Tenjho Tenge Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 8) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, April 04, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, June 07, 2005

What They Say
Souichiro and Bob want to rule their new school, but just as they begin cracking heads, their plan is shot to hell. First there’s the Natsume sisters and their Juuken Club. If the older sister, Maya, isn’t kicking their ass, then the younger sister, Aya, is trying to force feed Souichiro and make him her husband. Then there’s the Student Executive Council that sends executioners to “educate” anyone who questions the council’s authority! Their education is just beginning!

The Review!
Toned down from the hyper violent and sexual manga series, Tenjho Tenge still manages to provide some strong action sequences and lots of fanservice.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix for this track is pretty solid and makes good use of the directional channels along the forward soundstage for the action sequences and on a few occasions for the dialogue as well. While not a completely immersive track, it does a good job of bringing the action sequences out in a strong manner that provides plenty of oomph to it. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no trouble with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Being such a recent show, the transfer here looks really good with bright vibrant colors, solid backgrounds and plenty of visible detail. The show manages to avoid some of the pitfalls of a few other recent shows as it doesn't rely too heavily on pans and stills to get things done as there are a lot of scenes that just have small bits of movement that help the flow of things. The transfer is relatively free of problems such as cross coloration or issues with the gradient being visible. There is a bit of stuttering in a few scenes during a couple of the pans across the background but that's just inherent in the source itself. A few scenes here are really standout but the transfer overall is solid and looks good but doesn't really leap out throughout.

Using the same artwork as the Japanese release, we get a good looking purple hued background shot of Aya with a cute smile to her while her older sister Maya is in full color with two swords whipping around and wearing practically nothing. The Maya artwork doesn't look all that good and something about it just feels like she's too long in the arms. The logo used for the English release isn't quite as bad as some of the online images make it look but considering that the Japanese release was just the name in English text with a fairly bland font it makes you wonder why they changed. In fact, the English release is the only release that has the Japanese version of the name on the cover as the Japanese release doesn't. Go figure. The back cover has an interesting looking layout to it with some sort of concrete style wall with various sections to hold the summaries, shots from the show and the production information. The technical information is listed all over the place so it makes it a bit difficult to track down things. The insert for the release has the same artwork as the front cover minus a couple of small logos while the reverse side has a pencil illustration of Souichiro and a listing of the release months for all eight volumes. What's really nice is that with the clear keepcase, the reverse cover is the same as the front cover but the back panel is the expanded version of the illustration that has Aya's hair flowing across it and is free of all logos and text.

In addition to the single disc release, a disc + box release came out at the same time. The box is of the chipboard variety so it's a nice solid box and it's heavy on the white color for the background. The box is actually fairly simple but I think it's gorgeous in the long run; each of the sides has a large chunk of property taken up with the red logo (which doesn't look like the one on the DVD cover at all) and spill-over black and white artwork from the spine. The artwork on the spine has a gorgeous illustration of both Maya and Aya together that shows off the beauty of the design work. It's fairly simple in colors but I find it to be very appealing. Also included in this box is a small can that holds an 81 piece jigsaw puzzle that features various characters from the show in their regular outfits. This is the second puzzle that's come over I believe and they're just a fun little extra that I rather like.

Using the same artwork as the front cover and animating in a few cherry blossoms to fall over it, the main menu is a good looking piece with a brief instrumental music loop that ends kind of awkwardly before it cycles over again. The artwork looks really nice here and more vivid than the printed cover. The navigation selections are lined along the left with a purple hue as well and blend well, almost too well, into the artwork but are still visible enough. Access times are nice and fast and the menus easy to navigate. The players' language presets were read correctly and we had nothing to change once it started up.

The only extra included in this release is a clean version of the opening sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Prior to its release, Tenjho Tenge suffered from problems on two fronts, at least as far as those who follow these things are concerned. The first was the obvious problem with another companies release of the manga which was severely edited. In a way, I think the bad publicity for that release will work as good publicity for this one. The second problem it faced was comments from fans of the manga who said the anime was too toned down from the manga. As much as it’s a problem for fans of the manga, I don't think this really is a big deal since a lot of manga made into anime is changed and toned down just due to the differences in regulations and simple broadcast acceptance. And having seen the first four episodes now, even toned down, it's definitely nicely violent and teases with some interesting sexual inferences.

Tenjho Tenge is a show that feels like its part of a growing number of series that are playing up both the violence and sexual nature in them almost at the expense of a story but still manage to bring something interesting to the table. The first four episodes of the show does a really good job of bringing the setting and characters into focus and changing their direction early on while providing plenty of interesting secondary plots that will eventually become the main focus as they all go along and grow. More information is actually given throughout these first four episodes than I think is normal for a show of this nature. It was also interesting that for the most part, the more overt sexual nature of it was kept away until towards the end of the fourth episode itself.

Tenjho Tenge is centered around the Todo Academy, a school that was built around the premise of the Tobu School which was focused on bringing martial arts back to the people and providing a place where they could really excel at it in various clubs while getting a standard education. Numerous clubs exist at the Academy and we're introduced to what's considered the lowest of them, the Juken Club. It's only got two members at the moment, Masataka as the junior level student and Maya as the captain. Maya's a curious character in that she's about the size of a four year old here and avoids wearing the school uniform in favor of a traditional loose kimono. From the moment we first see her you wonder what the deal is with her size and the revelation about it is really amusing and an interesting twist that I liked a lot.

The Juken Club is welcoming a new member at the start of the semester and it's Maya's younger sister Aya. She's a bit of the ditz in a way but it's more that she's unfocused on a lot of things. Her arrival has Masataka completely falling for her but he avoids being the traditional dork in love. In fact, Masataka's one of the more powerful people on campus as we later learn. Aya's introduction to the Club ends up running a bit short as two new students at the school have ended up causing a real problem. Blonde haired Souichiro and his friend Bob have come to the school to conquer it as their 100th marker. They've spent years working on fighting and making themselves strong and have had a fairly easy time working through the other schools and have set their sights on Todo Academy now.

While the two are able to take down a lot of regulars at the school easily, when Masataka hits the scene he's able to essentially take them down without much violence, though Souichiro ends up flying across the way and crashing into the Juken Club's room where, of course, Aya is taking a shower. This surprises the hell out of Souichiro when he realizes she's on top of him but for her, it's something different. Before she even realizes what she's saying, she's fallen in love with him and considers herself engaged to him. Souichiro's all confused by this and wants little to do with it but she's taken a liking to him that's beyond normal and assigns him a "Lord" status and begins to do all sorts of things for him.

Aya's interesting in that while she's a capable swordswoman and skilled enough due to her family ties, it's the powers that Maya talks about that are inherent in the Natsume family that really stand out. Aya's first viewing of Souichiro began to open her powers up apparently and she's got one called "Dragon Eyes" that allows her to have visions of the past or future as well as to see things that aren't quite there. Her vision of Souichiro isn't shown, but Maya does an interpretation that Souichiro must eventually become something great based on what she saw as she's tied herself to him so strongly now. It's from here that we start to learn more about the Natsume family and its history and powers which is an interesting foundation piece to this larger tale.

Bob and Souichiro's attempts at taking over the school end up not going as planned though when Masataka, already upset about seemingly losing Aya before he even got a chance to do anything, ends up in a fight with Souichiro in the lunch room. The sheer brutality of the fight and the kind of power behind it is surprising coming from Masataka who otherwise looks like an average student. He doesn't play up the wimpy dejected type or a wishy-washy person in general and this really reinforces it. It's a nice change of pace in general as all the characters here are strong on one level or another and it's a matter of finding out just where they fit in the scheme of things. Bob and Souichiro's attacks have apparently so angered the Executive Council, a group that's designed to maintain absolute power and rule in the school to enforce the laws, that they've given the order to have the two expelled by unlimited violence by two people they assign to it.

What this does in a roundabout way is force both Bob and Souichiro to realize their place in things and that if they want to conquer the school, they need to take down the executive council. This is something we learn others have a stake in as well and the two guys decide that they want to become as strong as possible within three months by undergoing whatever training that Maya can throw at them. It's done quickly over the first four episodes here, but the characters are re-arranged in an interesting manner so that the sides are fairly obviously picked out early on and the hard work of training, fighting and coping with defeat become key scenes here.

I had little real preconceptions going into the show beyond the initial pieces, that it wasn't as good as the manga and that the original was very violent and sexual. Taking this as it is, it first struck me as a more streamlined and less history oriented Ikki-Tosen since it doesn't have the past in the present gimmick to it. The idea of a school that's dedicated to numerous martial arts methods in addition to regular curriculum is interesting. I liked the characters across the board, from the punkish Souichiro and Bob with his dreadlocks down to Aya with her dragon eye power. And even Maya grew on me once her secrets with the size were unlocked. The show does a really good job of weaving its tale in these first four episodes so that you get plenty of tantalizing bits along the way and realize just how tightly everything is really wound here.

What surprised me the most is just how much I liked the Chiaki character, Bob's girlfriend. From her character design to the way she is with Bob, for some reason that I can't figure out she just clicked really well with me. In addition, I have to say I absolutely adore the opening sequence to this show. Any series that has its characters actively dancing (especially courtesy of an Avex group), and doing it like they do here ends up earning extra kudos. While some openings get boring after awhile, this one just fascinates with each episode as they go through their moves.

In Summary:
Having gone through a few years of shows that leaned more to the softer side of things, I'm continuing to enjoy the small resurgence of series that are more interested in something like this with a mixture of the violence and sex to it. With a more clearly defined plot that's got nothing to do with the past repeating in the present, Tenjho Tenge provides a really engaging mix of action and comedy together while wrapping it all up in a large plot that's fairly dark and really violent at times. This kind of show definitely isn't for everyone but I really got into this far more than expected and enjoyed just how layered the plot is as its slowly being revealed.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Ending Sequence

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 24.95/34.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Tenjho Tenge