While Tenchi may have four shows under its belt (5 in total if you count Pretty Sasami) another example of its popularity is the roster of animated films that have seen release. You know an anime series has hit the big time when a movie comes out because, frankly, it's not every show that can claim that. However, Tenchi decidedly stands out among the rest of the pack thanks to the whopping count of three feature films.
Released at various points through the franchise's run and featuring self-contained stories the Tenchi movies are iconic of what the series offered. Muyo!, Universe, and In Tokyo (GXP does not have a film) all brought a loveable cast, great storytelling, and charming personality to the table. From a fan's standpoint it was nice to see the movies offer these same ideals because so many anime films tend to stray from their known path. These features felt like extensions of the franchise and viable adventures through the Tenchi universe. Each of the three is good in its own right and in case you missed them before Geneon has recently released a complete collection.
The first Tenchi film, Tenchi Muyo in Love takes place presumably within the confines of the first series, Muyo!. The plot is very original when you look at the episodes from the show but in between the lines is a story that strongly resembles Back to the Future. Granted there's a mix of science fiction and an anime flare but it's hard to deny the influence.
At the Galaxy Police Headquarters A1 Class Criminal Kain has broken free from his subspace prison. His goal is unclear at first but considering the Jurai Royal Family aided in his incarceration Washu presumes he's looking for revenge. The problem is Kain has launched himself towards Earth and traveled back in time 30 years to kill Tenchi's mother. This means Tenchi was never born and if the group doesn't act fast he, and possibly they, will cease to exist.
With a little help from Washu, Tenchi and the gang travel back in time to prevent whatever it was that Kain did. During the investigation Tenchi has to hide from his parents because Washu states that seeing each other could create a temporal paradox. Sasami and Ryo-Ohki hang out with him while everyone else slips into roles around his mother, Achika. Ayeka and Ryoko portray classmates, Kiyone is hired as a janitor in the school, and as unrealistic as it sounds Mihoshi becomes a teacher.
Beyond those tidbits I won't spoil any of the plot for you in case you haven't seen the film before. I would like to say, however, that this first Tenchi movie hits all of the right notes. The emotional range of the characters and the overall quality of writing in regards to the script make this feature as good as it is. My only complaint in regards to this film involves the whole traveling back in time to save my parents plotline. This kind of story has been done many times over and though the Tenchi crew brings its own charm to it I couldn't help but feel like I've seen it all before.
The second Tenchi movie, Daughter of Darkness, Tenchi's daughter, Mayuki, comes to town. Ok, she's not REALLY Tenchi's child but the plot does play her as such for quite some time. It turns out that she possesses the genetic makeup of Tenchi and another mystery being and as Washu states she "technically" is the offspring of our buddy Misaki, though not in the literal sense.
Mayuki plays the cute and innocent card for quite some time and essentially becomes a part of the family. The crew accepts her though Ryoko sense danger and becomes stand offish and hostile. In this particular instance Ryoko is right to be leery of Mayuki. The other side of her genes came from a demon from the Dark World who bears ill-will towards the Jurai Royal Family; Tenchi's grandfather in particular. It all started back on Jurai and involved a holiday very similar to Christmas. Without spoiling much of the plot there is a climactic battle within the demon's home world and things don't end quite as planned.
Tenchi The Movie 2: Daughter of Darkness was very good and featured a compelling story that didn't feel as cliché as the first. This one carried a much more serious tone and the familiar Tenchi humor just wasn't really there. Everyone was still themselves but the plot didn't allow for silliness of the typical Tenchi variety. We do get some nice shots of Ayeka and Ryoko being jealous over Mayuki's relationship with their boy but beyond that there's little to chuckle about.
Keeping the same somber tone, Tenchi Forever is a far cry from the cheerful and haphazard nature of the show. In this film one of Yosho's (Grandfather) old loves builds strength from beyond the grave and pulls Tenchi into her make believe world. She convinces him that he's in love with her and forces the memories of his former life out of his mind. Six months go by and nobody has seen or heard from Tenchi.
Ryoko and Ayeka have put their differences behind them and have gone to the city in search of their love. Washu sent Mihoshi and Kiyone to the heart of the Science Academy to use a dimensional machine in hopes it will assist in locating Tenchi. Sasami has also gone back to Jurai to see what she can learn about the events surrounding Tenchi's disappearance. In between it all Yosho remembers Haruna, the lady that takes Tenchi, and has an internal struggle regarding his past life.
Tenchi Forever is much slower paced than the other two films and it can be quite depressing at times. The story is well-written and both the English and Japanese dubs are well acted but it's such a different atmosphere from what we came to love about Tenchi that it feels quite foreign. The tale here is still very good and in the end this movie is just as strong as the other two but I didn't feel it was the best send-off for Tenchi and friends.
When it comes right down to it you have to be a Tenchi fan in order to appreciate these films. I suppose you don't have to be familiar with one particular series more than another but some knowledge about the franchise is a must. In my opinion they go in order of their quality; Tenchi in Love is the best, Daughter of Darkness is second best, and Forever brings in the rear. All three still fare better than most anime movie projects and that is a testament to the quality of the franchise in general.
The quality and presentation for all three films in this collection differs quite a bit. Tenchi in Love is the oldest of the trio and features more grain and dirt in the transfer. There is very little compression but it's hard denying the visual age of this project though it is still on par with the television series. Daughter of Darkness is definitely a step up from there with less grain, no artifacts, and virtually no speckle. This second film looks much better than Muyo! and Universe with crisper visuals and smoother animation.
Tenchi Forever is easily the cream of the crop found in this collection with the only anamorphic presentation. The artwork is no less than stellar and the presentation exceeds expectations with modern techniques and effects. Overall these movies look wonderful though there was very little to no effort taken to spruce the picture quality up for the earlier films.
Daughter of Darkness brings four separate audio tracks to the table. Presented with English and Japanese there are stereo and surround tracks for each language. The action picks up in the rear channels quite nicely and there is a decent sense of immersion with the 5.1 tracks. The stereo offerings are noticeably weaker but there were no flaws to complain about. Tenchi in Love and Tenchi Forever offer the 5.1 English and Japanese selections but no stereo tracks. Considering this feature is more dialogue driving and lacking in the action department the rear channels are only used subtly. This movie still sounds good as well with clean audio and a decent enough presence on the soundstage.
Tenchi in Love brings the best selection of extras from this collection to the table. That's actually a sad statement considering you'll find four trailers and Japanese credits in the extras menu. The only interesting tidbit here is a short interview segment with Christopher Fyanke who had a hand in the creation of the soundtrack for the film.
Daughter of Darkness's only inclusion as far as supplemental material is concerned are some trailers available from the main menu. Tenchi Forever's disc actually offers nothing in the way of bonus features either which is disappointing to say the least.
If you're a fan of Tenchi then watching the three films is probably something you should have done by now. All three stand as shining examples of the quality of the franchise and though the tone may be more serious than usual the writing and acting is superb. This particular collection accompanies Geneon's recent releases wonderfully and though there is nothing new added to these discs newcomers have no reason not to pick them up. Highly Recommended