I must admit that my initial impression of Tenjho Tenge was that it would be pretty much the same as the already available Battle Vixens (Ikki Tousen). You can't really blame me, both shows focus on attractive school kids kicking several shades of crap out of one another and appeared to contain plenty of pervy situations and shredding clothes. I was therefore surprised to find that Tenjho Tenge vol 1 was a lot more than a Battle Vixens clone.
It doesn't seem much like it from the plot though. The story follows two teen streetfighters - Souichiro Nagi and Bob Makihara (yes, he really is called Bob) - who live for the thrill of fighting. After battling their way to the top in a succession of schools the pair want a new challenge, so turn their sights to Todo Acadamy, a school famed for its focus on martial arts. However, they soon find they may have bitten off more than they can chew, the students at Todo Acadamy are unfeasibly strong and some even demonstrate legendary combat powers that it will take more than just guts and tenacity to beat. Then there is also the problem of Aya Natsumi, the beautiful, buxom schoolgirl who has decided to marry Souichiro and won't take no for an answer, and her sister Maya Natsumi, who appears to be around 7 years old... most of the time. But this isn't the worst of their worries, the school's deadly and sinister Executive Council have taken extreme exception to them and have decided to mete out 'punishment without bounds'. Souichiro and Bob are going to have to get a hell of a lot stronger if they are to survive...
I know the above sounds a) pretty formulaic and b) pretty ludicrous, but Tenjho Tenge actually had a lot more going for it than I expected. It has it's own distinctly modern style and the animation is excellent, whilst the plot - despite being unremarkable - is more than an excuse for a load of fights. The lead characters are relatively interesting, and the series laudably tries to build a story around them rather than around the action. It also takes the time to explain some of the characters' more bizarre skills - such as Maya's ability to change her form between that of a 7-year old and a buxom 17-year old - and also give them more depth by beginning to explore their back stories, and that of the school itself.
Despite the character focus the series really shines in its action scene though, with the highlight of this volume being a bloody and brutal battle between Souichiro and the martial artist Takayanagi. The fight scenes are excellently choreographed and brilliantly fast paced, although it must be said that some of the enemies are a bit crap. Unlike the main characters, the cast of opponents - such as evil pyromaniac Ryuzaki - leave a lot to be desired, and there are some aspects of the show that really stretch believability to breaking point. I know that you can pretty much expect this kind of series to include special powers and people defying insurmountable odds, but it is pretty hard to believe that any straight man would consider the stunningly beautiful Aya throwing herself at them a bad thing! Stuff like this would normally be a drawback for a series in my eyes, but the simple fact is that Tenjho Tenge vol 1 is a hugely enjoyable DVD.
There is a decent smattering of humour alongside the excellent action scenes and a story that looks like it will develop and get more interesting as the series continues. The character designs are simply gorgeous and, unlike Battle Vixens, the 'fan service' non-explicit nudity and pervy situations remain fun rather than unpleasant for all but one scene. The violence has a realistic edge but doesn't overpower the story or characters in the episodes on this disc and despite lacking originality in both areas it remains very watchable. Tenjho Tenge vol 1 won't win any awards for depth or innovation at the moment but on the strength of this disc it certainly looks to be the best series of this type available in the UK. The eventual conclusion appears to be pretty obvious but with a surprising level of intrigue and plenty of rivalries building, it is certainly going to be fun to see how it gets there.
Trailers and textless opening. I did initially think that the section titled 'Fights' was an extra that allowed you to watch the impressive fight scenes, but it just turned out to be an episode selection menu.