Tenchi Muyo Ultimate Edition (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, February 18, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, June 01, 1999
This review will be different from my "Tenchi in Tokyo" reviews. When I write my "Tenchi in Tokyo" reviews, it's within a few hours of seeing the episodes for the first time, so I'm recording my initial impressions. I first saw the "Tenchi Muyo" OVAs at a Montreal comic book convention nearly 5 years ago, so I've had several years to ruminate and ponder the finer plot points. Writing about "Tenchi Muyo" is like writing about the first three "Star Wars" films; by now, I assume that most of you have seen it and have your own thoughts and opinions. I'm not going to attempt to write a plot summary, since it's redundant, but I will discuss some of my own thoughts regarding the series at the end of this review, so, on the odd chance that you are one of the rare few people who haven't seen the Tenchi OVAs already but would like to see them now that they've been released on DVD, be warned. There are some "spoilers" ahead.
First, I'll look at the packaging. In the Forum, opinions seem to be split: some find it too plain, others like the minimalist approach. For a DVD cover, I think that it looks very striking, with a dramatic picture of Ryoko holding an Oni mask. I think that it looks a lot better than the "Tenchi in Tokyo" covers. It is a bother trying to get it back into the plastic sleeve. It is also quite difficult to remove the discs from the case (although one of the discs was loose inside the case when I first opened mine). The first 3000 sets produced contained a special gold-colored Ryoko collectable card. While I had the sticker on the box advertising this fact, there was no card inside. In the Forum, many people were grieved that Pioneer didn't include cards in every box with the sticker. I have to say that I really don't care. It's a non-issue for me. I didn't order the collection for the card, and I probably wouldn't even have noticed it if others hadn't pointed out in advance that I might not necessarily get the card. Even if I did want the card, I'd rather have the sticker in front advertising the card and no card inside than no sticker at all. Why? Because at least I know that no unscrupulous distributor has gone through each case removing the cards and then reselling them at an inflated price as "collectibles".
The first thing I tried was the Tenchi Encyclopedia, which contains character descriptions, art, video clips, commercials, trailers and more. While it is a useful guide to the series for those who haven't seen it yet, I wouldn't call it the ultimate resource on "Tenchi Muyo". I spotted several errors. The most egregious in my opinion is that Kiyone's myoji (or surname) is listed as "Makibi". The encyclopedia states that she was named after the towns of Kiyone and Makibi in Okayama prefecture. In fact, the village is called "Mabi", not "Makibi". I've checked and double-checked the name using the Nelson Kanji guide and Kodansha's Bilingual Atlas of Japan and found that, with the Kanji seen on the nameplate in Episode 6 ("No Need for Resident Officers") of the "Tenchi Universe" TV series, there is absolutely no way that the Kanji characters could be read as "Makibi". Interestingly enough, they got the name right on the poster featuring the places in Okayama prefecture that the characters were named after that was included with the Volume 10/11 LD. Now, they're just parroting the same mistake that is also prevalent on "Tenchi Muyo" web sites. Also, I noticed that the cover of the "Tenchi Muyo" Christmas album was listed as "promotional material". (Great album by the way; it features Yumi Takada's (Ayeka) "Koi wa Sessho ya Omahen ka?" ("Isn't Love Cruel?"), which is one of my personal favorite Tenchi songs.) I like the "Tenchi Muyo in Love 2" ("Tenchi Forever") trailer, and the "Pencil Tests" (which remind me of the video for A-ha's 80's hit, "Take on Me").
One item of some curiosity value in the encyclopedia is the page-by-page scans of all 6 issues of the American-made "Tenchi Muyo" comic book (from Pioneer's short-lived "P Anime" comic book line). It's very difficult to read; Pioneer should have let us zoom in on the artwork and then use the arrow keys to advance down the page. (One reason why the comic book line failed could be that it was poorly distributed. I only ever saw the last two issues in Montreal-area comic book stores. The storyline by Jose Calderon, about a cabbit-hunter with eyes on Ryo-oh-Ki, was quite good. Since it was based on the TV series (unlike the Viz manga, by Hitoshi Okuda, which is based on the OVA series), it featured Kiyone and Nagi, two of my favorite Tenchi characters. Unfortunately, the series was marred by ridiculously inappropriate hentai-inspired artwork (particularly the pornographic covers) by Matt Lunsford, who, as I understand it, also did the "La Blue Girl" comic for CPM., which would explain a lot.)
I will discuss some features in the Encyclopedia in more detail when I talk about things that should have been included in this collection.
What I was most interested was in how the "Ultimate Collection" compares to the original CAV LDs (and more generally how LDs compare to DVDs, since this is the first time that I've bought a DVD of something I already have on LD). I am pleased to say that I can finally see the difference between LD and DVD picture quality. The colors on DVD are second to none. Compared to the DVD collection, the colors in the LD version look faded. The DVD colors are deeper and richer, particularly blues. The LD colors also look like you're viewing them through a yellow filter; Sasami's hair looks sea green on LD, while on DVD her hair is a light Cerulean blue. There is no question about it; the colors on the DVD version are the colors the original cel-painters used.
The most significant improvement over the LDs is the sound, which was re-mastered using THX technology. The Japanese soundtrack was re-mixed into 5.1 surround. Unfortunately, I don't have surround sound, but it still sounds wonderful in stereo. (On the old LDs, the Japanese soundtrack was in analogue stereo.) As Chris also noted, on the Japanese track, the 1st series' opening is a different arrangement from the original version. I thought that it may have been the re-mixed opening from the very first Japanese "Tenchi Muyo" soundtrack CD (PICA-1003, the re-mix is Track 1, while the original arrangement is track 20), but the instruments used are even more electronic than the album's re-mix. I have always considered the "Tenchi Muyo" dub cast to be the gold standard for Anime dubs. Even in the early episodes, they seem quite comfortable in their roles. One exception is perhaps K.T. Voght as Washu. In episode 6 (where Washu makes her debut), she seems unsure as how to play Washu; in some scenes she puts on a phony Chinese accent. By episode 7, they all sound pretty much the same as they do in "Tenchi in Tokyo". I was wondering if the first few episodes would list the unlikely pseudonyms ("Weston Peece" for Kagato, "Gee Gee Loo Loo" for Washu, etc...) used on the original LDs instead of the actor's real names (for some union-related reason). I was pleased to discover that the openings and closings (as well as the episode titles) were exactly as they originally appeared in Japan. The English credits are on the Encyclopedia disc. (I would love to see this done on other Anime DVDs.)
Obviously, the biggest omission was the "Galaxy Police Mihoshi Space Adventure" Special. (I have that one on CAV LD so, while it's a little annoying that it was left out of the "Ultimate Edition", it's not the end of the world.)
The other bonus from the Volume 12/13 LD which is nowhere to be found in the "Ultimate Edition" is the segment featuring short greetings from most of the major voice actors from both the Japanese and English-dubbed versions. In fact, this would have been a lot more appropriate for the encyclopedia than the interview with Mayumi Iizuka, the voice of Sakuya in "Tenchi in Tokyo", and her two music videos. (Picture of Sakuya, her eyes swelling with tears; "What? You don't like my interview and my videos? And I put all of my heart into making them just so you'd enjoy them!") No, Sakuya! It's not like that at all! I think that your bonuses would be better suited to the "Tenchi in Tokyo" discs. I'll buy your CD. I promise!
One thing that I'd like to see in a future Tenchi Encyclopedia would be the vocal dramas from all of the Japanese Tenchi CDs accompanied by scans of the artwork and subtitles.
Some people have reported that they have problems with the first disc or the encyclopedia. I'm happy to say that, watching it on my player (Toshiba SD-2107), I have no problems to report. My only real technical gripe is that the menus only let you choose which episode you want to watch. There are no chapter stops within each episode, so if you want to jump to a specific scene (or watch "Ren'ai no Sainou"), you have to know the exact time of the scene and enter it in manually. If Pioneer had only preserved the original chapter stops from the LDs (opening, the actual episode itself, ending, and preview), it would be far less annoying. The other minor annoyance is that each time you choose an episode from the menu, you have to sit through the Dolby Digital and THX sequences (or press "skip" on your remote). This is cool to watch when you first turn the player on, but do we need to see it for every episode? It's not like I'm showing "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" in my living room! (At least the THX sequence is the regular black THX sequence and not the one that they show in cinemas before every movie with the annoying THX repair robot. Hey, Lucasfilm (who own THX), the robot is only cute when you're not expecting to see it! Now that it is the "standard" THX sequence, it's just cloying!) And Pioneer, if you're going to remove your distinctive "golden hoop descends around a tuning fork and turns into an Omega sign accompanied by a musical crescendo", at least replace it with something! I liked the old Pioneer logo just fine; it didn't need to be fixed! I'm glad that they are continuing to use yellow subtitles, as seen in "Tenchi in Tokyo" Vol. 3. However, like the LDs, the songs are not subtitled at all. For the LDs, I understand that the reason for this was that the English lyrics bore little relation to the Japanese ones. I can think of no technical reason why this should be the case. There's a little "rainbow effect", but no where near as bad as on the LDs. (The 2nd LD series was particularly notorious for "rainbow".)
Now for my comments on the series itself. Spoiler-haters should stop reading here.
I always felt that the first series was a little too rushed; just when they introduced a new character, they go and introduce another one, without giving too much time for the viewer to see how they fit in to the plan. Kagato was introduced much too early. If this series had been one 13-episode arc instead of a 6-episode arc, followed by shorter stories, it would have been absolute perfection. Episodes 7 through 13 give some depth to the characters, but it would have been more effective before the finale with Kagato. I guess the producers weren't too sure if Pioneer/A.I.C. would fund them beyond the initial 6 episodes, so they wanted to get the big battle with the villain over with quickly. This is the area where the first TV series improved on the OVAs; the Planet Jurai storyline didn't even begin until episode 14, giving the characters plenty of time to establish themselves. That being said, the animation in the OVAs is far superior to the TV series, and it looks better than ever in gorgeous DVD color. The OVA Kagato is, in my opinion, one of the coolest villains in any Anime with his yellow eyes, his John Lennon glasses and his organ-playing prowess. I have very mixed feelings about episode 7; on one hand, I love the story about Ryoko and Ayeka using shoujo manga as a handbook on how to get a boyfriend; on the other hand, some of the humor is far too hentai for my tastes. (The scene where Washu attempts to, ahem, "extract" a certain type of "sample" from Tenchi is almost soft-core porn. Fortunately, Mihoshi interrupts them.) Episode 8, "Hello Baby", is, in my opinion, the best OVA episode. Tenchi's aunt (funny, I don't recall Achika having any sisters) drops off her son Taro at the Masaki shrine. The alien girls attempt to take care of the baby. This is a situation I've seen done many times before, mostly in trite American sit-coms, so you'd expect that none of the girls would be able to cope properly at baby-sitting. However, one of the girls proves to be a very adept "mother", and we learn the tragic reason why. Episode 9 attempts to explain the connection between Sasami and Tsunami, but really leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. Episode 10 explains in more detail how Washu created Ryoko and Ryo-oh-Ki, and we also get to see Ryo-oh-Ki assume humanoid form for the first time. Episode 11 and 12, which are the Dr. Clay storyline, are frustrating in that they throw a few new characters into the mix, including the "goddess" Tokimi, and then do nothing with them. (Also, Tokimi is connected with another Tenchi character, who may also be a "goddess", but they never explain how.) I guess they would have continued this story in OVA episodes 14 and beyond if they hadn't re-tooled to do the first TV series. Episode 13 is a blast. We get to see Ayeka and Yosho's father, Azusa (voiced by Akio Ootsuka, the voice of Anavel Gato in "Gundam 0083" and also the actor who dubs Arnold Schwarzenegger into Japanese) who is the king of Jurai. We also meet Funaho, Yosho's Earth-born mother (Rei Sakuma, the voice of Nina Purpleton in "Gundam 0083" and also Shampoo in "Ranma 1/2") and Ayeka and Sasami's super-genki mother Misaki. I wish that they'd explain just how Funaho, who hails from Heian-era Japan, came to Jurai in the first place! That's it for the OVA series! While "Manatsu no Eve" ("Daughter of Darkness") supposedly takes place in the OVA continuity, it presumably takes place after the non-existent 3rd OVA series where Kiyone comes to Earth.
The big question is if you already have episodes 1-13 on CAV Laserdisc, is it worth buying again? (Since some of my episodes were on VHS, I had no problem justifying buying the "Ultimate Edition".) Before seeing it, I thought the answer for LD owners would be "only if you want the Tenchi Encyclopedia", but, my answer would be an unqualified "yes", if just for the DVD colors! But I wouldn't get rid of the LDs if I were you, just because the LDs had different bonuses. I hope Pioneer decides to release the "Tenchi Universe" Ultimate Edition soon (as well as the "Magical Project S" Ultimate Edition)!
Mania Grade: NA
Audio Rating: N/A
Video Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: N/A
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 420
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Tenchi Muyo