I've quite enjoyed Tenjho Tenge so far. It may be nothing special, it may be pretty clichéd in a lot of ways, but it's enjoyable, and sometimes scantily clad schoolgirls swinging swords around is just what the doctor ordered.
At the end of volume 2 the Juuken club were really up the creek without a paddle. Maya has a broken arm, Aya is still trying to come to terms with the emotional trauma of her newfound powers of foresight, and both Bob and Masataka are no match for Executive Council president Mitsuomi. Everything, inevitably, comes down to Souichiro Nagi, but even with his burgeoning powers it is clear that Mitsuomi is too powerful for him. The Juuken Club has been soundly beaten, and as they lick their wounds they force Maya to delve into her troubled past and explain the reasons behind their conflict. Maya and Aya had an older brother, Shin Natsume, a powerful and seemingly honourable martial artist who sat at the top of the tree in Todo High. Other powerful fighters, including Mitsuomi and the laid-back Bunshichi Tawara, gravitated to him and between them the formed an unbeatable force. However, things weren't as happy as they seemed - Shin had a dark secret and tensions began to rise inside the group after a series of attacks on their members. With the group splintering, events started to build towards a climactic showdown...
After the high-tension climax of the second volume of Tenjho Tenge, the showdown in the bowling alley is wrapped up pretty swiftly this time round. The majority of this volume is set back in the past, focusing completely on the dark secrets of Maya and her peers. Flashbacks are not exactly rare in anime, but it is unusual for a series to stay in flashback mode for several episodes, especially after establishing a cast of characters. Before episode 10 the series focuses on Souichiro, Bob, Aya and Masataka, with Maya taking a Yoda-style old master role. Mitsuomi and Bunshichi had only just turned up, but suddenly they and Maya take centre stage for the rest of the volume. It is a bit jarring to tell the truth, Maya and Mitsuomi are different to how they have been earlier in the series and the absence of the series' established leads does take some getting used to.
However, the story is quite interesting, and that's mainly because of Shin Natsume. Maya's older brother is a complex character, his kind and noble veneer hiding a madness and lust for violence. Maya is fed up of him trying to protect her but he doesn't want her to follow the same path as him. His dark side is starting to unsettle his friends, especially after it boils to the surface in explosive fashion and the kind Mitsuomi looks set for the colossal showdown which changes his character so drastically. There's a decent sense of impending doom throughout these episodes and Shin's manipulative girlfriend is a great character, but some of the background plot about scheming martial arts families misses the mark a bit.
Overall though it is a decent, solid actioner at heart and it is laudable that it tries to have a plot and spends time to explore the characters' backgrounds and motivations. There are some great characters in it, but the sudden jump into the past takes some getting used to. Nevertheless I am still enjoying this series. It's easily the best of its type, and it's good to see some kind of consequence to the fighting - when someone's arm gets broken it doesn't magically heal between scenes, something I find surprisingly refreshing. There are still some very dark depths to be explored, and although it has its ups and downs I am still interested to see where Tenjho Tenge is going to go. At the end of the day if you like schoolgirls fighting and losing clothes then this is worth a look, it's got some great action and doesn't require too much hard thought. Not great, but worth a look.
Pretty sparse, a line art gallery and the usual trailers.