Tenjho Tenge Round 1
All the drama of high school and teenagers combines with brutal fistfights and hot babes with big swords in Tenjho Tenge, the latest release in the “high school full of fighting” genre. While some play it for laughs and some play it straight, Tenjho Tenge takes it a step beyond, with cringe-inducing fights and plenty of eye candy for the fanboys. This Geneon release pushes the genre all the way to the line between entertainment and brutality, sometimes dancing right over it before pulling back.
Round One is the first disc in the series and Fight One introduces our major characters. Souichiro and Bob call themselves Knuckle Bomb and arrive at Todo Academy with plans to lay the smack down and take over the school. However, the tables are turned when the resident Juken Club isn’t quite as full of pushovers as it seems. The resident pretty boy has a vicious side, and the two girls seem polite and retiring, until they whip out their katanas and start asserting their authority.
Fight 2: Defeat picks up where the last one cliffhangered, in a stunning lunchroom brawl that quickly escalates from a display of kung fu skills to a painful to watch bloody beatdown. A flashback reveals the origins of Souichiro’s nasty streak, while the Executive Council of seniors is on the move, plotting the punishments for those who get too violent. The first executioner makes his appearance in Fight 3: Executioner, but Knuckle Bomb doesn’t go down easily and have no intention of running when things get tough.
The last episode on the disc is Fight 4: Suspicion. Bob and Souichiro go into training with the rest of the Juken Club, plotting to get stronger for their inevitable showdown with the Executive Council’s executioner. However, romance is rearing its head, and one of the girls has her eye on Souichiro.
Fan service is lovingly delivered, curves and skirts carefully drawn to tantalize and draw drooling from the lust-crazed. There’s a certain creepiness to the level of detail, though, a sitting outside the bedroom window level of obsessiveness to the focus on young girl’s chests. Schoolgirls with katanas don’t just push buttons, they mash the entire keypad, but there’s still a kind of staring stalker vibe to the girls’ close-ups that feels a little skeevy. There’s looking and then there’s leering.
As detailed as the fan service is the violence. Characters move with fluid grace and get clobbered and smacked around in wince-inducing ways. The genre’s cinematic strivings are evident here, with fight scenes reminiscent of big budget kung fu movies instead of Saturday night anime reruns. The camera swoops over, under, and around the fisticuffs, zooming into one character’s eyes so we can see what it feels like to take a punch, then darting off to watch a screaming freight train followup punch.
Excellent sound design is critical to pulling off lots of fighting, and Tenjho Tenge delivers there, as well. When someone catches a crushing blow to the jaw, it doesn’t sound like a guy mashing a button for Generic Guy Getting Punched Effect #3, it triggers that “Oooooooh” response from any schoolyard brawl. However, it, too, sometimes goes beyond awesome and moves into outright viciousness. Cringing at a well-landed shot is one thing, but cringing because it feels like a line has been crossed is quite another. Might be a personal thing, but sometimes it felt sadistic instead of just violent. There’s a “Oooh, awesome” wince and a “God, that’s just cruel.”
While technically impressive, the extras on this disc are sparse. It’s nice that the audio is in Dolby and that there’s a “signs only” subtitle stream, but in terms of extras like character profiles or sketches or, heck, even an engaging menu as with the Spiral DVDs, there’s nothing. The DVD case itself contains nothing more than a little slip with the release dates for the rest of the series and one of those surveys to fill out and send in. It’s very disappointing.
Trying to sum up my overall opinion of this particular series is difficult. I enjoy hot anime babes, as I know many of us do, and awesome fight scenes are another favorite, but there’s just something kind of sadistic hanging over the whole series. There’s a savage glee taken in some of the fights that you don’t usually see in high school-type anime, and the executioner from episodes 3 and 4 is genuinely creepy, but that character in particular has a nasty streak, a sadism that seems to permeate the whole series. Tenjho Tenge is a series worth watching, I suppose, if you can deal with the occasional twinge of conscience.
The music is good, the animation it outstanding, the extras all but non-existent.
A decently entertaining series, but the nastiness of some of the characters makes them impossible to like, and the plot isn’t nearly as engaging as it could be.
Episodes: Fight One, Fight 2: Defeat, Fight 3: Executioner, Fight 4: Suspicion
Extras: 2.0 Dolby Digital English and Japanese Audio, Two English Subtitle Streams