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.