Content Warning: Mild nudity used in a demonstrative context.
On July 3, 2000, Cartoon Network took its Toonami block to a galaxy far, far away. It was on this day that the block started airing Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki for fans who were fortunate enough to have American cable service. The run featured a unique brand of censorship, which included re-recorded dialogue, altered scenes and visual edits that included ‘Digital Bikinis’ drawn over nude characters.
Since that day, the signal from various satellite uplinks of the broadcast is estimated to have traveled as far as nineteen light years by now. It would have traveled as far as binary star system Eta Cassiopeiae A, available to any who could intercept the signal. Here on Earth, though, accessing that edited version of the show has proven to be a challenge. The many flavors of the Tenchi anime franchise , have, for the most part, been readily available to fans on home video in their unedited forms. The Toonami edits of the show, though, only ever partially available on VHS and never on digital media in any official capacity.
In July 2019, Tenchiforum.com founder and owner Michael “‘Dagon123”’ Perge, as well as other devoted fans, finally managed to resolve that. Together, they compiled home recordings of Toonami’s Tenchi Muyo!, Tenchi Universe, and Tenchi In Tokyo and began the arduous process of dumping them to digital formats for redistribution.
Perge wrote a lengthy article on the effort, which can be found on TenchiForum.
Michael was kind enough to speak with me about the influence that Tenchi had on himself as a fan, as well as his motivations in preserving and sharing Toonami’s version of these classic titles.
Ashley Hakker: So, I imagine that Tenchi had a significant impact on you, to have you focusing so much energy on it specifically?
Michael Perge: Absolutely. It’s kind of cliche to say, but I saw Tenchi Muyo! on its first run on Toonami, and it was the first show that really grabbed me, my heart, my mind, my soul. It had a little bit of everything for everybody, and it pushed the boundaries for what I perceived as entertainment. I’m a huge lover of cartoons and animation, old and new. I watched Thundercats and early [Dragon Ball Z] and what not, and those were great, but when Tenchi came on, it was something completely different. I never missed an episode.
Ashley Hakker So, your effort to preserve and share the Toonami Edit of the Tenchi franchise, can you briefly explain that, for those who haven’t seen your detailed article?
Michael Perge: Basically, Toonami in and of itself is revered. Every person who came from that generation watching Toonami looks back at that time in almost a spiritual way. I wanted to bring that back for people to watch again, and to also show everyone who had heard about it, what it was all about. Why people talked about it so much. After I acquired a collection of tapes from a member of our forum, Talos, and ripped them, through trial and error and a little elbow grease, it’s now back.
Ashley Hakker: I have to admit, living here in Canada, I had online friends who had access to so much more anime via Toonami and I was jealous. So the dubs of Tenchi were all edited, but the unedited releases contain the same dub. That’s a contrast to a work, such as Sailor Moon, where the only unedited dub is the recently-produced Viz dub that replaces the entire cast. So what is the appeal to you in preserving what some would say is a ‘lesser’ or ‘diluted’ version?
Michael Perge: Part of it is nostalgia, for sure. The OVA has a beautiful Blu-Ray version and Universe and Tokyo have some pretty good DVD releases, so the option to have the “original” version is always there. But, there are things that are decidedly different, even if they are considered “less than.” Whenever someone talks about Toonami edits, they always refer to the “Toonami bikinis”, and the show they are always inadvertently talking about is Tenchi Muyo! Preserving something like that has crossover preservation appeal to general Toonami fans, as well. I don’t expect people to watch this version for anything other than a fun trip down nostalgia lane or to do some kind of research, but just having it there at all is important so people can do that.
Ashley Hakker: So you want to make sure that the specific version that made you a fan is preserved and accessible for as long as possible? It’s an impressive effort, considering how long ago the series was last broadcast on television in that form. Do you have any plans to do with the content after? Side by side comparison breakdowns? Screenings with local fans? Panel content for conventions?
Michael Perge:“The sky’s the limit and space is the place!” As Macho Man [Randy Savage] would say, haha. I have a lot of things I want to do with these edits. Doing a “remaster” to get a cleaner more “presentable” version was on my mind while I was doing the transfers and making backups. I’ve always wanted to do a “classic viewing room” at a local con, where they have an old tube-tv and a VCR and the room only plays VHS tapes of anime, to simulate “the old days”, and these tapes would be a perfect opportunity to do that. I don’t do a lot of conventions, but I hope people who are interested in Toonami can use this when presenting anything Tenchi related or Toonami related.
Much like we saw with Sailor Moon, Tenchi Muyo!’s Toonami dub is another case where the current state of anime preservation requires a few devoted folks in the shadows to get the job done. Still, most would agree that VHS rips of edited broadcast recordings from twenty years ago are not really causing lost sales of the Blu-Ray and DVD versions that are still available at retailers today.
Given that the release stands against an un-edited counterpart that uses a more accurate dub, In the face of this, it’s unlikely that Tenchi Muyo!’s“Toonami Version” will be available via any legitimate channels. Die-hard Tenchi fans are fortunate that people were recording and preserving these broadcasts over the years, as Tenchi’s toonami edit could have easily been another “Lost Dub,” its broadcast edition likely lost forever and fated to fade from the fandom’s collective consciousness.