Tenchi’s disappearing! Tenchi has a daughter! Tenchi disappeared! In the Tenchi Muyo! franchise’s three cinematic movies, the gang travels back in time, deals with daughters from the future (!?), and explores the world of restaurant work. Can the girls save Tenchi, save Tenchi, and save Tenchi? In these three movies, does Tenchi actually matter, or is he just a MacGuffin to get the girls in new situations? For the first time in America on Blu-ray, FUNimation has bundled the three movies together (with DVD copies too) in a collector’s set, but are they a decade beyond importance?
The first movie in the set, Tenchi Muyo! In Love, turns back the dial a decade or so in more ways than one. When Tenchi begins disappearing from the timeline (only temporarily saved by Washu’s machinations), the cause is clear: something has happened in the past between his mother and father, which is erasing him from existence. The gang time travels, and in a very Back To The Future-way must ensure his parents get together. But Marty McFly never had to fight a monster in an alternate dimension, just Biff Tannen.
The second movie, a much lighter affair, is Daughter of Darkness. A young girl from Jurai’s past finds herself envious of the gang’s Christmas/Startica (basically, Jurai Christmas) celebrations. Months later, in the heat of summer, a new girl arrives at the house, claiming to be Tenchi’s daughter. How are the two girls related? Could she really be Tenchi’s daughter? Ryoko’s quest for the truth may drive her farther away from Tenchi than she can even handle.
The third and final movie in the Tenchi franchise (and at one point, was effectively the end of the franchise in general) is Tenchi Muyo! In Love 2, also known as Tenchi Forever. On an otherwise average day, Tenchi sees a mysterious girl in the woods. He follows her, and disappears for six months. The gang splits up to track him down; Sasami returns to Jurai for help, Mihoshi and Kiyone break their own job’s regulations to look for answers, Washu does her science thing, and Ayeka and Ryoko team up, move to the city, and get jobs as waitresses to help find Tenchi. If they find him, they might be faced with an unpleasant truth: he may not want to go back.
The three movies jump back and forth in terms of tonality, style, and visuals. The first movie is largely a cinematic take on a story that could have been a multi-episode arc in the Tenchi Universe story, if it wasn’t so beholden to its own tale. Easily the most visually appealing of the trilogy, it spares no expense in its cinematic budget, and visuals from this movie stood out in one’s mind since the airing on Sci-Fi long ago. It’s hand drawn and colored, and looks all the more amazing for it. At the same time, the first movie has the most action and sadness to it, given that it’s largely a tale about Tenchi trying to save his long-dead mother. This story feels the most like the series, only bigger and better. The two “new” characters to the cast, Tenchi’s parents, are fully featured, and both give a good (and sad) look into how Tenchi’s mom was, alongside great character building for the largely one-note father.
The second movie feels much more like a Dragonball Z movie than anything; in fact, it was originally paired with another movie in theaters, leading to it’s relatively short run time. While not as visually impressive as the previous one, it holds its own (and stands above the television series), but the story is largely fluff, like a Dragonball Z movie. There’s no real spirit or soul, but there are good character-building moments that justify the tale. The main new character introduced in the story, Mayuka, is fun and tragic, and is an interesting addition to the cast that would have worked in a longer role in the series proper.
Finally, the last movie is where everything takes a turn. Tenchi Forever is more melodrama about sexuality and relationships than anything Tenchi has ever done before. There are sci-fi elements, but they’re largely background material, and the true focus is purely on Ayeka and Ryoko’s love for Tenchi. Tenchi has no memory of his old life, but knows that he’s in love with Haruna, a quiet girl in the quiet city he’s found himself in. It’s a serious tale in which a few revelations are made, namely who would Tenchi invariably decide upon (colloquially, everyone knows it as “the one that proves Tenchi’s a straight male teenager”).
The movie set looks great on Blu-ray, and as decent as can be expected on DVD. An art book included with the set shows off posters and the like, but it’s temptingly too short. A lone extra on the releases is a Japanese trailer for one of the movies. Given the age of the movies and the fact that most of the crew have split and gone everywhere on their own, it’s understandable that there’d be little in the way bonus features of that sort, but more trailers, commercials, and the like would have been greatly appreciated.
The movies are a must see, even if you’re not well-versed in your Tenchi lore. The first works purely as a great sci-fi action movie with a fair amount of heart, the second works as a fun side story that actually decently acquaints you with the cast, and the third is a moving drama that both neatly wraps up a few years’ of stories while providing a solid adult take on the franchise. There could be more to the set, sure, but for what we’ve got, this is a solid-looking release for three vastly different stories that only can serve to expand the Tenchi Muyo! story lines.