Many people of my generation first encountered anime through Pokémon or Digimon Adventure; for the latter, I very much remember my crushes on Kaari and Mimi during Adventure 02. I thought Kaari’s arm sleeves were the height of sexy, cool girl fashion. At around the same time, Cartoon Network’s Toonami block appeared and broadcast series we all know: Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing, and Dragon Ball Z. But there was another Toonami franchise I enjoyed a little more than the others: Tenchi Muyo!
I would have been nine years old when the Tenchi Muyo! shows were broadcasting. Thinking about it now, I probably shouldn’t have been watching a franchise about female space aliens who fall madly in love with a boring, small-town kid who’s secretly the heir to a royal family. But my father already banned me from watching Power Rangers and DBZ for their violence, so something like Tenchi easily slipped through the cracks–and thank god it did. I think Tenchi Muyo Ryo-Ohki! was my first harem series.
When I was younger, I developed crushes on girls quickly and easily; if someone didn’t like me, I moved on. Such a tactic wasn’t successful at attracting anyone because, well, it’s creepy. These futile flirtations naturally carried over into anime, a realm where all the girls liked me for who I was because they were imaginary. With few exceptions, I was enamored with the girls of Tenchi Muyo! who all lived with Tenchi in his grandfather’s house. Kiyone and Mihoshi, two interplanetary police officers who caused more issues than they solved, were a funny team and damn cute as well. The standout character for me was Ryoko Hakubi, a reformed space pirate who’s only wish was to please Tenchi. I loved her as much as any nine-year-old could.
People who watch harem anime know that the girls never end up with the male lead. Writers can only suggest the main guy and gal get together because actually pairing them would deflate the dramatic tension; Ryoko and Tenchi fit this model as well. In the first OVA Tenchi releases Ryoko from years of imprisonment, and after he beats her in a skirmish she’s as harmless as a house cat…until Ayeka (who is actually Tenchi’s great aunt) lands on Earth to find her half-brother Yosho (Tenchi’s grandfather) and get married. Ryoko and Ayeka don’t get along, so when they fall in love with Tenchi he gets caught in a love triangle for the duration of the franchise. According to an interview with the original series director, Tenchi and Ryoko were conceived of as the lead characters, which may mean that they’re also the one-true-pairing.
Because we discuss PVC and ABS figures on this site, I wish I could review some Ryoko figures. There aren’t many mass-production scale or prize figures based on the franchise despite the creation of many Tenchi Muyo! spinoffs, including a new OVA currently streaming from Crunchyroll (which I absolutely loathe because it’s boring as fuck). The one Ryoko I own was a gift from my friend @fallettus. FREEing recently released a bunny version of Ryoko, but for some reason it doesn’t resonate with me–especially not at $250 USD. I can count the figures I own at that price point on one hand.
While I may never own another Ryoko figure, she’ll always be one of my favorite characters. I consider her my first waifu. Unlike Mimi or Kaari, characters written for nonromantic children’s television, I feel Ryoko caters to the young adult otaku audience Tenchi Masaki resembles. He has no outwardly special traits, and his abilities as Juraian royalty are mostly dormant. There are Damsel in Distress and First Girl Wins tropes at play for Ryoko, but as a harem and romantic fantasy this is precisely why Tenchi Muyo! works. When I was younger, I found unyielding loyalty obnoxious and confusing in real women; as an adult, I realize how fickle and flawed people are, and how hard it is to find someone willing to accept us as we are, at our best and our worst.
If I die and I’m forced to reincarnate isekai-style, throw me into the Tenchi universe. I’ll be the one to break Ryoko from her prison. No need for Tenchi!