Well, where do I begin with Tenjou Tenge? If nothing else, it’s an interesting series that manages to project an unusual sense of shameless integrity that only a series of this kind possibly could. The opening sequence by the rapper and musician m.c.A·T is in keeping with the zany stylisation that is present throughout the rest of the series, complete with the character cast street/breakdancing to positive effect. As cheesy as it was, it was executed noticeably well to the point that I knew that Tenjou Tenge wasn’t standard affair, it was something more than that. How much more, I was to found out.
What followed was an amusing slice of edgy characterisation that can only be described as mature and raw. Two cliched delinquents made it their mission to take over each school in the district by, quite literally, beating everybody up in an all out brawl (one has to wonder where the authorities are when all of this is happening?). However, unbeknown to these two “street fighters”, they had stumbled upon a school that was unlike any other, comprised full of violent highly trained law-defying martial artists that operated akin to a mafia organisation. Another significant aspect of this series, if you couldn’t already tell from the pictures I’ve included, is the generous serving of lascivious schoolgirls, all of whom offered much of the lewd and sexual content, which will satisfy the male demographic this series is undoubtably targeted to. What’s more, these schoolgirls aren’t background eye-candy, egging on their animalistic counterparts, oh no, these girls are some of the strongest martial artists in the series, kicking ass where appropriate, all the while displaying their evident and highly exaggerated “assets”. So, after watching the first episode, I considered this series to be a variant of the similarly themed Ikkitousen, but this proved only to be partly true.
The first part of Tenjou Tenge marked the perfect balance between action and comedy. We are introduced to the cast and the main antagonists, known as the ‘Enforcers’ of the school. Through this, we learn of the circumstances the characters have gone through, and their reasoning for acting the way they do. Among all of the relentless violence and lewd shenanigans, there is a subtle level of character development that distinguishes Tenjou Tenge above others of its kind. You come to learn that each character has a past that is quite extensive and interesting. However, before this could be elaborated upon, the series diverts to a second part, a lengthly flashback focusing primarily on Maya’s dead brother Shin and his eventual decline into madness. Although laudable and arguably better than the first part, the pacing between both is disjointed. There is some cohesion, but the change in tone was too apparent for my liking. I felt like I was watching a different series and begun to wonder what purpose the ‘main cast’ in the first part had, given they weren’t present in this flashback at all. As a result, the disparity ruined any conceivable pacing the series might have had. This wasn’t helped by the non-conclusive ending, which seemed almost slotted in, nor did the subsequent specials that were released after (The Past Chapter and Ultimate Fight) amount to much.
The animation is attractive and fluid, which is produced by the highly capable studio Madhouse. I didn’t notice any inconsistencies throughout my viewing session and the fighting sequences were animated and choreographed particularly well. The character design, as expected from the series’ original manga author Ito Ogure (otherwise known by his handle ‘Oh! great’), is attractive, granted slightly “exaggerated”. Admittedly, I’ve never been a particular fan of his work, but then again, I’m not really his target audience, and I can acknowledge its appeal. The soundtrack throughout the series was average, nothing noteworthy. I can’t really remember it that well. The ending theme by Aiko Kayo was reasonable, but didn’t capture the distinctiveness of m.c.A·T’s opening.
The character cast were, on the whole, generally solid. Souichiro and his partner Bob came from the ‘random shounen generator’ (yes, the ‘moe generator’ is not the only one), totally unoriginal and somewhat annoying. Similarly, Aya is an absolute ditz, with no real depth or substance, but I didn’t dislike her for it. Fortunately, aside from these three, the remaining cast are relatively interesting, most notably Bunshichi, who, along with Maya and Shin, received ample development throughout.
Ultimately, Tenjou Tenge is an solid, granted slightly flawed, series. It might require some endurance to make it through each part, but the end product will more than make up for it. If you’re looking for a gripping, no-brainer of a shounen series, with bouts of violence that isn’t afraid to show blood and injury, this series will definitely deliver. In fact, if you’re into a series that involves fighting, this is something of a must-see. And, to its credit, this series isn’t one without a solid, well-developed story, so if you’re looking for that too, you will find it here. It’s just the lack of cohesion that I’m a bit disappointed with. So, to conclude, in account of the depth the cast received throughout its disjointed presentation, this series deserves a respectable 4/5.