Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Tenchi Muyo! The Movie Collection
Tenchi Masaki is an ordinary teenage boy who gets into all sorts of wild adventures because of the various intergalactic beauties that live with him. In Tenchi Muyo in Love, a nefarious space villain named Kain goes on a rampage, trying to erase Tenchi's mother from the space-time continuum—which means Tenchi and friends will have to travel back to 1970 to rescue her. More dimension-hopping madness awaits in Daughter of Darkness, when Tenchi meets his apparent "daughter" Mayuka: is she a visitor from the future, or part of a more sinister scheme? Finally, Tenchi Muyo in Love 2 sees Tenchi inexplicably falling in love with a mysterious woman named Haruna, while forgetting all his other friends. It's up to space pirate Ryoko and the rest of the girls to set things right and bring back the Tenchi they know and love.
As a prototype for the entire harem genre, Tenchi Muyo! may look hopelessly dated to the modern viewer. An average guy gets into silly scrapes, while hanging out with cute girls who constantly fight over him ... and that's it? Yes, that's exactly it—and that's why this movie collection matters. Old-time fans jaded by the oversaturation of modern anime will enjoy this return to basics (upscaled to HD, even), while newer fans will get an enlightening look at the roots of today's hit series. Tenchi Muyo! The Movie Collection reveals the best, the worst, and the pretty good of the franchise, proving that anything's possible when an average guy is surrounded by way too many cute girls.
"Pretty good" comes in the form of Tenchi Muyo! In Love, the most conventional of the three films. The storyline borrows a familiar time-travel concept—help your parents fall in love so that your birth will actually happen—then serves up the usual humor, romance, and action that the series is known for. The comedy isn't anything special, falling back on old tropes like rivals Ryoko and Ayeka bickering with each other, and the romance is hokey at best (a puppy-love high school affair). However, the final cosmic battle with Kain saves this movie, reminding viewers that no other harem franchise does epic, universe-spanning adventures quite like Tenchi. Compare this to modern works where confessing "I like you" is considered a climactic plot point, and the light-sword-blazing, planet-hopping scope of this movie clearly stands out.
The middle offering, Daughter of Darkness (misleadingly titled Tenchi The Movie 2 when first released in the U.S.) is the collection's rotten egg, a one-hour romp that plays out more like an extended episode than a proper movie. Here's a perfect example of what people dislike about Tenchi: too much mindless hanging-out with the girls (Mayuka basically panders for attention until all the regular characters warm up to her), followed by a sudden dark turn and a messy showdown against a villain whose motives appear to be "because I felt like it." The back-story isn't filled out until the last ten minutes, and the actual resolution of the plot comes as a montage in the ending credits. All in all, the rushed pacing and thin storyline make Daughter of Darkness a forgettable entry in the canon—even Funimation's mini-diagram of the Tenchi multiverse marks this one as being "off in its own orbit."
Finally, there is the franchise's masterpiece: Tenchi Muyo! in Love 2, the true sequel to the first movie. While still a sci-fi story—one that involves parallel dimensions, time dilation, and the royal family of planet Jurai—it also explores ideas and emotions rarely touched upon in the series. The good guys still win, but the journey in getting there is as much philosophical as it is physical: Tenchi must choose between a passionate love affair or the comforts of home; Ryoko and Ayeka reflect on the meaning of their relationships with Tenchi; lastly, a doomed romance from the past demands that it be resolved. So well-written is this story that even the one-time-only character, Haruna, goes through major changes: she starts as a mystery, develops into a villain, and finally becomes a sympathetic figure. The movie's finale pulls on the heartstrings in a way few other Tenchi works ever have, putting a perfect endcap on the entire series. (That is, until more spinoffs started coming out...)
Just as the movies vary widely in quality, so does the animation, ranging from ordinary mid-90's fare to polished, hand-drawn artistry. The first movie, a 1996 product, is the least technically accomplished, but the overall visual design still has its moments—most notably the flashy "lightning" effects, Kain's nebulous appearance, and the climactic fight scenes at Tokyo Tower and in outer space. Daughter of Darkness is better produced (which makes it even more maddening that the actual story is so mediocre), and like Tenchi Muyo! In Love, the big fight scenes show off the animation at its best. Finally, Tenchi Muyo! in Love 2 is the visual outlier among the three: the character designs look a little different, the camera angles and scene-to-scene pacing are more dramatic and deliberate, and the special effects involve more creativity than simply slapping glowing auras on everything. In short, the last of the Tenchi movies is not just a storytelling gem, but an artistic one too.
The music in each of these movies is a grab-bag of different styles as well: a grand, full-orchestra sound punctuates the key battles in Tenchi Muyo! In Love, while tender scenes between Tenchi's future parents are set to warm string melodies. Far more forgettable is the score to Daughter of Darkness, which simply dials up a handful of made-to-order tracks depending on the scene. Tenchi Muyo! in Love 2, as expected, stirs up lots of emotion with its low-key ballad-style soundtrack, but there's also one strange quirk: numerous scenes are set to synthesizer arrangements of Chopin's piano pieces, which does a disservice to both the composer and the film. Instead of setting the mood, it becomes a distracting "Name That Tune" guessing game.
The English dubbing in this collection is its own unique walk down memory lane, reminding fans of how inconsistent dubs used to be back then. Awkward pauses, mispronounced Japanese ("Ree-yo-ko") and hammy overacting reflect the low standards of the time—although nostalgists may actually look back fondly on this style of voice acting. The performances in the latter two movies are more listenable, though, as it's clear the actors became more skilled and accustomed to their roles over the years.
In addition to simply enjoying the movies, Tenchi fans will also have one other reason to get this box set: HD video quality. The Blu-Ray transfer isn't perfect—some grainy fields of color and rough linework still remain—but the improvement over previous versions is significant. In fact, the inclusion of DVDs in this package is practically pointless, as they're no different from the original releases years ago. Rather, those resources should have been spent on providing bonus content—this release is disappointingly bare-bones, featuring nothing but the movies themselves and a single trailer.
Even though it's now considered old-school, Tenchi Muyo! will never die—not as long at keeps coming out in new formats like this. This three-movie box set (or perhaps two-and-a-half, if one discounts Daughter of Darkness) is an appropriate cross-section of the franchise: some lightweight comedy-and-action filler, some thrilling space-and-time adventures, and one masterful journey into the depths of human emotion. It may be old-fashioned and simple, but Tenchi does prove that even the tale of "an ordinary guy surrounded by cute girls" can, from time to time, be a whole lot more.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : C+
Music : B-
+ Provides light popcorn entertainment with Tenchi Muyo in Love, and then a complex, emotionally powerful drama in the sequel.
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