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No Need for Tenchi. By Hitoshi Okuda. English adaptation by Fred Burke. San Francisco, CA: Viz Comics, 1994-2001. 9v. $15.95/v.

V.1: No Need for Tenchi. ISBN 1-56931-180-3.
V.2: Sword Play ISBN 1-56931-254-0.
V.3: Magical Girl Pretty Sammy. ISBN 1-56931-288-5.
V.4: Samurai Space Opera. ISBN 1-56931-339-3.
V.5: Unreal Genius. ISBN 1-56931-365-2.
V.6: Dream a Little Scheme. ISBN 1-56931-429-2.
V.7: Tenchi in Love. ISBN 1-56931-470-5.
V.8: Chef of Iron. ISBN 1-56931-535-3.
V.9: The Quest for More Money. ISBN 1-56931-559-0.

Science fiction

Adults, teens, older kids; very mild nudity

NOTE: These books collect the various monthly issues of the No Need for Tenchi series.

The No Need for Tenchi books contain stories that mostly take place after the events in the anime series. A brief background synopsis in the first book sets the scene and introduces the basic situation: teenage Earthman Tenchi accidentally frees a beautiful, powerful female cat-human, Ryoko, from imprisonment. After some initial chaos, she falls in love with him. He also turns out to be a prince of the extraterrestrial Jurai family, with a great deal of potential. Two daughters from this family, Ayeka and Sasami, arrive to deal with Ryoko, and Ayeka falls in love with Tenchi. Also arriving for other reasons are Mihoshi, a rather inept female space cop, and Washu, a 20,000-year-old mad scientist who is Ryoko's "mother." Now they all live together at Tenchi's house with his father and grandfather amid hijinks aplenty.

Books 1 and 2 deal with the arrival of a Ryoko lookalike, Minagi, who is suffering from amnesia. She turns out to be on a quest to see the power of Tenchi's lightning eagle sword for her master, Yakage, who has created a similar sword and wants to test it against the real thing. Yakage kidnaps Ayeka and forces the others to travel into space to confront him.

Book 3 contains three short stories. In the first, Sasami befriends an injured wolf and must try to defend it from hunters. In the second, an old girlfriend of Tenchi's shows up, sparking even more rivalry between Ryoko and Ayeka--but the girlfriend has a deeper, sadder motive for arriving. Finally, "Magical Girl Pretty Sammy" is a parody of the Sailor Moon ethos, with Sasami assuming the identity of the title character.

Books 4-6 cover an epic adventure. The wood-sculptor father of Princess Asahi has been imprisoned by a rival who wants all the power of the father's position. Tenchi and co., inspired by a crime-drama soap opera, blast off into space to help the princess rescue her father. The power behind the plot turns out to be Yume, an old rival of Washu's.

Books 7-8 are collections of unrelated short stories, including an adaptation of Tenchi the Movie, in which the characters must travel back in time to 1970s Tokyo, because something happened then that is making Tenchi vanish from the present.

Book 9 is another epic. The realization that they're running out of money prompts the characters to follow an old memory of Ryoko's into space to search for treasure that she remembers having left on a planet--but her memory has a big hole in relation to this situation. What did she leave on that planet? Also, she seems to remember a boy guarding the treasure; he was a Tenchi lookalike, and her feelings for this person and Tenchi are confusing, to say the least.

OK, I haven't seen the anime, so I don't know whether it's faithful to the show or not--but regardless, this is a delightful series with a lot to recommend it. First and foremost are the characters, who are uniformly attractive and who are surprisingly deep for people who inhabit the crazy Tenchi universe. I haven't seen such a worthwhile set of characters in quite some time, actually. Ryoko is mischievous, violent, and jealous, but she also has her affectionate side and can even get humble and reflective when things become awkward, such as when she loses her powers; at first upset, she realizes that Tenchi may like her better as a normal being, and she's reluctant to regain her powers until circumstances force her to. Ayeka is more the princess type (she gets kidnapped a lot), but she can take care of herself against Ryoko, and their feuds have an underlying affection to them. Sasami is a basically good person who considers others' feelings when she acts; in "The Ferrous Chef," she undergoes some soul-searching while competing in a cooking contest against a boy whose life will be better if she lets him win--or will it? Washu is a lot of fun; she has a wicked sense of humor as well as a certain motherly attitude towards the younger set. Tenchi doesn't have any standout characteristics (indeed, one of the central conceits of this book is that the poor guy is always overshadowed by the women), but he's a decent person and a subtle personality that's growing in confidence. The only really two-dimensional character is Mihoshi, and she's wisely not used too much. Even the lesser characters are individuals: Tenchi's father and grandfather, other one-off or occasional visitors. That's impressive characterization.

The Tenchi universe is populated with all kinds of weird and wonderful ideas. For example, Ryoko's spaceship spends much of its time on Earth in the form of an adorable cat/rabbit, Ryo-ok-ki, and is an important character in the stories. Giant powerful trees fly through space. Like many Japanese humor comics, this one is quite self-aware, with references to the sound effects (e.g., in vol. 9, Ayeka mutters "This episode's theme song" when she hears the third of three screams), little asides from the author/narrator, running jokes upon which the characters comment, etc. Sometimes, a dramatic moment is effectively punctured by one of these metafictional moments. And speaking of dramatic moments, while No Need for Tenchi is primarily a humor comic, there are plenty of nonhumorous moments in both the short stories and the epics. Indeed, the "quest for more money" is mostly a serious story.

A few minor weaknesses need mention. The back story presented at the beginning of Book 1 is inadequate and even incoherent in places; it won't answer most questions you would have about the series. Luckily, you can glean the important stuff from reading the books. Also, the adaptation of Tenchi the Movie seems WAY too short (again, I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know for sure) and is also disappointing in that the story doesn't deal with the differences between 1970s Tokyo and 1990s Tokyo. The fight scenes can be hard to follow, as with most manga. Finally, Ryoko is drawn inconsistently; sometimes she has a tail, sometimes not. In fact, I wasn't aware she was supposed to have a tail until in the later books.

The black-and-white art is very fluid and extremely cinematic, using dramatic or humorous techniques as the need arises and mixing boy's and girl's manga imagery when necessary. The panels can literally go from dead serious to dead humorous in an eyeblink. Some of the space scenes are gorgeous.

No Need for Tenchi is a first-class comedy-drama science fiction series that should appeal to a wide audience, especially (of course) manga and anime fans. Although the books contain a small amount of "body stocking" nudity, it's nonerotic and infrequent, so it's a series that older kids can safely read. Highly recommended.

Buy the Tenchi books directly from Viz comics!

Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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