Before I even begin my review, a number of things need to be said first.
1. This series, first and foremost, was an advertisement series for the city of Takahashi in Okayama prefecture, making a statement like “Well this format doesn’t work” is erroneous, from the very beginning that’s what it was, curb your expectations.
2. The show is a 4 minute content series in 2014, This show production wise is 100% different than any other series in Tenchi’s filmography, because not only does it take place in its own continuity (which we’ll get to in the review) this is THE FIRST TIME, a Tenchi show has ever been done in this format, it does not have the same budget or production that any other series has had, check your expectations at the door.
With that being said, if you can get past both of those things, you will find that this is not only a decent anime series, but the best Tenchi series in 15 years.
In the initial announcement for the show, the staff were referring to the series as “a celebration of the franchise” and coming from a LONG time fan myself, this series was made 100% for Tenchi fans.
Above in the beginning of my review I said that the series is its own continuity. Some people seem to have a hard time distinguishing this due to the involvement of longtime Tenchi director Hiroshi Negishi, who directed Tenchi Universe, as well as movies 1 and 3.
While Ai Tenchi Muyo draws quite a bit from Tenchi Universe and movies 1 and 2, it also draws quite a bit from not only the Ryo-Ohki OVA (such as Ayeka and Sasami wearing their OVA Jurai garb later on in Ai), but also Tenchi in Tokyo, and even rare gems like the Tenchi Muyo! Sound File, and if you don’t know what that last thing is, then the show is already proving it was made for Tenchi fans.
The story is ultimately nothing really original, but where it shines is how simple it is to understand. I make that statement because the Ryo-Ohki OVA (and by extension Tenchi Muyo GXP and Tenchi Muyo: War on Geminar) is known for its overly-complicated and poorly written plots that are often times hard to follow. Ai Tenchi Muyo goes in the opposite direction, it makes sure that it’s simple enough so that often times the questions you asked in the previous episodes, are rectified the very same episode.
While the show does only have 4 minutes per episode to convey what is going on plot wise, the animation is almost perfect. We are definitely not talking about Sailor Moon Crystal here, haha. Very little 3D-CG is used, animation is fluid, backgrounds look great. The only reason I docked it from being perfect is that there are only a few points where the animation ever dips to low budget, and not every episode has a terrible amount of animation, other than that, spot on.
Much like the story, Ai Tenchi Muyo decides to keep everything simple and use as much of it’s few assets as possible, but that being said, the music is unique to Ai but still very much Tenchi Muyo! In spirit. My favorite piece being Washu’s ethereal, mysterious theme. I would have rated sound a 7 as well, but the background pieces introduced and used in the last 10 episodes fit perfectly.
More than any other category, a Tenchi Muyo show lives and dies by how good the characters are, and this is where Ai Tenchi Muyo! shines above the last 3 iterations released. Every single character in Ai is dynamic, likable, hate-able, understandable. The most important part though, and why the show gets a 10, is that these characters are introduced in a way that does not take away from the old characters, and the old characters must have been watching old tapes of themselves from the 90’s, because they haven’t been this good in a long, long time. New characters are introduced well and old characters are respected, not much more to say there.
Ai Tenchi Muyo! was an experiment. An experiment in whether or not a dead franchise (in the words of Hiroshi Negishi himself) could be resurrected and brought into a contemporary anime shell, and while the format is not my personal pick, and I think a few other things could have been changed, this show was made 100% with Tenchi fans in mind.
It may not look like the Tenchi you remember, it may not sound like the Tenchi you remember, but that’s because VHS are obsolete, OVAs don’t make money anymore, and Tenchi is a 22 year old franchise, but if you can get past the format, you'll find a gem of a series worthy of holding the name Tenchi Muyo!