and enter his name. That bad luck leads him to wake up on a Galaxy Police transport on the way to the academy, and it's what gets that ship chased halfway around the galaxy by an increasing number of pirates. But that bad luck is just what the Galaxy Police is looking for. With the sort of misfortune that draws pirates to him like moths to a flame, hunting for criminals will be a damn sight easier. And so it is that Seina is put on the fast track through the Academy, getting the personal attentions of instructors Amane Kaunaq, his neighbour Kiriko Masaki (who was secretly a member of the Galaxy Police all along), and exotic alien scientist Elma. Naturally all the women fall for him, and wind up competing for his attention. He's quickly assigned to a decoy ship and starts taking on missions, and he also encounters the beautiful space pirate Ryoko Balouta, the high priestess Neige, the ever-present janitor Mitoto (Mihoshi's mum), and he's hindered in his life by the lecher-for-a-droid, NB.
The entire 26-episode series of Tenchi Muyo GXP is presented across eight discs wrapped in sandpaper by Funimation.
Disc 1: Out Of This World
1. Seize The Day
3. The Devil Princess Of Jurai
4. True Love, Truly Painful
5. Seeing Is Believing
Disc 2: Academy Life
6. First Tests
7. Moving In
8. Meet The Parents
Disc 3: Captain Seina Yamada
9. A Stormy Voyage
11. First Paychecks
Disc 4: New Illusions
12. The Vengeful and the Wounded
13. Old Reveals and New Deals
14. Neja Who?
Disc 5: The Living Ship
15. Runaway Fuku
17. Getting Reacquainted
Disc 6: Seiryo Strikes Back
18. The Price Of Fortune
19. Seiryo Attacks
20. Beware The Unko!
Disc 7: The Great Daluma
Disc 8: Past, Present, and Future
26. Final Engagement
You get a 4:3 regular transfer of the NTSC variety of course, and it all seems to work well enough. You get your usual swings and roundabouts scenario of an absence of NTSC-PAL conversion artefacts, but you do get the lower resolution, and depending on your TV sets or eyeballs, an annoying flicker. I also noticed a slight skew at the top of the image, which I suppose wouldn't be apparent on a set with only 525 lines to it.
As for the show itself, if you've seen the Tenchi OVAs, then you wouldn't be surprised at the character and world designs, although they are that much simpler to account for the pressures of a full length TV schedule. The Galaxy Police is suitably impressive, the Jurai are present in their fascinating tree-ships, and when original cast members do make a cameo, their designs maintain the proper continuity. Seina himself is a sort of Tenchi-lite, similar in appearance to obviously engender the same sympathy, but marked out by a shorter stature and a constant band-aid reminding us of his accident-prone nature. The Tenchi universe is a vast and imaginative playground, and it's good to see the creators explore the aspects we haven't seen before. Seeing the futuristic technology in its natural context makes a change, and contrary to before, where Tenchi's harem were a school of fishes out of water, this time it is Seina who has to find his place in a fantastic world.
You have a choice between DD 5.1 English, alongside DD 2.0 English and Japanese tracks, with optional translated subtitles or dubtitles, should you be hard of hearing and prefer the English track. I chose the Japanese track as my usual preference, and the first thing that I noticed was that it was quiet, astoundingly quiet. I had to have the television up to around half its volume before it was at an acceptable audible level. Other than that the performances were quite acceptable. The various female characters are suitably maternal, sexy, sassy, cute, perky and so on and so forth, as is required by an extended harem of beauties, while Seina as the central male is suitably bland and clueless. There are some good comic moments as well, with director Shinichi Watanabe notable as the perverted robot NB, certainly making more of an impression than his alter ego Nabeshin did in Excel Saga.
The dub itself is nothing special, even if both the 5.1 and Stereo English tracks are recorded at a far more reasonable level. The acting performances are a little bland and unmemorable, especially among the female cast, while Seina sounds awful, with an applied falsetto that surely can only be maintained with repeated kicks to the 'nads of the poor voice actor. The series gets a couple of memorable theme tunes to go with it (although for the English version they get re-recorded and butchered), and the incidental music, while it does get repetitive, doesn't get tiresome.
If you do make the same dumb mistake that I did and buy this set, the first thing that you must do is find eight proper cases to store the discs in, and put the packaging to one side, send it back to Funimation with a sternly worded letter, bin it, or just burn as an affront to sensibility. I wear glasses, and every time I go to the optician, I'm reminded never to clean my glasses with tissue paper, only lint free or optical cloth. That's because optical equipment such as lenses or DVDs are damaged by the abrasive particles on the surface of any paper. By going green, by eliminating all plastics from their packaging, Funimation wind up packing all their discs in paper and thin card.
The card slipcover is thin and flimsy, although it does have some pretty artwork on it, but it loosely fits over the book, and frequently just falls off, and most certainly will be damaged in transit. The discs are held in what looks like a bound book. A thick card, art covered binding holding eight pages, each page having a semi-circle of card cut out, and a pocket in which to slide the discs. The discs are held in place by the taughtness of the card layers, and the edge of the cut out semi-circle. The first time that a disc is placed in the holder at the factory, the pristine surface picks up faint scratches. When you remove it, it will be scratched again, and so on with every play. That packaging is also a fertile ground for dust. I had to clean off particles of paper and card, and God help me, some of the adhesive meant to be holding the binding together. The edge of one disc was gouged, and the playing surface subtly deformed in two spots. It's a miracle that it played. To reiterate, if you wind up with this set, make sure you have eight empty cases, and as you test each disc, return it to a proper, non-abrasive plastic housing instead of the utter design folly of Funimation's so called environmentally friendly Viridian packaging.
Do you know which DVDs come in paper or card? Yes, those that are given away free with newspapers. Now guess how valuable this boxset feels…
You get 1 dual layer and 7 single layer discs in this set, each with static menus (with series music), and multi-angle credit sequences for the episodes depending on which language you select. Each of the discs starts off by autoplaying the obligatory FBI copyright warning and the Funimation logo, before playing a trailer for another Funimation product. From around disc 3 onwards this sequence becomes unskippable, and interminable when the 3 minute long Case Closed trailer shows up. You'll also find further trailers for Funimation product in the Extras menu of each disc.
Title specific extras are limited to character profiles and textless credits on each disc. Hardly worth writing home about.
Funimation tried their worst to spoil my Tenchi party, with their hideous packaging and damaged discs, but they failed. The discs played, despite the scratches and the gunk stuck to the playing surfaces, and the packaging was quickly set aside in favour of something sturdier than a mousefart in a hurricane. While I may have got cramp in my fingers, keeping them crossed as I played through ten hours of anime, I still wound up enjoying Tenchi Muyo GXP. It's fast paced, anarchic comedy, with an edge of the surreal, but set in a wonderfully familiar universe to Tenchi fans. If you liked the Tenchi OVAs, then there's less of a risk with this spin-off than many of the others.
The question I asked was 'what do you get when you cross Excel Saga with Tenchi Muyo?' as this cross-pollination seemed to imply. The answer is an anime with a little bit of both. Tenchi Muyo GXP is most certainly of a piece, but there is an odd dichotomy to it, as if at times you can see when it's trying to be anarchic and madcap, or when it's drawing on something a little more emotional, serious, and with heart. It shouldn't work that way, but it does, and surprisingly well at that.
The Shinichi Watanabe effect is immediately apparent with his main character, Seina Yamada, who has the typical bad luck required for a male harem lead, but amplified to the nth degree. It allows for plenty of sight gags, pratfalls and extreme reactions from those around him. Absurd characters abound in the story, and a typical Nabeshin touch is the droid NB, who after a bit of reprogramming embarks on a life of snatching panties, hunting down porn, and peeping into women's locker rooms. Another touch that may be familiar from Excel Saga is that several of his characters go on to have adventures of their own in the background of the main story.
Of course this wouldn't be a Tenchi Muyo spin-off without the harem, and Seina doesn't even have to work at it to gather his collection of beauties. In fact that may be the show's weak point, as women just seem to fall for Seina without rhyme or reason, it's like an added facet to his curse that just sees women wilt in his presence. There was a reason behind Tenchi's various women falling for him, they liked him to differing degrees and he had to work at his relationships with them. For Seina, it's the equivalent of the Lynx effect, only without the foul smelling deodorant. Generally they follow the same template though. Amane is brash and loud mouthed, very Ryoko, while Kiriko is a little more maternal and supportive like Ayeka. Elma is the Washu-esque scientist of the group, while Ryoko Balouta has a more general attraction, somewhere in between Amane and Kiriko in terms of personality. Later on Neige is introduced, and the childlike priestess is a direct analogue of Sasami. All that's missing is a cabbit like Ryo-Ohki, and it isn't long before Fuku turns up, along with a super ship to go with her. I haven't forgotten Mihoshi, the accident-prone Galaxy Police officer, and Seina has plenty of encounters with her mother Mitoto (who takes a liking to his crew-cut), while grandma Minami runs the Academy.
After Seina gets 'recruited' by the Galaxy Police, the first few episodes offer a grand tour of the new world in which he lives, the sudden galactic scale of the life he has chosen, and the difficulties of training and coming to terms with his new life. It's when Seina's particular talents with his bad luck become clear, that his very presence just attracts pirates like moths to a flame, that it's decided to give him a flamethrower of a spaceship and a crew to help run it, with the aim of reducing the galaxy's pirate activity as quickly as possible. When bad luck of that magnitude is involved, you can expect a fertile ground for comedy, and Tenchi Muyo GXP doesn't disappoint.
It's around halfway through the show that the spirit of Tenchi Muyo starts to suffuse the story. The Tenchi Muyo OVAs, while certainly not as slapstick as this show aren't without humour, while they have a strong sense of heart and emotional depth to them. There is also the magic of the Jurai back-story and hints about Tenchi's past and his family. That magic begins to be felt when Seina first visits the Jurai capital. Characters that were introduced to the UK in the third OVA actually made their debuts here, Lady Seto and Airi, as well as Minami and Mitoto, but it's when characters from the first OVA start showing up that the links between the two series begin to solidify. That includes Seiryo Tennan who was roundly defeated by Tenchi when they duelled for the hand of Ayeka at the end of the second OVA series, who here turns out to be an embittered and Earth-hating instructor who hates Seina even more for stealing Amane away from him. It isn't until the twelfth episode that this sense of continuity truly clicks though, when Seina's embittered ship, on a crucial mission, gets a last minute rescue from a familiar face.
From this moment on, the familiar touches increase, to the homecoming episode where Seina and his crew take shore leave on Earth, and Seina pays a visit to his sempai Tenchi, replete with a whole heap of guest star appearances. When I started with Tenchi Muyo GXP, I wasn't expecting much more than the farce and chaos of a space-borne Excel Saga, but later on in the series, where there's just a hint of seriousness applied, and you get to see the Light-Hawk Wings unfurl, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have the smallest of lumps in my throat. Then when it is all said and done, Tenchi Muyo GXP comes up with the ultimate cake-and-eat-it harem ending. All harem shows should end this way.
Whatever you do, avoid the Viridian set; it's an absolute nightmare. If you have to buy this series, better to look for the original boxset, or the individual disc releases. At least that way you'll have comfort of mind while enjoying this refreshing comedy.