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We’ve been tracing our way through the Tenchi Muyo! franchise, one review at a time. We started with the OVA series, but now it’s time to grab your popcorn because we’re talking about the movies!
Before we begin, though, this review needed to be handled in parts. There are three films, and it would be a disservice to not cover each one individually. I’d also like to remind readers to keep in mind that the films are more in line with TV series Tenchi Universe than the OVAs that I covered previously. They seem to take place after the events of Tenchi Universe, so it’s probably best to think of them as sequels to the show, lest you end up with a few planet-sized plot holes (well, a few more).
Tenchi Muyo in Love
Tenchi Muyo In Love sees the cast involved in time travel shenanigans. Kain, an intergalactic criminal, escaped from from his cell, in the bowels of the Galaxy Police Headquarters. With revenge on the Jurai royal family on his mind, Kain heads back in time to muck about in the period in which Tenchi’s parents were in high school. His goal is simple: to destroy the Jurai lineage by preventing Tenchi’s existence. To avoid this terrible fate, the gang must go back to that time, pinpoint Kain, and stop him from murdering Tenchi’s mother.
Sadly, the movie has its share of problems. For one thing, the title’s a bit of a misnomer, as it’s not really about Tenchi falling in love. Furthermore, some of Washu’s technobabble regarding time travel is patently ridiculous, but it’s effective in moving the plot along quickly enough that it doesn’t drag.
In addition, there are numerous factors that harm the plot at points. It disappoints me that the antagonist Kain is so painfully generic despite his concept. He’s just some mysterious being who is doing evil for evil’s sake. There is also a character who turns out to be another Galaxy Police agent, who is in pursuit of Kain. He’s dispatched in such a lackluster matter that he could have been cut from the film entirely without affecting it in the least.
While Tenchi Muyo In Love is a time travel story at its core, it also explores Tenchi’s heritage, which is greatly appreciated. Some similarities to Back to the Future can be pointed out, but that would be taking a very superficial view of the movie as a whole.
I appreciate that the whole group contributes to the rescue effort. And like the OVA and TV series, the character interactions are the definite highlight. Seeing how Tenchi’s parents meet is quite heartwarming and offers insight into how Tenchi views his parents, which Tenchi Universe didn’t have time to cover. There is an amazing climatic showdown against Kain, which feels like the final boss battle in a video game. It’s oh-so-satisfying, and seeing Tenchi’s mom enter the fray was awesome.
Tenchi Muyo In Love offers a nice continuation of the story from Tenchi Universe, and adds in personal stakes when it comes to Tenchi, which makes the film worth a watch. It’s the “decent” one of the trio.
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Tenchi Muyo: Daughter of Darkness
So this is a thing that exists.
The film begins with Yuzuha, some sort of demon, who stumbles upon the Tenchi family as they are celebrating Christmas. Because of reasons, she hatches some vague plot involving Tenchi. One day, a mysterious young woman named Mayuki shows up at the Masaki household, claiming to be Tenchi’s daughter. This, of course, is just nonsense incarnate. And, of course, she has contrived plot-related amnesia. This naturally leads to awkwardness and shenanigans.
This movie is the weakest of the bunch. It’s mere pointless fluff, with little in the way of lasting consequence. Yuzuha is the weakest villain in the Tenchi canon that I have seen, motivated by revenge against Yosho, which doesn’t make sense and doesn’t have any end goal whatsoever. Furthermore, Mayuki sucks as a character. She’s a 2D cutout, whose real point is to move the plot, contrived as it is, forward.
There are also a few flimsy attempts at world building with regards to the Jurai Summer Solstice festival, but they don’t figure enough into the story to actually matter. Much of the film falls flat, to the point that it ultimately takes away from what should be an interesting climax. Instead, it feels like the writers were just keen on wasting the viewer’s time.
What few moments of greatness can be found here, like the moment where Tenchi loses his composure in front of Ryoko, they’re buried in the pile of mundane crap. Ryoko being insistent that something is suspicious with Mayuki whereas everyone else in the Masaki household is more than accepting of her right up front, leads me to believe that the movie could have been more interesting but regrettably it fails to develop into that.
The film’s dub cast is largely the same as the previous film aside from Kiyone who’s voiced by Wendee Lee instead of Sherry Lynn. Though the voice acting is bit more hokey in comparison to the first movie, I have to give props to Julie Maddalena as Mayuki and Barbara Goodson as Yuzuha in spite of the material. Their spirited performances really elevated the otherwise boring characters.
Ultimately, I am left questioning the point of The Daughter of Darkness at the end of this. The only thing this has going for it is the animation, which is quite impressive. But even then, this feels more like a TV special episode than an actual movie, clocking in at just over an hour. Watch it only if you want a comprehensive Tenchi Muyo! experience. Otherwise, this one shoulld be skipped.
Tenchi Forever! starts off on a typical day at the Masaki household (albeit with a slightly different character and art styles). Tenchi has to decide between Ryoko and Ayeka, which serves to highlight how much this trio remains the best part of the franchise. After running off (as he typically does) during an argument with the two, Tenchi runs into a Camellia tree in the woods near his family home.
He encounters the spirit of said tree, which lures him in. And like that, Tenchi is gone.
Several months pass, and the Tenchi cast have been busy searching for Tenchi. To be honest, though, it is mainly Ayeka and Ryoko doing the search party duties while taking on odd jobs. It’s truly fascinating to see the dynamic between Ayeka and Ryoko develop into a different direction here, going from sniping love rivals to friends with begrudging respect for each other’s feelings towards the man they both desire.
Tenchi eventually awakens to find himself in a sort of dream world with a mysterious young woman named Haruna. She seems a bit familiar, but her very existence raises more questions than answers. When Ryoko and Ayeka find Tenchi, he is like a ghost. It’s a first sign something is amiss with this whole situation. With the help of Washu, the crew discovers that Tenchi somehow ended up in a pocket dimension that was created by Haruna, for some reason. They make it into the mirror world, but run into two problems:
- Haruna’s not easily appeased
- Tenchi doesn’t want to leave.
But through the power of love and a hefty dose of effort, Ryoko and Ayeka seek to rescue Tenchi from his own deep-seated inner desires.
Tenchi Forever! tells a much more somber and sophisticated story than just about anything else that I have seen from the Tenchi Muyo! franchise. It’s a probing, deeply personal dramatic piece that I wish the main series would have tackled more often. The conceptual use of the pocket dimension worked well in Tenchi Forever, both as a sci-fi trope and as a way to tell the human story at the heart of this movie. In a way, the best science fiction pieces are the ones that use science fiction concepts and tropes to tell human stories, and Tenchi Muyo Forever! certainly belongs in that group.
Tenchi Forever! is easily the best Tenchi Muyo! film and possibly the strongest entry in the franchise as a whole. Its only real competition for king of the heap is the TV series Tenchi Universe. For fans of closure, Tenchi Forever! presents as close to a definitive end to Tenchi’s story as one can get, even if it’s a “First Girl Wins” scenario.
The Tenchi Muyo! film trilogy is all over the place in terms of story and characters, though the films share a few strong points. The animation is impressive, especially in the first and third movies. Furthermore, the main dub cast members are incredibly strong, with Jennifer Darling and Petrea Burchard being stand-outs as Ayeka and Ryoko, respectively. It really is a shame that Burchard left the franchise after Tenchi Forever!, but, hey that’s life. I recommend giving the Tenchi Muyo In Love and Tenchi Forever! a look, but do your best to steer clear of The Daughter of Darkness unless you’re a die-hard fan of the franchise.