published in Empire No.76, Sydney
Tenjho Tenge is a great example of how radically an anime TV series can develop. Its initial episodes are shaped like a parodic high-school-hell-battle style of anime: the Jukenbu martial arts ‘hobby’ group at the Todo Academy is a small one, with only three members. Sisters Maya and Aya and the nerdy Masataka behave wacky and wild, each appearing in turn innocuous, erotic, demonically powerful and downright stupid.
They cross paths with two new students – the hardened delinquents Souchiro and Bob, who wish to become the strongest thugs in the school. But the Jukenbu share that aim – as do the heads of the mysterious Executive School Council who in clandestine fashion control the endless bouts of delinquent violence which permeate school life.
But before too long, the laughs deteriorate as the fights – which comprise most episodes – become painfully extended psyche sessions. All characters harbour the darkest of secrets, especially in terms of sibling rivalry. Complete volumes of the series unfold in complex flash-backs, book-ended by nerve-wracking ruptures in the middle of the most frightful fights.
It might sound cheap to compare this form of narrative and psychological gouging with acknowledged cine-auteurs like Akira Kurosawa, but Tenjho Tenge’s depicting of troubled brawling delinquents is every bit as breathtaking.