[A Need for Tenchi] Tenchi Muyo OVA, episode 2: “Here Comes Ayeka”

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A massive ship approaches Earth orbit. At its heart is a garden- and forest-filled capsule where beams of light are projected into a specific tree. A pair of robotic guards, Azaka and Kamidake, activate, and the base of the tree opens, releasing Ayeka, princess of the planet Jurai, from stasis. She’s come to Earth in search of her brother, Yosho, but neither he nor his ship are being picked up by scans. Instead, they find Ryoko. Due to the statute of limitations, Ryoko’s file is cleared five seconds later, meaning she’s no longer a wanted criminal. Ayeka is furious and damns the laws, ordering her ship to move in and capture Ryoko anyways.

Back in Tenchi’s room (his house isn’t on the same property as his grandfather’s temple, as I mistakenly stated in episode 1), Ryoko demands Tenchi replace the bead of hers he destroyed with one from the sword hilt. First she tries using force, then she tries begging, saying a dark and dangerous force is quickly approaching. Tenchi’s father sees the boy has a girl in his room and starts peeping, eventually producing a video camera.

Ayeka’s ship is suddenly floating over Tenchi’s house – and the entire surrounding city – with lights flashing and Ayeka demanding over a loudspeaker that Ryoko show herself. When Ryoko doesn’t, Ayeka fires a warning shot, the shockwave of which shatters windows for miles. Tenchi finally agrees to the bead transfer, with Ryoko walking him through the process, but he only gives her one instead of all three. She uses it to awaken her ship, Ryo-Ohki, from the pond near her burial chamber. The ship is a massive collection of dark crystals. And it meows.

The two ships engage in a battle, as Ryoko transports herself and Tenchi onto Ryo-Ohki, as well as his house and father, which are converted to two dimensions for storage. Ryo-Ohki makes a getaway, but is stopped when it’s surrounded and stunned by Jurai guardian log robots. Azaka and Kamidake teleport in, capturing Ryoko and Tenchi.

The two ships are now locked in orbit. Ayeka confronts the strung up Ryoko, asking the criminal the whereabouts of Yosho and about the royal family sword hilt, which is also named Tenchi, that was found in Tenchi’s possession. Through a joking leer, Ryoko tries to tell her that Yosho is dead and Tenchi is a blood heir to the sword, but Ayeka doesn’t buy it, using the hilt’s power to torture Ryoko before having her sent to a cell.

Tenchi comes to in a cell, where he tries to fight his way through tree roots that always shift to bar his escape. He meets Sasami, Ayeka’s little sister, who frees him and promises to return him home if he’ll do her a favor: sneak into Ayeka’s room and steal her headdress. Ayeka sheds tears over a hologram of her half-brother/fiance Yosho before going to sleep. Tenchi sneaks into her room, wondering how in the hell he’ll get the headdress off her head, then notices she has the sword hilt in her hands. He struggles to get it out, but she wakes up to find a dude on top of her and screams. Azaka and Kamidake instantly appear, but Tenchi is off and running, the hilt in his hands.

The two guardians are hot on Tenchi’s tail, barely missing him with blast after blast, and he reaches Sasami who leads him to an escape chute. They come up just outside of Ryoko’s cell. Tenchi uses the hilt to free her, which Sasami points out is the sword of Yosho, and Ayeka and her guardians suddenly arrive. She demands to know from Tenchi the whereabouts of Yosho, and all he can do is tell her the legends that his ancestor died long ago. Ayeka doesn’t believe it and orders her guardians to attack, but Ryoko takes Sasami hostage, and the hilt allows Tenchi to gain equal control to Ayeka’s over the ship’s systems, which convinces Ayeka that he comes from the royal bloodline. While Ayeka is distracted, Ryoko focuses her power through Tenchi and the hilt, commanding Ryo-Ohki to punch through the opposing ship and allowing her and the boy to escape.

The two ships are still locked together, Ryoko plunging them into the atmosphere and Ayeka refusing to let the other go. It’s a suicide game of chicken and Ayeka eventually folds, jettisoning the outer sections of her ship. The central chamber and Ryo-Ohki crashing through and destroying the Seto Sea bridge.

The next day, the news reports the incident as a meteor strike. Tenchi and his dad are in their living room, eating breakfast and watching the report. Ryoko and Sasami are also at the table, and the house is now located right next to the family temple where Ryoko was once held. Ayeka is in the pond outside, trying in desperation to pull the rubble of her ship to safety, but it sinks beneath the waters and she sobs to the heavens.

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The first episode was a bit disappointing in how light it was on actual material. There were essentially just two sequences: Tenchi frees Ryoko, she chases him around his school. It was entertaining, but lacking in much weight or character. Instead of just following that formula with the introduction of the next batch of characters, we instead get something far richer and with a lot more weight, while still being a lot of fun.

Ayeka is an interesting addition to things. She’ll have this sad and regal grace one moment, then fly into a comically sputtering rage the next, then even take a cold and malicious turn at times. Ryoko has already been painted as a wild and reckless villain, and instead of being the heroic space princess riding in on a white ship, Ayeka is, in many ways, just as much of a bad guy as her nemesis. She treats Tenchi like shit, flies in barrels blazing even after she learns the statute of limitations for Ryoko’s crimes has lapsed, and there’s the shot of the cold grin on her face, lit by sparks as she tortures a screaming Ryoko. I forgot the series took it that far, and it definitely adds a nice layer to things. She and Ryoko aren’t mere rivals, they’re on a cosmic level fued and absolutely want to take each other down, even if it means taking themselves down to.

What’s especially nice is that this dark side just adds layers to Ayeka instead of making her totally unsympathetic. Ryoko is, after all, being pursued for very just reasons, and Ayeka has personal stakes in this as she’s also trying to solve the mystery of her lost brother. The absent Yosho is the anchor that gives their conflict weight, and said conflict provides a great foundation for the series to be built on, leaving Tenchi almost an innocent bystander swept up in events that stretch far beyond him.

As for Tenchi, I’m still not loving the guy. He’s annoyingly hyperactive, at his worst when he’s cowering in Ryoko’s bosom from the giant spaceship above his house. Then there’s the typical anime scene where he has to steal something from the sleeping Ayeka’s bed, and embarrassment ensues. Thankfully, it doesn’t slip into the fanservice or accidental groping of most anime, so it still works without being too much of a groaner. Otherwise, he’s very inactive and whines a lot as other characters throw him from one situation to another.

The designs are a little more cleaned up this time around, with Tenchi’s head especially looking less like an oblong blob, and Ayeka and Sasami being very nice, instantly memorable designs. The traditional robes, as well as the wooden nature of their ship and technology, creates a really nice, distinct look for the series, carrying on the theme of old-fashioned and traditional through new and modern eyes. This is best represented by Ayeka’s bodyguards, Azaka and Kamidake, who are literally two wooden barrels with ancient script and HAL-9000 eyes. I love how one has the quiet voice of an adviser, and the other the shouting enthusiasm of a dedicated soldier.

We also finally get to see some spaceships, Ayeka’s being a central biosphere style chamber surrounded by what could best be described as the polished roots of a tree, and Ryo-Ohki being a giant star of spiny black crystals. Neither are entirely memorable because they’re more a cluster of shapes than an iconic design, but they still look nice, especially when they’re locked together in the big climax.

The animation of the episode is surprisingly inconsistent for an OVA, which were usually pretty high quality. Everything largely stays on model, but you could see shots where the animation suddenly became shoddy, or the ink work was poorly done leaving colors to bleed over lines. It doesn’t get that bad often, and most of the show is of a good quality, but it’s wince-worthy when it trips. The direction, though, is very smooth, keeping the story constantly moving at a good pace and giving the characters great little moments, like Ryoko’s series of increasingly goofy smiles at Ayeka, or Tenchi getting fed up with his tree prison and taking a tiny pocket knife to the roots, or Sasami trying to look cheerful and pleasant while admitting Ryoko is causing her pain, or Tenchi’s father being so proud his son has a girl in his room that he just has to climb up outside the boy’s room with a video camera while praying his late wife can bear witness to such a happy moment, or the perfectly staged series of reveals in the final scene as we set the stage for the domestic shenanigans of the coming episodes.

This really is a solid episode, and if the first hadn’t hooked me, this certainly did as the Tenchi was minimized by the central and genuinely gripping conflict between Ayeka and Ryoko. There’s just so much more going on, and so many new sights to see, and it all has an actual place in the developing narrative instead of being random stuff just thrown in there.

Some additional thoughts:

  • Yes, Yosho is both Ayeka’s half-brother and fiance. Alien royal bloodline incest, ahoy!
  • I thought Tenchi only destroyed one of Ryoko’s wrist jewels, so why does she need more than one replaced?
  • I love the idea that Ryoko can store Tenchi’s entire home – plus dad – as a 2D image. And that the house coincidentally winds up right next to the grandfather’s temple for future storylines.
  • I didn’t say much about Sasami because there isn’t much to say. She’s just kind of there, freeing Tenchi and sending him to steel Ayeka’s crown because she’s bored. But it’s hard to tell if it’s innocent boredom or if there’s supposed to be something more malicious to it.
  • I don’t recall if we ever see Sasami’s white alien ferret pet thing beyond this story.
  • Did I mention one of the two head guys who did this show came out of hentai? Because you can totally tell in the moment where Ryoko is being shocked and she starts laughing out “I’m coming! I’m coming!”

Dub Notes

Again, the dub largely follows the subtitle translation, with just a few tweaks here and there that still preserve the spirit of what was being said. The two changes that stand out are Ryoko’s “I’m coming! I’m coming!” being predictably changed to “That tickles!”, and Tenchi’s father, going from talking about his late wife to seeing Ayeka’s ship in the sky, saying “Honey, is that you?”, instead of a mere “What the hell?”

Tenchi’s voice continues to elevate the inept moron to a befuddled everyman, and Ryoko’s still solid. Sasami is just as token “little girl” as she should be, and Azaka and Kamidake are also strong. I don’t know which is which, but the deep and calm one is still deep and calm, and while I was initially thrown off by the other going from the shouting enthusiasm of a soldier to sounding like Mr. Movie Phone, it still has an air of dependability that works, and has a real Frank Welker quality to it.

On the negatives are Tenchi’s father, who has a haggard, elderly feel that ages the character beyond his middle years. And then there’s Ayeka. Jennifer Darling is a great actress, but she fails to give the character the youth and grace she has in the original. Her Ayeka sounds like Eartha Kitt, and the nasally sharpness of the delivery not only makes the character feel far older than she should (the actress was in her late 40s at the time), but locks Ayeka at a constant level of snobbishness, when that spoiled aspect only occasionally came to light in the original, amidst a more layered performance.

6 thoughts on “[A Need for Tenchi] Tenchi Muyo OVA, episode 2: “Here Comes Ayeka”

  1. I think a lot of fans keep forgetting that Tenchi’s house wasn’t always near the shrine. Of course from this point on it is, and stays there through every alt continuity. I think Tenchi is shown stopping by the still-empty lot that his house was once on in the third OVA series of this continuity; I think this is the only other time you ever see his “best friend,” the gonky guy that Tenchi punches in the first episode.

    I’ve always wondered if Sasami freeing Tenchi was simply childish mischief or prompted by Tsunami; or even Sasami overcompensating in trying to be a normal child.

    Tenchi really was a “paragon of uselessness”, wasn’t he? Unfortunately, that never completely changes. He’s the series’ butt-monkey. It’s only when the threat is “SERIOUS” that his potential is shown. His complete lack of ambition and homebody tendencies probably play a part in this. His total disinterest in just about everything except a normal life is one of his most irritating qualities to me.

    I agree about Ayeka’s dub voice. I think it was the primary reason I tended to like Ryoko more. It could grate on my ears sometimes. I did like that she isn’t shown to be this perfect and pure person, but that she has a dark side and her rage and hatred of Ryoko is both real, justified (as later revealed), and makes the grudging friendship that develops between them interesting and compelling.

    “I thought Tenchi only destroyed one of Ryoko’s wrist jewels, so why does she need more than one replaced?”

    It was a copy. She’s capable of creating them, but it takes a long time and they aren’t nearly as powerful as the real ones. As I recall anyway. Also, she can’t achieve her full power without them. And by “full power,” I mean capable of one-shotting entire fleets. There’s a reason her statute of limitations takes 700+ years to expire!

    “On the negatives are Tenchi’s father, who has a haggard, elderly feel that ages the character beyond his middle years.”

    It’s later revealed that the death of Tenchi’s mother absolutely destroyed him, and only Tenchi (and Tenchi’s aunt) stopped him from joining her. Tenchi by being a baby, and his aunt through force and grisly threats. It’s implied that he thew himself into work to the point of making himself sick.

    I do have to wonder if the change of his line in reaction to Ayeka’s ship was deliberate or a fortuitous accident, considering what’s later revealed about Tenchi’s maternal family. Either way, it’s a bit of fridge brilliance.

    • Thanks for the comment, uldihaa. I look forward to hearing your thoughts throughout the series, but I do ask that you please not fill me in on plot points that will be coming up in future episodes. While I have seen this portion of the series before, it’s been a long time, and I’d like to let the show fill in those details at its own speed.

      Tenchi really was a “paragon of uselessness”, wasn’t he?

      He totally is, but at least the dub version is a much more likeable useless. 🙂

      I totally agree that Ayeka’s dub voice likely was the reason I warmed up to Ryoko far more back in the day. Ryoko was fun, Ayeka sounded like an angry school teacher.

        • No problem. For example, while I remember the tie between Sasami and Tsunami (who I’d forgotten was called Tsunami), I don’t remember what Tsunami actually is. But I’m very eager to find out when I get there, and equally eager to hear your thoughts when I do. 🙂

  2. Outstanding review. Looks great, too. You may have mentioned this in the project Overview, but you know my memory; Are these feature-length or closer to 30 min?

    • There will be three feature length films coming up, but what I’m currently reviewing, as well as the majority of the franchise, are half hour episodes.

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