This column is not about an anime series, but about one of the characters in a series: Yugi.
Ultimately the villain of the "Tenchi in Tokyo" series, Yugi starts out as an enigmatic figure engaged in some sort of evil plot involving Tenchi Masaki. As with anything related to "Tenchi Muyo!", however, nothing is ever simple. Yugi, it turns out, is also from Jurai, where she was genetically engineered. This might not have been the smartest thing that could have happened, since she just about destroyed the planet. We ARE talking about a nearly omnipotent child here, and there are reasons why we don't let children drive cars or handle firearms. So she's set adrift in space in a "cold sleep," whatever that is. I tend to think of it as a hellaciously long time-out.
In an echo of Ryoko's origins from the first series, she crash lands near the Masaki residence and recognizing the power of the clan determines to divide and conquer the Masaki household. To accomplish this she uses some beings of her own creation, especially a "classmate" of Tenchi's named Sakuya who realizes that she has no past. Then there's Sasami, who's befriended by Yugi and who is eventually kidnaped and imprisoned by her. Sasami is eventually freed, and this sets up the showdown between Tenchi and Yugi.
It's at this point that some otaku may be wondering "So what else is new?" These kind of confrontations are very much a part of anime. But this is a far cry from being a replay of, for instance, the Tenchi/Kagato duel. It all comes down to the nature of the villain.
For me, the key moment was when Tenchi was advancing on Yugi having gotten through her defenses. At this point the standard anime response from a supervillain like Kagato or Cell from Dragonball Z would usually be a certain coolness. Icy disdain. Smug superiority. It's as if they've been looking forward to this, even if the outcome is in doubt.
Not Yugi. With tears running down her face, she's screaming at Tenchi to leave her alone. It's not often you see a character in anime suffer a full blown panic attack.
The key is Yugi's plea that Tenchi not lock her in the dark. I'll admit that I'm still not really clear on the concept of the "cold sleep," but the implication is that she might have experienced some degree of consciousness during that time. That would have amounted to a serious bout of sensory deprivation. And I've been through some medical procedures like that: a sleep study and a brain scan. To whatever extent, Yugi's psyche may have been rattled by the experience.
I hesitate to mention an alternative theory of mine: that whoever on Jurai created Yugi treated her as a thing rather than a person, and that such treatment affected her. There's something chilling about Yugi's mentioning being locked in the dark, something that makes me wonder whether she's talking about something other than the cold sleep. We're not talking about Chibi-Usa's succumbing to childish resentments in her becoming Wicked Lady in "Sailor Moon R." The kind of isolation Yugi describes, even in an off-hand manner, and her fear that Tenchi will treat her that way, makes her sounds uncomfortably too much like someone who'd been on the receiving end of torture. Or, in the case of someone her age, child abuse.
And that's what makes the final confrontation between Yugi and Tenchi so amazing. Though armed to a mythological degree, Tenchi's only attack is to deliver a stinging slap to Yugi's cheek, to snap her out of her panic. But the hand that hurts in this case also heals. Tenchi gently reassures her that she has no enemies at the Masaki shrine. Succumbing to exhaustion after her state of panic, she's put into some kind of stasis and receives daily visits from Sasami who chatters away as if Yugi can hear every word.
You kind of hope she can.
I know there are otaku who have a problem with Sasami, who think that she's too good to be true. What I see in the character of Yugi, however, is a testament to anime's ability not only to tell a compelling story but a story with a hard kernel of truth as well. Yugi may be cast as a supervillain, but I get the feeling that what she went through was too true to be good.
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