Anime Review: Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar

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Synopsis:

Kenshi Masaki, an Earthling in our time, has been summoned to the world of Geminar, a place with flying castles and giant robots, where tensions between nations are high. As a male with the rare and coveted ability to pilot a robot, it seems like everyone wants him. Can he avoid being controlled by a member of his ever-growing harem long enough to save Geminar from the power of the lost technology that destroyed it once already?

Review:

When I heard that there was a new Tenchi Muyo show coming out, nostalgia for the original had me interested. When it turned out that it was set in an alternate world and would have a mecha focus, I was intrigued; the high ratings the show has received sealed the deal. While it would clearly also have a harem, usually a red flag for me, it seemed like the mecha and politics angles could keep it from getting out of hand.

Oh, how wrong I was.

War on Geminar is intensely disappointing, full of pandering nonsense with no substance to back it up. The politics and mecha stuff largely takes a backseat to as much harem and fanservice material as can be crammed into its 45-minute episodes, which is a LOT of material. But before I really dig into that, let’s back up a minute and talk about the premise bit.

First off, why is this marketed as a Tenchi Muyo show? No characters from Tenchi Muyo are in it, other than Kenshi (who is apparently Tenchi’s half-brother, not that you can tell that from the show). References are made to other Tenchi characters, but they are brief and have no bearing on the plot, so they don’t really matter.

This is the most you ever get
This is the most you ever get.

Honestly, the show could stand alone without invoking the Tenchi name at all. Indeed, while in English it’s called Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar, the Japanese title is Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari, which, as Wikipedia tells me, translates as Sage Machine Master Story in the Different World. You may note the telling lack of Tenchi’s name in that title. The show is also a quasi-crossover with another anime, the much older Photon: The Idiot Adventures (Incidentally, one of my favorite guilty pleasures, and a show I’ll probably write a review about at some point) in the sense that Geminar takes place in the Photon universe and features some of the same concepts, such as Ahou energy and these little critters called “Koro”.

These little guys
These little guys

Considering all of this, bringing the Tenchi Muyo name front and center for the English release seems a little disingenuous, or maybe just “cash-grabby”.

So what’s our setup? Geminar is divided into small nations, and tensions run high between them. The giant robots, called “Sacred Mechanoids”, are the most powerful weapons in a nation’s arsenal by a wide margin.

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The church, an organization with control over all lost technology type relics, controls how many mechs a given nation can have. Other than that, the major limitation on using mechs is that a person is born with an innate amount of resistance to the effects of piloting them, as the energy source, “Ahou”, seems to drain a pilot of their strength. This resistance cannot be improved with technology or training, so every nation has a deep interest in using selective breeding to produce pilots with a long operating time. The ability to pilot a mech at all is quite rare, and much rarer in men than women, so male pilots are extremely sought after and carefully guarded. With all that, it’s easy to see how the universe itself has been carefully crafted as a male power fantasy with high harem potential, with women fawning over and fighting over the right to sleep with the rare male pilots. While the show informs us that Kenshi and the other male pilots the plot follows are below the age of consent and don’t have to worry about this yet, this doesn’t stop essentially every woman in the show from throwing themselves at Kenshi at every opportunity.

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Tenchi Muyo War on Geminar00270

Speaking of the women that throw themselves at Kenshi, this seems like as good a time as any to introduce the characte – er, harem. And quite the harem it is! Rarely have I seen one larger. As the size of the harem might imply, none of the characters really has any depth beyond their audience-appeal traits, so I’ll just describe them that way.

Just look at the size of it!
Just look at the size of it!

From left to right, we have Doll (yandere villain), Lapis (no defining characteristics, she’s just kinda there), Lithia (stereotypical student council president), Flora (sex-crazed older woman), Yukine (Yuki Nagato clone), Maria (haughty princess), Kenshi, Lashara (rich princess), Chiaia (quick-tempered tsundere), Wahanly (mechanic), Aura (athletic dark elf princess), Mexiah (sex-crazed teacher), and Rea (not enough screen time for a personality). With this many characters constantly fighting over Kenshi (plus 4 more minor characters not shown here), it’s probably hard to imagine that there’s much time for plot. Well, thanks to the double-length episodes, the show is able to do both, though even with all that extra time, the harem angle still vastly outweighs the plot. Kenshi himself is a little better-defined than most harem protagonists (he likes to gather, prepare, and store food for some reason), but shares all of the important characteristics of one – honest and earnest to a fault, deferential to the whims of his harem, and scared to the point of crying of actually having sex with any of them. His harem, in case you weren’t able to tell from the 2-3 word description of them above, are not even that developed.

Another close escape! Thank goodness, Kenshi’s virginity is safe another day.
Another close escape! Thank goodness, Kenshi’s virginity is safe another day.

Enough about the characters, how about the plot? Surely it at least has some political intrigue, or some different societies to examine, maybe even some incredible adventures! We are, after all, in a fantastical world, free of the constraints of being on Earth, like, say, having to go to school, right?

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Oh, what? Really? REALLY!?! You go through all this trouble to set up a unique, non-Earth world, get extra-length episodes to have the room to tell the story you want to, and you still set OVER HALF of the show in a more or less traditional Japanese-style school setting? In which there is no mech combat, and where the church ensures that none of the political tensions from the outside impact school life? Sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

So yes, right after the action-filled, somewhat tense opening episode, the majority of the show is set at school, watching Kenshi move his way up from lowly servant to classmate to everyone’s most sought-after crush. Eventually, of course, the slowly building villain plot shatters the peace and it’s time to go to war, but by that time, everyone’s love of Kenshi is so great that they all just unite under his banner (literally, he declares his own country, named “Kenshi”, and then just about every woman on the planet joins it) and go crush the bad guy.

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I’m so glad we had all this setup and world-building, just so some guy with a harem can run roughshod over it and personally alter the political and socio-economic landscape of the world.

And run roughshod he does. I have never, in all my time watching anime, seen a main character as obscenely overpowered as Kenshi. It’s not that he’s strong, or fast, or smart, or clever. It’s that he is stronger, faster, smarter, and more clever than literally any other person in the show, and by such a staggering degree that only his inability to be in more than one place at once allows the villain’s plot to get off the ground long enough for him to destroy it out of hand. Not once in the entire show, on foot or in a mech, does an enemy, including the final boss, even touch him or his mech in combat. He can outrun the king of the dark elves in his own forest.

Then he is praised by the king because his very presence is causing the forest itself to glow with joy.  You can’t make this stuff up.
Then he is praised by the king because his very presence is causing the forest itself to glow with joy. You can’t make this stuff up.

He has knowledge of advanced construction techniques and can execute them by himself. He can cook, using ingredients he only just found on a world he is unfamiliar with, far better than the elf princess that has lived there her whole life.

On a side note, what is wrong with Yukine’s face?
On a side note, what is wrong with Yukine’s face?

He can make beds and do laundry faster than anyone, and perfectly.

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He is strong enough to carry a fully grown tree. He can reassemble a complicated ancient mural from some baskets of tile in 5 minutes or less.

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Tenchi Muyo War on Geminar00032His valuation criteria for traditional Japanese housewife skills, such as flower arranging or tea ceremonies, is on par with his instructors, and, in fact, represents an entirely new school of thought.

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What, you thought I was kidding?
What, you thought I was kidding?

There are only two things that ever challenge him (other than relationships, of course). See, mechs in this world can compress objects, usually to be used as super-dense ammunition. Instead, he decides to use his mech to compress a mountain into a mech-sized sword so dense that, if dropped, it would fall through the planet, and this causes him some difficulty for *gasp* a whole day.

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The other thing is the final boss mech, and that’s only because it can regenerate instantly, not because it ever poses him a threat. He overcomes that by compressing his mountain-sword into a giant energy blade that slides other mountains like a machete through a twinkie, and compresses THAT into a blade so fine it cuts through space-time and vanishes.

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It’s true that most harem anime have protagonists so useless and unskilled it’s a wonder they remember to keep breathing, but this is so far in the other direction that it’s ridiculous.

But wait, you say – back up a paragraph – traditional Japanese housewife skills? Here? Oh yes. Somehow, despite being in another world, many of Earth’s (read: Japan’s) traditions have made it here through various summonings.

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So we have sash-taking battles,

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the aforementioned housewife skills, and the formal school uniform looks like this:

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Tenchi Muyo War on Geminar00019If I sigh any harder I’m going to collapse a lung, so let’s move on. The really disappointing thing about the show is that it does try some new things that are mired in the rest of this garbage. The mechs, for example, are kinda neat – They float around on Ahou energy, so they move almost soundlessly, and battle is a lot quieter and more graceful than you’d expect. The compressed-bullet thing is a cool idea. It seems like someone did put thought into the political and geographical side of the world (only to have it largely not matter). There’s also some thematic stuff – The church, for example, looks like this:

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Textbook evil organization, right? Yet they really do strive for the good of peace on the planet for the show’s entire length. The main villainess, Doll, is some kind of manufactured person, but was brought up by an adoptive father.

What a nice lady.
What a nice lady.

Now, she’s being controlled by the main villain, and is struggling with both sets of memories.

Wow dude.  How did anyone not see your villainy coming?
Wow dude. How did anyone not see your villainy coming?

During one scene, she breaks back into his lab and grabs her father with her mech. Holding him as his biological daughter is dragged away crying, Doll says the following:

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Tenchi Muyo War on Geminar00188

Anyone who’s seen anime knows that guy is a goner. Yet when we flash back to the scene later, we see that, indeed, Doll just wanted to talk to her father again, and is quite enjoying herself.

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How nice.  Wasn’t expecting that at all.
How nice. Wasn’t expecting that at all.

And yet, for every new idea or twist on a tired cliché the show offers, there are two things that drive me crazy. The show brings up a lot of ideas and concepts, then either has them be of no consequence or never mentions them again. For example, male pilots are highly prized, and therefore carefully controlled by the rulers of the various countries. There is quite a bit of time devoted, by both Kenshi and another male character, Ceres, to agonizing over having no freedom to choose their path in life, or even who they are allowed to love – several characters mention that the “seed” of particularly strong male pilots has been traded for vast fortunes in the past. The power of the various countries is directly tied to the strength of their handful of pilots, though, so it’s a conflict that will be hard to resolve. So instead, the show just… doesn’t. Kenshi is allowed to do whatever he wants, and the harem he assembles crosses every national border, so the issue is never explored again.

There are more things like this – someone mentions that a pilot can be “baptized” by the church, granting their mech self-repair. Never mentioned again. There is a prophecy about a white mech and a black mech and global destruction. Mentioned once later, but otherwise irrelevant. In a few scenes, characters ask Kenshi about his home on Earth, and they seem interested, or like his answers have given them something to think about. There’s never any payoff for this, though.

Then there are some of the general concepts in the show. People constantly talk about things like Ahou energy, Ena’s Draft, and the Sea of Ena, but these things are never explained, so even by the end of the show, I have only the vaguest idea what they are. That doesn’t mean they’re unimportant – everyone is constantly throwing the terms around, and there are clear limitations on the power of mechs and other technology based on them, but heck if I know what they are. Another thing is Lashara, the 12-year-old who nominally “owns” Kenshi.

Yes, 12 years old, so this is totally not creepy.  Stay classy, show.
Yes, 12 years old, so this is totally not creepy. Stay classy, show.

She is part of the nation of Shtrayu, the same nation the main villain, Babalun, is from. Their relation is never clear – he seems to be ordering around a large sky fortress, but does he speak for the whole country or is he a maverick?

Well isn’t that just the dumbest looking thing.
Well, isn’t that just the dumbest looking thing.

Is Lashara in charge of anything beyond her flying rock ship, the Swan? Who’s paying her tuition to the school? There is talk of her nation being seized for reparations, but we never visit it or see its people, so it remains a vague, maddeningly undefined concept.

The real kiss of death for the show is the fanservice, which I’ve been saving until the end. It is as omnipresent and unrelenting as the plot is unremarkable and unimportant. Since the show was pay-per-view instead of broadcast TV, they can get away with quite a bit more than usual, and they go for broke.

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The girls’ battle suits are skintight and cover only about a third of their bodies, plus they are always posing as suggestively as possible. Here’s a perfect example.

harem 2So… many… nipples. With the torpedoes some of these girls are packing, it’s a wonder they can stand upright.

Torpedoes loaded and ready!  Flood tubes 1 and 2!
Torpedoes loaded and ready! Flood tubes 1 and 2!

Also, I forgot one of Kenshi’s other amazing skills. He can perform a massage so sensual that it leaves the woman receiving it in a perpetual state of near-climax. How would he even do such a thing, you ask, isn’t he constantly afraid of touching a woman? Sure, that’s why Mexiah hypnotizes him into a massage-giving berserker mode. You might think I’m joking, so here is a gallery of the aftermath.

This isn’t a one-time gag, either. Almost two entire 45-minute episodes (out of 13 total) are spent on the buildup and results of his massages, and this “berserker mode” returns on numerous future occasions. Yes, it does kill the pacing and any sense of drama or tension, thanks for asking. Once his prowess is known, he is hired as a professional back-washer by the school.

That is, apparently, a real job.
That is, apparently, a real job.

He’s in high demand, naturally, but while washing backs, notices a magical seal on one of the girls.

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He later asks about it, and is told that it is a contraceptive barrier, since the girls, being the precious pilots of their respective nations, cannot be allowed to become pregnant unless the ruler requires it.

Tenchi Muyo War on Geminar00062So what do we do with this information? Does it feed into the discussions on how people aren’t free under this system? No, Kenshi is told that he should go for it if anyone jumps him.

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Then, it never comes up again, since Kenshi runs screaming from such propositions, as is tradition amongst harem protagonists. So why mention it at all? Why, to pander to the (obviously) male audience, of course!

Lastly, there’s Aura, the dark elf princess. Of all the harem options, she’s one of the more interesting ones. She’s athletic, strong-willed, and probably the only princess or queen in a show full of them that sees Kenshi as a person deserving of personal freedom instead of being breeding stock.

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A female that thinks for herself instead of fawning over Kenshi is, of course, undesirable in a show like this one. So she is given a special weakness to compensate. Whenever she wakes up, she has a weepy, terrified personality, clinging to Kenshi like a damp kitten while she cries into his shoulder and begs him to protect and/or marry her.

Each time it happens, after about 10 minutes, she snaps to, tells him to forget it, and goes back to normal,

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but the damage is done, and the one of the only interesting harem characters is reduced to another damsel in distress.

This is a good metaphor for the show in general, actually. For any interesting concept or cool fight, there are numerous fallbacks on clichés or fanservice, and by the time we get back to anything good, the damage is done.

Pictured: Fanservice interfering with plot in a very literal way
Pictured: Fanservice interfering with plot in a very literal way.

As a result, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this show.

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