Let’s be honest, the only group of people who are going to get something out of the Tenchi Movie Collection are Tenchi Muyo fans. The three disc set includes Tenchi Muyo In Love, Daughter of Darkness, and Tenchi Muyo In Love 2. Set outside of the main Tenchi Universe television series, these films are self contained exploits of Tenchi and his otherworldly friends.
Tenchi Muyo In Love
Tenchi Muyo In Love draws inspiration from the classic science fiction film Back to the Future, as Tenchi and his friends go back in time in order to prevent a cosmic being from killing his mother and negating his existence. After breaking free from a maximum security Galaxy Police starbase, the evil Kane heads to Earth after detecting the presence of the Jurai Royal Family (namely Katsuhito and his daughter), who were responsible for his incarceration. In present day, Ayeka, Ryoko, Mihoshi, Kiyone and Sasami grow worried as Tenchi begins to phase in and out of existence. Washu is able to determine that because his mother was killed back in the 1970s, reality is correcting itself to a version in which Tenchi and his friends didn’t exist (Tenchi never met Ryoko, Ayeka and her sister didn’t travel to Earth, and so on). Washu is able to send the group back in time in order to protect Tenchi’s mother from being killed and, ultimately, defeat Kain. Along the way, Ryoko and Ayeka will get their first taste of what it is to be a high schooler.
Although I’ve already seen the film, Tenchi Muyo In Love holds up as a fun, action packed adventure that dances a little too close to Robert Zemeckis’s movie. I love time travel, but the film’s use of it so closely resembles Back to the Future that I was surprised that Tenchi didn’t have to get his parents to kiss at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance. Interestingly enough, the movie really doesn’t explain how Tenchi’s father turned into the pervert he is depicted as in Tenchi Universe. In the movie, he’s actually a perfect gentleman. What happened? As to be expected, much of the humor derives from how the girls ingratiate themselves into the past with Ryoko and Ayeka suffering from each other’s perceived slights and provocations. A fun, if straightforward film that stands as the better of the three.
Daughter of Darkness
The plot of Daughter of Darkness feels like something that would work as a series of television episodes rather than a feature length film. It’s rather boring, too, as it lacks the action of the first movie and, instead, partners Tenchi with another woman. The trouble starts when a demon from the planet Jurai notices Tenchi and the bevy of women surrounding him. Out of boredom (or jealousy? The film isn’t very specific at first), the demon steals a lock of Tenchi’s hair and combines it with her own to create a human clone. Back on Earth, Tenchi meets a spirited young girl named Mayuka who claims to be his daughter. This development greatly troubles Ayeka and angers Ryoko who goes after Mayuka with frightening severity. Washu, being the brilliant scientist, is able to determine that the girl is in fact Tenchi’s blood relation and comes from the future. Making matters even more interesting is the possible connection between the demon who created Mayuka and Tenchi’s grandfather, Katsuhito.
Although it offers a much lighter tone than the last film, Daughter of Darkness is a fairly bland piece of work. At best, the story of Mayuka would be better served as a multiple-episode chapter arc within the television series. Much of the action and exposition is reserved for the final third of the film and because of that, the movie doesn’t offer any interesting story arcs aside from the sparks between Ayeka, Ryoko, and Mayuka. My biggest complaint is that the story isn’t very interesting nor is it easy to follow, due to a lack of exposition. Things happen without any clear rhyme or reason. This left me feeling somewhat confused while Mayuka pranced around, wondering what she had to do with the demon from the beginning. Halfway through my first viewing, I ended up restarting the movie just to see if I missed anything. When Mayuka’s purpose is revealed (let’s ignore the plot hole for now), the final third runs along at a breakneck pace, introducing histories and motives that should have been sprinkled out throughout the course of the story instead of all at once.
In the end, Daughter of Darkness isn’t that bad of a movie. If given a little more direction and structure, it could have been an enjoyable ride.
Tenchi Muyo In Love 2
And now we come to the final film in the Tenchi Movie Collection. Normally this would be an appropriate time for a hearty “saving the best for last” cheer, but I feel Tenchi Muyo In Love 2 doesn’t earn that. While the previous two movies offered atypical Tenchi-branded humor and action, this is a violent departure from the norm. Instead of a warm, friendly rom-com, viewers are treated to an emotional melodrama that pits Tenchi against a long lost Juraian princess who whisks him away. Fair warning: I’ve got a lot to say about this movie, so get comfortable.
The film begins with Ayeka and Ryoko arguing over chores. When Tenchi attempts to calm the two women, they turn on him and demand he make a choice between them. He is able to duck out of the confrontation by running into the forest where he stumbles upon a blooming camellia tree. Upon closer inspection, he sees the ghostly form of a woman before he suddenly vanishes without a trace. Six months later, Ayeka and Ryoko have been spending time searching for Tenchi all over Tokyo and have taken up jobs as waitresses to support themselves. The two are more morose than normal, as their long search has taken an obvious emotional toll.
Meanwhile, Tenchi wakes up in a small apartment. He looks different, appearing older and with longer hair. He shares this home with a woman named Haruna and the two have been engaged in a relationship for an indeterminable amount of time. Tenchi spends his days going to art school while Haruna plays the role of happy homemaker. In a surprising departure from the series, we see Tenchi and Haruna engaged in various levels of intimacy. Life carries on this way for quite some time until Haruna finds a portrait of Ryoko among Tenchi’s paintings. Back at home, Washu (can we consider her a deus ex machina at this point?) puzzles out that Haruna has taken Tenchi into a parallel world and in order to get him back home, Ryoko, Ayeka, Sasami, Kiyone, and Mihoshi will have to work together to align Haruna’s world with the real world and snatch Tenchi back.
I can’t help but feel divisive toward the movie simply because of how uncharacteristically serious it is compared to the Tenchi television series. The moments of levity in Tenchi Muyo In Love 2 are very few and far between and to see Ayeka and Ryoko spend the majority of the film brooding (and in Ayeka’s case, completely breaking down emotionally) puts a real damper on things. What struck as odd, however, were the moments where Tenchi experiences true intimacy. It’s really awkward and uncomfortable, especially in a series that is known for being family friendly. Depicting Tenchi in a sexual relationship is not a bad idea — in fact, it’s a very interesting one. However, the problem is that the movie doesn’t do a great job with the concept. After all, given his personality and staunch neutrality towards the opposite sex, it’s weird to see him express love physically. Some could argue that the dissonance of the relationship is intentional because, after all, Tenchi was tricked into this position and Haruna’s savage love is supposed to feel weird and artificial. But Tenchi doesn’t begin to suspect anything is wrong until halfway through the film. Until that moment, he’s a willing participant and makes up one half of a significantly close relationship. What I found to be even more upsetting were the very last moments of the film when Tenchi is saved and life returns to “normal.” Tenchi falls back into his role of liking everyone but loving none. This is especially frustrating because Ryoko comes out on top as Tenchi’s potential mate, yet the film ends without any romantic resolution. It’s all very exasperating and sours the final conclusion of the Tenchi Universe saga.
Disappointing for its dramatic shift in tone and lack of a significant resolution, Tenchi Muyo In Love 2 is the black sheep of this collection.