True Tenchi Muyo!: Washu

By Yousuke Kuroda and Masaki Kajishima. Released in Japan as “Shin Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-o-ki” by Kadokawa Shoten. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Lillian Olsen. Adapted by AstroNerdBoy.

The subject of this book may come as a surprise, given that the first two books in this series focused, not on Ayeka and Ryoko, but on Ayeka’s father and Tenchi’s grandfather. But yes, the third book is out, and finally we have one that gives us backstory on one of the main cast. The prologue to this story takes place after the Tenchi OAV episode where they all have to take care of the baby, and expands on Washu’s past that came out in that episode, which was that she’d had a husband and child, but they were immediately taken from her. As such, the bulk of the book goes back in time – way back – and shows us Washu as a young woman, leaving her adopted home planet and going to the Imperial Academy’s Department of Philosophy… at the age of eighteen, smashing all records. There she meets a familiar young man…

First of all, it’s simply odd to have most of the book dealing with a Washu that isn’t 20,000 years old (cryofreezing notwithstanding). Washu here is young and idealistic, though she’s already starting to work on her snarky side. This is helped along by her sempai at the academy, Naja, who seems to be another one of those characters that all Tenchi fans should know about because they read the ancillary material. Naja basically fulfills the function of Airi in the last book, only without the romance (mostly: there is a hint that Naja’s moaning about boyfriends is a front for something else, but it never goes anywhere and also plays into uncomfortable “watch out for the predatory lesbian” territory once or twice). No, the romance comes from a young man who has a knack of walking in on Washu even when she’s in libraries with very tight security. They fall in love quickly, and have a child, but he has a Secret Past (a theme in all these books), and their love is quickly shattered.

It is, to me at least, a bit disconcerting that Washu’s husband is basically a Rule 63 Mihoshi. It’s a bit less surprising for those who’ve seen the other OAVs and know that Mihoshi’s family and ancestors all look almost exactly the same, but disconcerting nonetheless. The best part of the book is simply watching Washu have to deal with being a big fish in a very big pond – everyone wants to treat her like a VIP, and she hates that. It’s also amusing to see Dr. Clay, the pathetic villain in the 2nd Tenchi OAV series, as a pathetic younger villain in these books – well, villain is the wrong word. Jerk? The best part of the book may be Washu’s covert meeting with her husband’s new wife, which leads to a jaw-dropping bit that the narrative, thankfully (if sadly), did not take. Very well done.

There were supposed to be three more books after this one. I believe the fourth was about Mihoshi’s family, and may have finally given us the backstory to her that only the OAVs really had (it was hinted she was a crack, serious police officer till something broke her). Alas, it’s been twenty years, so I think this is all we get. Still, it’s a wonderful nostalgia trip for Tenchi fans.

True Tenchi Muyo!: Yosho

By Yousuke Kuroda and Masaki Kajishima. Released in Japan as “Shin Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-o-ki” by Kadokawa Shoten. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Lillian Olsen. Adapted by AstroNerdBoy.

The three novels in this series came out around 1997-99 or so in Japan, which was between the 2nd OAV series (the one that came out here when Tenchi was still huge) and the 3rd OAV series (which came out here when Tenchi’s popularity was waning). As such, they serve as both a ‘filling in the blanks’ backstory for what we’ve already seen and a ‘taste of what’s to come’ teaser for future episodes. The first book was something that I enjoyed but it didn’t reach out and say “that was great”, partly as I don’t find Azusa all that likeable. The second volume is a much better book, partly as Yosho may be staid but he’s also a lot of fun, and partly as this volume features Ryoko’s attack on Jurai and everything that comes along with it, so the book ends with an epic battle sequence before it settles down on Earth. We’re also introduced to Airi, who is Yosho’s first love… well, OK, second love, but first consummated love.

Yosho is the 12-year-old crown prince of Jurai, and is being sent off to Galactic Boarding School, essentially, mostly as he’s developing a crush on his stepmother, who has no sense of personal space. (If this surprises you, you’ve never seen Tenchi, which uses incest as a spice – liberally). While there he meets Airi, an older student who’s there to show him around and also comes from a planet of religious zealots. The book balances its time between Yosho coming out of his shell and he and Airi falling in love and the political machinations of Jurai, which is still dealing with the shock and horror of having Funaho as the First Empress. Their relationship is a bad idea politically, at least for now, and what’s more Ryoko attacks Jurai at the behest of Kagato, so Yosho rapidly vanishes to that he can bring her down – and also, it has to be said, to get away from the repressive heritage that he really doesn’t want to deal with.

Lest you think the book is all romantic drama and action movie sequences, there’s also a great deal of humor here as well. Airi is a loud, blunt girl who tells you that she likes you by putting you in a wrestling lock, and she pairs very well with Yosho, who even at his most emotional exhibits a certain Mr. Spock quality. There is a repeated sequence with puppies that is both adorable and hilarious. And I can’t not mention Funaho’s drunken duel with someone who insulted her son, which shows off why you should never, ever get Funaho drunk. In other words, it’s very much still a Tenchi book. It also shows off Ayeka’s massive crush on her brother, and why he finds it uncomfortable (because it reminds him of his crush on Misaki). I haven’t seen the 3rd OAV series, which I understand has Airi in it, but for those who only recall 90s Tenchi, this is also a great read, with a good look at Ryoko’s personality pre-Tenchi.

There’s one last book in the series, which will focus on Washuu. I’m looking forward to it. These books have been a real treat for Tenchi Muyo fans, especially because it reminds them of the time when the series walked the anime fandom like a colossus.

True Tenchi Muyo!: Jurai

By Yousuke Kuroda and Masaki Kajishima. Released in Japan as “Shin Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-o-ki” by Kadokawa Shoten. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Lillian Olsen. Adapted by AstroNerdBoy.

There have been a lot of things licensed and brought out in North America that surprised me, but honestly, “spinoff light novels for a series that hasn’t really been popular here since about 2002” takes the cake. To be fair, when Tenchi was big here it was VERY big. Along with Ranma 1/2 and Oh My Goddess!, Tenchi Muyo was one of the gateway anime for many fans, and also received one of the better known dubs out there. In Japan, it’s remained as popular as ever, with multiple animes, infinite doujinshi by the creators, and spinoffs galore. A lot of those have come out here as well, but it would not be exaggerating to say that Tenchi’s time was thought to be past. Enter Seven Seas, who have now licensed three volumes of a spinoff novel series that fills in important backstory for the OAV series. And this is definitely based on the OAVs, so don’t expect Kiyone here. Indeed, most of the main cast are relegated to cameos or smaller roles, as this book focuses on Ayeka and Sasami’s father, Azusa.

Yes, that’s Ryoko on the cover, and she does have a small role in this book, but she’s still basically Kagato’s puppet at this point. The main thrust of the book is seeing Azusa’s youth, as well as how he ended up married to Funaho and Masaki. To my relief, Azusa as overprotective Dad from hell is reserved for the prologue, showing yet another fiancee coming down to battle Tenchi only to be taken out by the force of nature that is Mihoshi’s luck. We then flash back to scenes of his youth, which range from seeing him growing up and being taken to Jurai by Masaki’s mother Seto (who really deserves a book or two to herself, frankly) to having the traditional tragic teenage romance, and finally ending up near Earth while chasing pirates – of course, this is Earth around 1250 CE, so there’s a lot less fish out of water antics than you’d expect – and dealing with the aftermath of telling Jurai that he’s not only marrying an offworlder but she’s going to be First Empress.

As I said, Azusa is serious-minded here and has flashes of temper, but is far more likeable and tolerable than the guy we see in the OAVs who exists to get pushed around by his wives and daughters. It’s also nice to see a less stoic “yamato nadesico” and more teenage Funaho. And, as I alluded to above, Seto makes a great mentor, and I definitely want to see more of her. The narrative is mostly straightforward, though I could have done without the annoying intrusive narrative voice name checking events in the Tenchi timeline – “little did they know this was their fated first meeting”, etc. This is especially annoying in one aside regarding Azusa’s second wife Masaki, which spoils a bit too much a future event that I was unaware of. That said, these books are clearly for Tenchi fanatics, and as such I can’t really be too grumpy about it.

Obviously, if you are a newbie to the Tenchi universe, this is a terrible introduction. Go watch the first two anime OAV series. But for those who are still fans, or people like me who hadn’t thought about it in years but still have fond memories, this book is a lot of fun. Plus it’s pretty short, so likely you can knock it back in an afternoon.