Well, March has finally come in, and in Japan with that comes White Day, the male response to Valentines where the guys are called upon to give white chocolate to those who gifted them in February. With that in mind, this month we're shifting focus from the ladies to the guys, in that we're shifting from a month of reverse harems to a month of plain old harems. Thus, let me kick things off with one of the granddaddies of the genre.
NO NEED FOR TENCHI (Tenchi Muyo), by Hitoshi Okuda. First published in 1994, and first published in North America in 1996.
Tenchi thought things were bad enough when he accidentally unsealed the 'demon' in his family's shrine, even if that 'demon' turned out to be a strange, violent young space criminal named Ryoko. Things only got crazier when Ryoko was joined by the alien princesses Ayeka and Sasami, Mihoshi the space cop, and Washu the mad scientist. All of this leads to an epic space battle...none of which the manga reader sees, because all of this happened in the OVA it presumes you already saw.
What actually happens in this volume is that a seemingly evil clone of Ryoko shows up during a picnic with Tenchi and the girls. The imposter is quickly caught, but the attack leaves the clone without any memory of who she is or why she is there. The clone escapes, and Ryoko is determined to find the clone at any cost.
You know, just because a manga is adapted from a TV series doesn't mean that it shouldn't be able to stand on its own as a singular work. Too bad no one told anyone behind the making of this manga about that.
This manga's biggest failing is that it presumes you've already seen the original OVA series. If you haven't, then you'll be completely lost, with no idea what's going on and no investment in these people. This wouldn't have been an issue when this series was first released in the 1990s, when the OVA was new. In 2013, though, that same OVA has only very recently been rescued from out-of-print obscurity and there are anime fans who weren't even born when that OVA was released, so it's safe to say that the majority of modern anime fandom hasn't seen it, including myself. If you make your readership have to do its homework before reading your manga, you're not going to encourage them to buy some DVDs, but instead encourage them to pick up another manga.
Having not seen said OVA, I was completely lost as to what actually DID go on in this manga. Sure, I know there are evil clones and spaceships and space villians involved, but I have no idea why either side is fighting one another (other than for some super shiny special Macguffin belonging to Tenchi). It doesn't help that they keep cutting back to the others on earth, who can only worry for their friend or training for no particular reason. I can say with certainty that this series lives up to its title, as by volume's end it's blatantly apparent that Tenchi is so not the star of his own series. I know harem leads are not know for being blazing pillars of personality, but it's downright bizarre for the title character of a series to be so much of a blank, with the supporting cast outshining him at every turn. That's not saying much for the rest of the cast, though, as they stick to their one-note personalities. Ryoko's a hothead, Washu is wacky, Sasami is motherly, Mihoshi is Miss Not Appearing In This Manga, and Ayeka is the Yamato Nadeshiko. I got a better sense of personality from Ryo-Oh-Ohki, and he's a cat/bunny/spaceship thing!
I wish I could explain more about the plot of this manga, but doing so would require me to understand what is going on and why it is going on. I didn't have much interest in the Tenchi franchise before this review, and after reading this I just might possibly have less interest than before, because it does nothing to invite newcomers into the story.
The most distinctive thing I noticed about the art is the character designs are unusually stylized and cartoony for a harem series. I wouldn't call Tenchi's harem attractive by modern anime standards, but they are at least distinct, and everyone is very broadly expressive. The pages are rather nicely composed, with a lot of variety in panel size and a bit of panel layering here and there. The panels themselves are neatly composed, opening up in space for moments of action or drama, although the brief bits of action tend to be drowned out by the heavy use and large size of the translated sound effects. Backgrounds are simply drawn, and infrequent in appearance.
There are omakes after each chapter, all of which fail as comedy pieces and mostly end up dull and confusing. I don't know if something was simply lost in translation or if they were dull to begin with. I should note that these are older Viz releases, so they are printed in a larger size and flipped.
If you're looking for an entryway into the Tenchi universe, this is not the place to start. Those fans who are already familiar with the original OVA might find some enjoyment here, but everyone else will be lost.
This series was published by Viz. All 12 volumes were released, and all are out of print.
You can purchase manga like this and much more through RightStuf.com!