It's March, which means it's time for another round of harem manga, starting with - wait a minute, I thought I had already covered the Tenchi Muyo manga! You mean they went and made ANOTHER one?!
THE ALL-NEW TENCHI MUYO! (Shin Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki), by Hitoshi Okuda. First published in 2000, and first published in North America in 2003.
After the events of the first OVA, Tenchi Misaki is still surrounded by a gaggle of intergalactic girls who create all sorts of chaos around him when they're not fighting over who gets to date him. This chaos can come in form of anything, be it Ryoko trying to hold down a job, Sasami becoming a baking sensation, or Ryo Ohki turning into a girl so that she can date Tenchi too.
Much to my disbelief, I discovered that Okuda created two Tenchi manga, one shortly after the other. I wasn't very kind to the first manga, and even after finally seeing the original OVA I still don't think it's a very good series. It's still alienating to those who haven't seen it, and all the interesting stuff happens to Ryoko instead of anyone else, much less Tenchi. As such, this second manga didn't necessarily have to do a lot to make a better impression. All it had to do was to let the rest of the cast get involved with the story, not be alienating to Tenchi newcomers, and find a way to be at least mildly interesting without being redundant with the other various OVAs and series. Amazingly, I think Okuda managed to do all that with this series, and he does all just be focusing on a bunch of wacky side stories.
First things first, he does a far better job getting the reader up to speed on the premise and cast. Instead of a dull prologue, he instead gives Tenchi a random stalker who hires a PI to track him, and the PI in turn provides all the necessary exposition about Tenchi and the girls. Once their purpose as plot devices are finished, the two are summarily ejected from the story and things continue as normal. This might not be the most subtle, well-executed form of exposition, but it's far more engaging and fits the overall wacky tone of the book, so already Okuda has made progress from his
first attempt at a Tenchi manga. It's not perfect progress, though, considering that the Ryo-Ohki chapter presumes you've seen the second OVA and thus will NOT be confused and freaked out that Ryo-Ohki can suddenly turn into a girl, so this manga still requires a little bit of homework to make perfect sense.
After this point, the manga is nothing but a bunch of episodic hijinks, and how much any given chapter will appeal to you will depend on which members of Tenchi's harem you like or dislike, as most of them get at least one chapter dedicated to them. That probably explains why my favorite of the lot was Ryoko's chapter, where Ayeka's neverending guilt trips lead Ryoko to pursue a part-time job, and it ends just about as well as you would expect considering both her impulsiveness and her superhuman strength. There's also a surprising amount of focus on Sasami, even if both of them are more about her relationships with her sister and Ryo-Ohki. Ayeka's chapter is just another extension of her endless fights with Ryoko as she tries (and fails) to crash a date between Ryoko and Tenchi, and Mihoshi's is all about her being incredibly dumb and unlucky on the job - in other words, her usual tedious self. The jokes you see here are the same jokes that this franchise has been hammering into the ground for the better part of two decades - Ryoko and Ayeka fighting over Tenchi, Washu coming up with wacky science-y things, Mihoshi being a ditz, and everything tending to end with some part of Tenchi's house getting blown up. These weren't terribly original jokes to begin with, and odds are good that the more familiar you are with the franchise, the more likely you are to be utterly sick and tired of said jokes.
Believe it or not, this manga is an improvement on the previous Tenchi manga. It's less tedious, better balanced, and the general air of wackiness helps it fit more comfortably with the rest of the franchise. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a great manga, though. Much of its humor is focused on the same old lame jokes, and despite its best efforts it doesn't really do much to expand upon the girls' personalities. It might be more friendly towards newcomers to the franchise, but I don't see anyone other than devoted Tenchi fans getting anything beyond mild interest out of this manga.
Sadly, while Okuda's storytelling has improved somewhat from his previous manga, the artwork managed to get WORSE. In the previous manga, the characters all looked more or less as they did in the original OVA. Here they've been distilled into strange, oversimplified forms and the cast as a whole suffers for it. Noses are only present in profile, mouths are flappy, and everyone has those strange, angular cheekbones that were all the rage in the mid- to late-90s, which gives their heads a strange, squarish look. He also apparently couldn't get these weird faces to squash or stretch in reaction to things, so there are a lot of superdeformed reaction shots used as response to the wackiness around them. The only thing Okuda seems to be able to draw well is action. There aren't a lot of fights, but when they happen the panels open up to contain all the powerful bursts of energy, and Okuda imbues every punch and crash with power and energy. I just wish he could have infused the rest of the story with that same energy and that he had gone for a more timeless art style to go with it.
Despite what the title might say, this manga isn't really all that 'all-new.' It's got some nice character moments and it's more welcoming to new-comers, but it just recycles a lot of the same old jokes about the cast and in the end it's still more for fans of the franchise than anyone else.
This series was published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan. All 10 volumes were published and all are out of print.
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