Tenjho Tenge: The Past Chapter is a rarity indeed, a prequel that actually matches its original series in sheer fascination. For fans, this special is a great opportunity to delve into what was the original series’ most captivating mystery, namely that surrounding the seniors, Maya and Mitsuomi. We not only get to see the senior cast of the original series as they were back in the day, but get to meet the man of legend himself, Maya’s brother Shin. Furthermore, since The Past Chapter is a standalone prequel, those not yet familiar with the series should find it a straightforward introduction.
Equal parts funny, action-packed and disturbing, The Past Chapter upholds the good standard set by the series. It may not be intelligent, but it’s certainly an efficient production which mixes all the fun clichés of anime whilst paying close attention to the development of the characters involved. For example, many of the battles are not just gratuitous interruptions, but emotionally charged conflicts which have definite personal consequences for the combatants.
With that said, The Past Chapter is careful to deliver on meaty action. In fact, in comparison to the fights in the series, the movie has undoubtedly raised the bar. First and foremost, there are just more of them crammed into a shorter space of time. While in the series there are two or three truly astounding battles spread across twenty-six episodes, in The Past Chapter, almost every steely glare escalates into a no-holds-barred mêlée. Secondly, the creators have gotten more creative with the term ‘hardcore’; when someone can punch a car into the air or stop an elbow drop with the power of their toes, then, chances are, the anime is a must-watch.
The bold colours and equally bold character designs lend themselves very well to the somewhat whacky battles. Incidentally, Tenjho Tenge is one of the few anime that wear ecchi well i.e. the random panty shots are used more as a complement to rather than a substitute for good quality storytelling and characterisation.
Apart from adding to the atmosphere once in a while, the soundtrack generally remains inconspicuous. A couple of the instrumentals might prove transiently interesting, but none of them stand out in the long run. The dialogue, on the other hand, is worth special attention, since it involves a lot of fun one-liners. At times the script almost seems to drip with poetic sarcasm, which lends itself well to the exaggerated acting style.
With fighting shows such as this one, the question is not so much how original the characters are (because they aren’t), but how effectively they kick arse and pull off tough talk. Surprisingly, though, whilst they remain light-hearted enough to work with the cheesy plot, all the major characters in The Past Chapter also manage to be multidimensional.
Especially enthralling is the dynamic between Maya and Shin, a tragic sibling relationship ridden with fears and complexes. However, of equal merit are Bunshichi, a raspy-voiced joker who arguably leads one of the most intense action scenes in the movie, and Mitsuomi, whose origins reveal a lot about the kind of good-natured person he could have been in the series had fate not conspired otherwise. Each of the protagonists has an original story to tell that isn’t so obvious in the series, and that makes The Past Chapter’s contribution to the franchise all the more interesting.
Fans of the series will be pleasantly surprised by this superior instalment, and those new to Tenjho Tenge will find the special a gripping introduction to the franchise. By no means does The Past Chapter shed any more light on what the shamefully incomplete series was supposed to be about, but the plot as an isolated element remains exciting from beginning to end.