Souichiro Nagi and his sidekick Bob Makihara are two teenage street fighters who travel from school to school, beating their rivals as they go. When they take on the students of Todo Academy and run up against the members of the resident Juuken club though, they bite off more than they can chew: they are thoroughly beaten in combat as soon as they arrive. Thanks to an unfortunate incident that results, one of its members, Aya, must make Souichiro her husband in accordance with an old family tradition. Somehow Souichiro and Bob must learn the ways of the Juuken Club and avoid the wrath of the school’s shadowy Executive Council.
High school martial arts aren’t exactly the most original themes for an action-adventure; indeed, at first glance Tenjho Tenge appears to be just another panties-and-punches action fest with busty females, muscle-bound guys and generous helpings of fan service. Sure enough, these episodes show, well, busty females, muscle-bound guys and generous helpings of fan service. Within the constraints of its genre however, Ten Ten is a surprisingly enjoyable series.
For one thing the characters are actually likeable. It goes without saying that they conform to the stereotypes that fans of this sort of thing will recognise immediately but the comedy dynamic and camaraderie between Souichiro and Bob, not to mention Aya’s romantic advances, are sure to raise a smile. This brings me onto another noticeable thing about Ten Ten: it never quite takes itself seriously, at least at this early stage. The series seems to be fully aware of how clichéd and derivative it is so delivers the action-packed combat and cheeky fan service with its tongue firmly in cheek; having the two supposed tough guys getting knocked flat in the first few minutes earns it a bonus point or two in my book.
One of the frequent criticisms of such series is that they often have little to distinguish themselves from their rivals: you know more or less what is going to happen before the opening credits finish and the whole experience becomes a series of battles between names you can scarcely remember. Fortunately there are a few scenes concerning the school’s Executive Council that give hints of an overall conspiracy developing that promise to bring yet more interesting characters into the fray and deliver a half-decent story to boot.
Of course, if Shounen Jump-style martial arts series aren’t your thing there is little in these episodes of Ten Ten that will change your mind on the genre as a whole. On the other hand, it is intended to deliver a load of fist-flying, high kicking mindless fun, which it certainly succeeds in.
I approached Tenjho Tenge with low expectations but was pleasantly surprised with the engaging cast, comedy and visuals; especially in the combat scenes. It is just another high school martial arts series yet it manages to be enjoyable enough to make it stand up well alongside similar fare on offer; the activities of a number of supporting characters also suggest that there is something more interesting lurking behind the fights and fan service. All in all it has got off to a good start.