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Tenchi Muyo: Ryo-ohki Anime Review

Tenchi Muyo: Ryo-ohki Box Art

Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-ohki (OVA series 1 and 2)

4.5 stars / OVA / Comedy / 13-up

Bottom Line

Great characters and great fun, plain and simple.

It’s Like...

...A high-school comedy does Star Wars, mixed with everything that is fun about anime.

Vital Stats

Original Title

天地無用! 魎皇鬼

Romanized Title

Tenchi Muyou! Ryououki

Literal Translation

This End Up! Dark Emperor Demon

Animation Studio


US Release By

Funimation, Geneon Entertainment, Pioneer Animation


Wacky Sci-fi Action Romantic Comedy

Series Type



2 series of 6 30-minute episodes each

Production Date

1992-09-25 - 1993-03-25, 1994-09-25 - 1995-09-25

What's In It


Look For

  • Gunfights
  • Catfights (lots)
  • Fistfights
  • Beasties (a couple)
  • Cute Kids
  • Schoolgirls (a tad)
  • Super Technology
  • Space Ships Of Every Shape and Size
  • Chases and Races
  • Slapsitck
  • Weird

Objectionable Content

  • Violence: 2 (moderate)
  • Nudity: 3 (significant)
  • Sex: 2 (moderate)
  • Language: 1 (mild)

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Plot Synopsis

Tenchi Masaki appears to be a relatively normal high school kid (if you don't count the fact that his grandfather is the caretaker for an isolated shrine and is training Tenchi in some sort of ancient martial art), and his life is pretty quiet. Quiet, that is, until he decides to disobey his grandfather's orders and ventures into a cave near the shrine rumored to hold a demon. One thing leads to another, and before long Tenchi is caught in the middle of a feud between Ryoko, a superpowerful space pirate, and Ayeka, princess of the planet Jurai. As the series progresses, poor Tenchi ends up with quite a harem of live-in aliens: Mihoshi, a ditzy but diligent Galaxy Police officer; Sasami, Ayeka's younger sister; Washu, a diminutive mad scientist and the greatest genius in the galaxy; Ryo-ohki, the cute and cuddly offspring of Ryoko's spaceship; Tenchi's enigmatic grandfather; and Tenchi's widowded dad, whose only hobby seems to be peeping at the many new female acquaintances of his son. This whole crew has only two things in common: they all seem to have the hots for Tenchi for some reason (father and grandpa excepted, of course), and they're all living in Tenchi's house.

The first OAV series, Earth Chapter, introduces the cast and eventually covers their run-in with Kagato, bent on discovering the powerful secrets of the Jurai Royal Family so he can take over the universe or some such villainy.

The second series, Space Chapter, delves into the past of some of the crew, and introduces a whole new villain, a semi-competent mad scientist with powerful (and quite mysterious) backing, in the form of the entity Tokimi. Cruising around in a ship called the Goddess, he cooks up a clone of Ryoko and sends her off to replace the real one and take care of Tenchi.

Quick Review

Switch to Full Review

Created expressly by Pioneer to appeal to anime fans and once one of the biggest franchises in the business, Tenchi Muyo is what it is: Cute, funny, fun, and not much else. If you don't go for that sort of light entertainment, then you probably won't like it. However, it's absolutely loaded with little bits of creativity and life that make is something special. From the colorful and distinctively voiced cast of characters, to a wide variety of truly wild technology (much of which is functionally magic), to some spectacularly creative mechanical design, the imagination is evident everywhere, yet it's all "just there"--little is explained, and wacky stuff is tossed in as offhandedly as much of the humor. On that note, the series isn't always hilarious, but it's consistently light and fun without ever going overboard with silly or dramatic material. The only downsides, as far as I'm concerned, are the tragically unfunny dub and that the plot is left wide open at the end, something that wasn't properly remedied until a decade later.

Tenchi Muyo is about as much fun as you're likely to have watching anime. Usually funny, frequently exciting, occasionally touching, sometimes intriguing, and always lots of fun, it's everything you could ask for in an action-comedy. The characters are among the best in anime, and the offbeat humor practically defines the genre, even if it didn't create it. If you enjoy classic wacky anime fun, then this is the one to get.

Read the full-length review...

Full Review

Switch to Quick Review

Tenchi Muyo was one of the biggest commercial franchises in Anime, designed from the start by Pioneer and AIC to be loved by fans everywhere, and they succeeded in spades. Over time the franchise has drowned in its own popularity and the multitude of spin-offs (three TV series, three movies, and a heap of merchandising). But, as far as I'm concerned, if you ignore all the commercialization and later incarnations, this series is simply way, way more fun than it has any right to be.

Make no mistake: For all my raving, Tenchi Muyo is what it is: Cute, funny, fun, and not much else. If you don't go for that sort of light entertainment, then you probably won't like it. Yet, no matter how many times I watch it, the little bits of creativity and life keep me smiling through the whole thing. I can't seem to say enough about it (though I'm about to try), but the bottom line is simple: If you haven't seen it, just skip reading all this, forget the hype, forget the spin-offs, and give it a shot--chances are, you'll have a ball.

The stories have a good mix of humor, action, sweet romance (if you can call a temperamental, millennia-old space pirate sweet), and semi-serious drama. This emotional hodgepodge meshes together very well, and it maintains an upbeat, light-hearted feel throughout. That's one of my favorite things about it--it's consistently fun without being too silly.

For example, there's a love triangle (or if you count the less serious potential mates, hexagon), but the interaction and rivalry come off without you ever having to feel sorry for any of the participants. Likewise, when the series gets serious it cuts back the humor without becoming a downer. Even the gags aren't outright silly--however wacky and weird things get, it maintains a relatively firm grip on its own warped reality.

Another strength is the plot. It outwardly looks like the whole thing is devoid of substance, but there's quite a bit hiding under the surface. Although many of the episodes are more or less self-contained, there's an undercurrent of continuity between them, and a great deal of foreshadowing. Better yet, the hints are enigmatic, leaving you guessing at a lot of what is going on. This sense of mystery and confusion adds a lot to the series. "Ok, we'll explain all that now." scenes are few and far between, and even when they do pop up, you're often still a bit lost.

Sadly, all the mystery is the series' greatest weakness: When it ends there are piles of unanswered questions and hints at future developments. Fortunately, the comics picked up some of the slack and almost a decade later a third series finally takes up where these two left off.

All that said, it's the characters that make Tenchi Muyo what it is. A wide variety of off-the-wall personalities, every one of them oh-so-likable, make the series irresistible for any fan of good old-fashioned fun anime characters. And, despite the stereotypes, a bit of originality and a heap of raw spunk (not to mention standout voice performances) set them out from the rest of the women-from-outer-space crowd. There's also some depth to their personalities once you get to know them (well, except for Mihoshi). Plus there's Ryo-ohki, the cutest half-rabbit, half-cat, half-space-battleship you'll ever see--if you don't like her, there's something wrong with you.

Coming back to that point about the romance, another great thing about the characters (mostly Ayeka and Ryoko in this case) is the way they manage to be funny, hot-tempered, violent (Ryoko in particular), and yet still have some surprisingly sweet moments. There is, of course, an ongoing debate among fans as to which woman Tenchi should end up with (I've always wondered, since the Jurai royal family condones polygamy, why not both?), and I have to say there's something irresistible about a 2,000-year-old former space pirate with an anger management problem who has a crush on some Earth kid. Ryoko even manages to be quite cute on occasion, but hey, this is anime.

Speaking of ages, if you're sick of yet another cast of 18- and 19-year-old girls, you won't find any here. True, they look relatively young, but the youngest of the group is the mature-beyond-his-18-years Tenchi. After him (and skipping Mihoshi, who's apparently in her early 20s), the age scale starts at several hundred years, and goes way up from there. Different, if kind of weird. This age discrepancy isn't just theoretical, either--we explicitly see Ryoko watching tenchi grow up from the time he was born, Ayeka was an old flame of Tenchi's grandfather (also his half-sister--polygamy isn't the only thing the Jurai royal family allows), and Washu, for all her quirks, is very definitely a mature woman with a considerable history.

Another thing not to expect is a bunch of unwarranted or out-of-character accusations of peeping and dirty-mindedness. In a reversal of the norm Ryoko flaunts her body at every opportunity, Tenchi, by far the most modest of the lot, is the only one getting groped or peeped at. At the same time, the series isn't notably dirty--blunt fanservice is almost shockingly rare--though it whips out a surprisingly randy joke once in a while.

The creative technology of the series--much of it is, for all practical purposes, magic--is another point worth singling out. There's loads of fun stuff, from Washu's wacky (and destructive) gadgets to Juraian technology--everything is made of living wood, including their space ships. Although there are some sci-fi standbys, much of the technology just doesn't fit into any standard category. For example, Mihoshi has a Rubic's Cube-inspired 4th-dimensional remote control. Better still, they never once stop to explain anything--you just have to accept it as being somehow functional, and this adds immensely to the believability of some very wild stuff. The powers of the characters and everything else pretty much fits into this category--it's all just there. Take Ryoko--she can fly and pass through solid objects, and does both so constantly that it looks weird when she's just walking.

Technically, Tenchi Muyo is solid for an OAV series of the era, and is better looking on average than any of the subsequent TV series. The character animation is well above par and a few of the action sequences are quite slick. The character designs are distinctive, attractive, and very likable (if a bit inconsistent for the first episode or so), and the character art is reasonably detailed. Some of the backgrounds are spectacularly imaginative, but usually not painted with any great care.

That visual imagination is where the series shines. To start with, the clothing has an interesting "almost traditional Japanese" look--Ayeka and Sasami, for example, wear kimono-like robes. The rather abstract mechanical design, likewise, is creative and original. The ships in particular--from sweeping wooden arcs, to spiky crystals, to a giant goddess-shaped figurehead, most are unlike anything else I've seen. (Excepting the occasional parody--there's a scene or two with ships that look an awful lot like the Sol Bianca or some Zentraedi cruisers.)

The weakest point is the music. The series is peppered with some appropriately upbeat tunes, but nothing at all memorable. The end (and opening, in the second series) themes are cute, but nothing more.

As for the voice acting, Tenchi Muyo features some of my favorite Japanese character acting in any anime and is about as much fun as you'll find anywhere. The voices are perfectly cast and surprisingly distinctive; despite the standard set of characters, every one of them is recognizable and very memorable, and the various personalities are consistent and dead on. There are also occasionally more emotionally-charged moments, which are acted very well (some great bits with Washu and Sasami come to mind). I do have to single out Ai Orikasa as Ryoko, though; her unmistakable voice is a perfect fit for the character, her emotional range--usually funny and violent, but occasionally touching or emotional--never seems forced, and her performance is one-of-a-kind.

Unfortunately, I can't say as much of the dub. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of dubbing in general, but frankly, this is a prime example of why. The voices in the dub are distinctive, all right--plenty of accents and memorable mannerisms--but the acting is not particularly good and the casting is... well, I'll put it this way: Ayeka sounds like she's in her 50s, Tenchi sounds like the biggest wuss this side of Weenieville, Tenchi's dad sounds like Homer Simpson, only much dumber, and Ryoko sounds kind of like an older and slightly less nasal Fran Drescher. To make matters much worse, the writing in the dub is awkward and mostly unfunny, and the timing and inflection changes cause almost as much damage to the offhanded humor. Truly criminal for something as hilarious as the series should be.

I've given a lot of reasons why I think Tenchi Muyo is so beloved, but I've left one thing out, and I can't tell you what it is. The truth is, I don't really know what makes it so much fun. Maybe it's just all the little things coming together, but whatever it is, something takes this superficially commercial series one step past great fun and makes it something special. I may not be able to give it a name, but the simple (and frankly embarrassing) fact is that every time I watch it, I enjoy it even more than the last time, and with seven or eight hours to watch, that's really saying something.

Tenchi Muyo is about as much fun as you're likely to have watching anime. Usually funny, frequently exciting, occasionally touching, sometimes intriguing, and always lots of fun, it's everything you could ask for in an action-comedy. The characters are among the best in anime, and the offbeat humor practically defines the genre, even if it didn't create it. If you enjoy classic wacky anime fun, then this is the one to get.

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Related Recommendations

If you liked the Tenchi Muyo OAVs, you're almost certain to like the movies and probably the TV series, despite the plot and character differences. The Tenchi in Tokyo TV series is probably the least like the OAVs, and the 2nd movie (Daughter of Darkness) is the most. As for a sequel, GXP is in the same continuity but with unrelated characters, but there is finally another (non-Pioneer) OAV that takes up where this one left off. Another Pioneer series with the same multi-plotline quirk and a very similar theme is El Hazard, which also comes highly recommended. Finally, for more superpowered women causing unreasonable amounts of destruction and lots of comedy on the side, you might want to take a look at Project A-ko.

Notes and Trivia

Tenchi Muyo isn't based on anything; it was cooked up by Pioneer and company specifically as a marketing tool.

The franchise is somewhat famous for its complete lack of continuity. Neither of the two subsequent TV series (Universe and Tenchi in Tokyo) have anything to do with this one--they both share the same cast, but each follows its own continuity. The comic series (also available in English), however, does follow this continuity, taking up roughly where the OAVs left off. The GXP TV series also belongs in the OAV continuity, but follows entirely different characters so is only loosely related. The three movies are also on their own. The first and third roughly fit together in a continuity related to, but different from, the first TV series. The second is based on a series of novels set in the OAV continuity and would fit, were it not for a couple of characters who don't appear elsewhere. That's not even counting the even-less-related Pretty Sammy magical girl spin-off series.

As for Tenchi Muyo: Ryo-ohki, it's composed of two separate 6-episode OAV series, although both have the same subtitle and they were produced pretty much back to back, so I'm considering them part of the same whole. Depending on how you count, the 7th episode is the Mihoshi Special (available on DVD along with the Pretty Sammy series that it inspired) that was produced between the two series. Being that it consists of Mihoshi telling a rather wild story, it has very little to do with the continuity, though it does fit. There is also a "14th" episode at the very end, a short audio-only bit of explanation and humor accompanied by some more or less static drawings. There is a third OAV series (also subtitled simply "Ryo-ohki") that is part of the same continuity and continues the plot. It was produced a decade later (and released in the US by FUNimation).

An edited version of the series was produced for Cartoon Network, which lacks a few scenes and has the content of others changed (in particular, Ryoko's penchant for wandering around sans-clothing has been altered with some added bathing suits).

As is commonly pointed out, the title is a multi-layered pun. "Tenchi Muyou" is actually an extremely common (and very old) phrase used to label boxes, meaning simply "This End Up." Read literally, it means "No need for Heaven and Earth," which also sort of applies to the series. Finally, it could be read to mean "No Need for Tenchi" (since Tenchi's name rather appropriately means "Heaven and Earth"). The OAV series is subtitled Ryou-ouki (as opposed to each of the TV series and movies, which have different subtitles), referring of course to the cute critter, whose name read literally is rather un-cute: "Dark Emperor Demon."

US DVD Review

This DVD set is called the Ultimate Edition, and with good reason--Pioneer went all out on this one, though it's not the first time, since they also did a two part LaserDisc set of the same material a while ago. To start with, the box is gorgeous; the three discs are in one long fold-out case that fits into a clear plastic slip cover, and from the moment you fold it open, you get the felling you got what you paid for--the surface of the video discs is even gold. The discs are remastered to THX specs and the Japanese audio track has been remastered into Dolby 5.1, and it shows. The video has a very minor flaw--when there is a large black area on the screen, you can see some blockiness in the subtly different shades of black. But other than that, it is absolutely pristine. The audio has a small problem in that the Japanese in the first episode or two is only 4-channel, rather than 5.1, and there is a hint of a hiss, but other than that it's crystal clear and beautiful.

The Tenchi Encyclopedia 3.0 (which comprises the entire 3rd disc of the set), is also a must-see for any Tenchi fan. It includes some info (from Washu's perspective) and several video clips (in your choice of languages) for each major character in every series and movie, some "secret" info about a lot of the stuff throughout the Tenchi universe, a thorough walkthrough of the Masaki complex (ever wondered exactly where everybody sleeps in Tenchi's house?), and even a music video and short interview with the Japanese voice behind Sakuya (from Tenchi in Tokyo). This encyclopedia was a little different from the version included with the second movie; it looks better and is better organized, but not as well cross-referenced, and doesn't have individual sections on any of the hardware. Still, it has more material (and a choice of language), and is definitely an improvement overall.

I would be lax if I didn't do some nitpicking and point out the flaws in this set, though. Other than the minor things above, the problem isn't with what's there, but with what isn't. Having the two LD sets as well, I've used that as a baseline for what a set like this could have had. First off, and most noticeable, the DVD set does not have the Mihoshi Special--an episode between the two halves of the series with Mihoshi's tale that spawned the whole Pretty Sammy thing. It wasn't part of the continuity per se, but it seems odd to have left it out, particularly considering that the LD set (which was much cheaper, actually) included it. Also missing is a little goody included at the end of the 2nd LD set, a short string of interviews with several cast members from both the Japanese and English casts. Surely it wouldn't have hurt to include that on the encyclopedia somewhere--they did have one interview, after all. Also a bit odd is that the credits are exactly as they appeared in Japan (no English at all, even in the subtitle track), and the set's credits, which are on the Encyclopedia disc, only cover the stars. Also during the credits, there is no subtitling on the theme songs. Finally, the main program discs are minimal--just a language selector and chapter index, which is OK, except the episodes aren't broken up internally by track at all; you can't even skip the credits. Oh well.

All that may sound like I didn't like it, but I just wanted to be sure and point out every flaw I spotted--after all, this set is designed for serious Tenchi nuts, and it's good to know exactly what to expect before you plunk down upwards of US$100 for it. In all, this is a beautiful DVD set, and I highly recommend it to any Tenchi fan. A final note: The LD set had a problem in that the captioning (subtitles) in the first few episodes were the English captions, rather than the more literally translated subtitle text. This set does not have that issue, of course.

Parental Guide

Notably raunchy humor here and there, and a few casual nude scenes, but generally deserving of the 13-up Pioneer gave it. The one or two nudity-heavy episodes would more appropriately garner a 16+, though. There's also an "all ages" edited version with quite a bit cut out.

Violence: 2 - Quite a bit of fighting, but nothing at all graphic.

Nudity: 3 - A fair amount of nudity in a couple of episodes, but it's mostly casual.

Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Mostly light romance; occasionally an offhanded but very raunchy joke.

Language: 1 - Nothing noteworthy.


Available in North America from Geneon (formerly Pioneer), currently on a bilingual DVD box set called the Ultimate Edition, as well DVDs of the edited version shown on Cartoon Network. Previously available on compiled VHS tapes or two sets of two bilingual LDs each (Book of Heaven and Book of Earth). Before that, was originally available on 14 individual subtitled or dubbed VHS volumes, or on individual bilingual LDs.

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