Originally airing in 1997, Tenchi In Tokyo was something new to Tenchi fans. Out of the three main Tenchi anime series In Tokyo won the award for being the most different with a completely fresh approach at telling its tale. Muyo! and Universe are indeed separate series with their own continuity but this particular show reworked the tried and true Tenchi formula from the ground up.
If you are familiar with the franchise then you already know the basic episode structure, the background, and character personalities. Ryoko has always been a perverted space pirate, Tenchi has always been a Jurian descendant, and the girls all fight for their favorite lead boy. Ok, so admittedly some things in Tenchi In Tokyo haven't changed. Ryoko is still a masochistic alien menace, Tenchi is still the main love interest of just about every girl in Japan (seriously, what kind of hormones is this kid running with?), and the adored Tenchi personality has once again made a triumphant return.
Once you begin watching the show though you'll notice several different things that separate this from the other franchise. For starters Tenchi is not Jurian. Instead he is a regular guy who lives with his grandfather and eventually moves to Tokyo to train for his temple. Sure Ryoko, Ayeka, Washu, Sasami, and the rest are still around but subtle changes in personality are afoot. Don't be too worried' there're no glaring changes in the way characters interact but you'll notice the alterations if you have watched the other two series. Some are subtle while others are much more noticeable.
Tenchi in Tokyo also introduces many new characters into the fold. A new villain named Yugi is written into the show and has her targets set on Tenchi and company. A long time ago she was sealed away by a Jurian power and sent to Earth for imprisonment. An earthquake shakes her free and unleashes her sinister abilities upon the world. She desires some special crystals because of their power and throughout the show continues to send one monster after another to acquire them. One such "monster" is Sakuya.
Sakuya isn't so much a monster as she is an unsuspecting shadow of Yugi. She is introduced as a love interest and throughout much of the show offers a nice change of pace. She's not a magical space pirate or super-powered alien girl. Instead she's really just a normal girl (aside from the whole shadow of evil thing) and her relationship with Tenchi is genuine. Her emotions are real and as she works her way closer to Tenchi she unwittingly leads them closer to danger thanks to Yugi.
Even though she's partly a villain when you get right down to it I can't help but feel that Sakuya's character is one that should have been introduced a long time ago. Don't misunderstand me; I have enjoyed all Tenchi series to this point. I love the characters and applaud the way the writers worked all of their quirks into the show while still finding room to provide interesting stories and fun development. However, having a "normal" person as a love interest definitely shook things up a bit. Sure we learn the terrible things about Sakuya later on in the series but while the innocence lasts it's a nice change.
Now, with the structure of these episodes the series feels oddly paced when you compare it with the rest of the Tenchi franchise. The exposition and relationship bits tend to be drawn out here and they feel slower somehow. I suppose it is simply the show allowing things their own time to grow but it certainly holds the viewer at bay for a few episodes.
Yugi's character also messes with the flow of the series by introducing one monster after another. With this kind of formula being thrown into the mix Tenchi In Tokyo becomes episodic before too long. This lasts for a good chunk of the series and it really isn't until the halfway point that it shrugs off this stigma. In between all of this the Tenchi harem comedy component is in full swing and there are many hilarious moments in between. After you adjust to the difference in theme and plot you'll find some familiar laughs hidden in between.
While Universe felt familiar after watching the OVA, In Tokyo's change of pace is like a breath of fresh air. It's mostly successful from start to finish though there are more rough spots scattered throughout than fans may be used to. The new characters, the change in scenery, and the alterations in personalities may seem jarring at first but after some time you may grow to appreciate them.
Chances are very good that Tenchi fans have already seen this show but with Geneon's trip back to their catalog a new audience may be out there, ready and waiting. If you find yourself in that group and liked other Tenchi incarnations definitely give this one a go and see what you think. It may be different but it's still well-written and funny enough to be enjoyable.
With a video produced ten years ago Tenchi In Tokyo is definitely starting to show its age. Like the other Tenchi series, this one features a fair amount of grain, some dirt, and sparse amounts of compression littered throughout. The 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio maintains fine colors and offers a vibrant enough palette. Overall the quality of the show's visuals is fine but is decidedly worn out compared to more recent anime.
It's also worth pointing out that Tenchi In Tokyo features some artistic changes as well. Character designs are more angular with sharper detail and lankier appearances. It's not bad looking by any stretch of the imagination but it's a far cry from the round and somewhat innocent look of the first two shows. The animation is still of decent quality though and accompanies the video quite well.
Like the other Tenchi series and most anime from the 90's the audio here is presented with 2.0 stereo offerings. The English and Japanese dubs are both fantastic with the original cast returning once again with acting that fits the theme of the show perfectly. The humor is real and the emotion is genuine which is rare when it comes to dubs for both languages in anime. The audio quality sounds like you'd expect it to with no flaws such as distortion or dropout. With the stereo presentation everything remains on the front channels and there is very little immersion. Granted that works out fine considering this is mostly a dialogue driven series but when Ryoko goes crazy and starts blowing stuff up you're going to wish there was some rear channel support.
For the most part, like Tenchi Universe, Tenchi In Tokyo offers the same bonus features that were available when the series was originally released on DVD. That means you can expect textless opening and closing animations, art galleries, some music videos, and commercials for the program in Japanese. In other words there is nothing fantastic here but there are a few things to browse.
It may not be the best of the three main Tenchi series but In Tokyo is quality anime. The show blends a great sense of humor with fantastic writing and interesting characters. With that formula you're always going to have a success on your hands. Where In Tokyo becomes polarizing is in the concept of the show. The different atmosphere and change of pace makes it feel familiar and like something new all at the same time. It's still a great series throughout but fans looking for the same old Tenchi may be disappointed. Recommended