Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tenchi Muyo: Tenchi in Love (1996)

With the huge success of the television incarnation of Tenchi Universe, AIC and Pioneer knew that they had to bring Tenchi and the gals to the big screen. They figured they’d stick with the television continuity (and ignore the open end of the second series of the OAV). This movie would be bigger than the television series, include some new family members and include all the main characters for a huge blast of animated fun. And since it was a space opera, might as well grab the one storyline they hadn’t done yet – time travel!

It was just another day at the Masaki house until Tenchi (Matt Miller) started to disappear right in front of Ryoko (Petrea Burchard) and Princess Ayeka’s (Jennifer Darling) eyes! Washu (Kate T. Voigt) uses her super scientific powers to determine that some event in the past is being changed and unless they stop it, Tenchi will cease to exist.

Galaxy Police detectives Kiyone (Sherry Lynn – in a duel role!) and Mihoshi (Ellen Gerstell) know that the incredibly powerful and dangerous entity Kain (Michael Scott Ryan) has escaped from Galaxy Police headquarters and disappeared. The gang travels back to 1970 to intercept Kain, and stop him from killing Tenchi’s mother Achika (Grace Zandarski) and thus destroying the future before it begins!

Good Points:
  • The movie does some great things with visual scope during the climax
  • All the main characters play a key role in the plot
  • Turns Achika into an interesting character
Bad Points:
  • Borrows very obviously from two popular time travel films
  • Has serious pacing problems
  • Doesn’t do anything new with the existing characters
There is a lot of potential in this story to do some interesting things, but the movie goes exactly where you expect it. There are some funny moments, some cool action scenes but not much else to hang onto. Part of the problem is the pacing, which includes some odd jumping around in the narrative and repetition. It’s a case of playing it too safe, and the result is a movie that has its moments, but never makes a big impression.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 5
Acting: 4
Script: 2
Music: 3
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

In Depth Review
Trying to prove that Tenchi isn't dense?
When it comes to the Tenchi movies, Tenchi in Love is usually considered the best of the three. I’ve never understood that. For me, it was the weakest, with a plot that was so familiar and a villain that was so two dimensional that I was never invested in the threat. So this time when I sat down to watch the movie, I was going to open my mind up and see if this time the whole thing clicked.

I could never fault the animation or the sound. The first half of the film, spent around the Misaki household and at the school in 1970 doesn’t do too much to impress visually. Even the character animation looks a little inconsistent, and closer to what we’d seen in Tenchi Universe. But Kain’s escape and the destruction of the Galaxy Police headquarters is impressive. Even more impressive is the final scenes in Tokyo and Kain’s confrontation in an alternate dimension. Both sequences have a lot more detail in the backgrounds and include plenty of motion and action. The Tokyo scenes are most impressive adding a bit of realism to the world Tenchi (and standing in sharp contrast to the backgrounds created for the Tenchi in Tokyo television series in 1997).

Tokyo Tower plays a key role in the film.
Sound effects are typical stuff, with a bit more power behind them given the bigger budget. The scenes in Tokyo include lots of hustle and bustle, and the battles with Kain include some powerful sound effects. As s side note, when this DVD came out in the late ‘90s it was a huge deal – because it was the first anime DVD with THX mastering. It does have some nice bass in it, especially at the end when Kiyone fires her giant gun.

The music was composed and performed by Christopher Franke of Tangerine Dream fame. As such the music is very electronic. It has some nice moments, mostly during the romantic scenes between Tenchi’s parents, or the nostalgic scenes during the epilogue. But his work during the action scenes and the material based around Kain just doesn’t work for me. It lacks power and intensity. Compared to the work in the second Tenchi film, Daughter of Darkness, Ko Otani’s score is much more intense and interesting. The end credits song isn’t too bad, with music written by Franke and sung as a duet in English and by the voice actress for Achika in Japanese.

The English voice cast had been performing in the roles for so long that they easily jump into them and nail them. At the time this was one of the longest performing English dub casts in anime (probably surpassed only by Ranma ½), and they are all professionals. Even actress Grace Zandarski had performed in the OAV series of Tenchi’s grandmother, so she was familiar with the series. All in all it’s a solid vocal performance balancing the humor and the drama really well.

Kain emerges from the depths.
Where the film falls apart for me is the story and direction. The basic plot of traveling back in time to save the present and future is as old as science fiction itself. In fact, if the Tenchi series didn’t tackle it, I would have been surprised. But to actually have the same plot from Terminator 2 which was still pretty fresh in everyone’s mind only five years later seems like too obvious a borrowing. Then they add the whole thing of Tenchi helping his parents meet and fall in love while trying to avoid direct contact with them – and you’ve got your Back to the Future thrown in for good measure.

None of this is given enough of a twist to make it not seem like a direct rip off of the two other films. Tenchi in Love could have created some other potential issues with time and space, even stuck to the whole idea of saving the parents to save himself. But what little changes are made, just aren’t enough to keep the viewer from thinking this story was thrown together.

Tenchi faces his nemesis.
Then there are the moments that don’t make any sense other than to force some comedy into the proceedings. Tenchi goes back in time with Ryoko, Ayeka, Mihoshi, Kiyone, Sasami and Ryo-oki. Only Washu stays behind to mess with her machines and prepare to pull them back into the present. I can see sending Tenchi back, and even Ryoko (who’s combat skills would be needed against Kain) and Ayeka (who has some powers of her own). But Mihoshi is a walking disaster (this the television version of Mihoshi who is 8 times dumber than the OAV version). Kiyone is a good choice, because she’s an excellent detective. Sasami? She’s um, cute and all, but why did she go back. Ryo Oki? Again, no reason to send the cabbit back either.

Nope the only reason is so that we can have wacky hijinks as Mihoshi attempts to blend into the Japanese school as a teacher.  Really? Kiyone would think that was a good idea? Mihoshi is an idiot, how the hell is she supposed to teach a class and blend. They have Kiyone go undercover as the janitor. WHAT? Have Kiyone play teacher and Mihoshi mop the halls. She can’t screw that up… oh wait, yes she can.

Tenchi, Ayeka and Ryoko doubt the veracity of your claim.
Sasami, Ryo Oki and even Tenchi end up getting sidelined during the time travel, popping up  to remind us that Tench is going to disappear if they don’t’ find Kain. Ryoko and Ayeka get the best material, pretending to be students and interacting with Tenchi’s parents, and bickering among themselves naturally. These scenes at the school just never clicked in the humor department because it all seems forced and ridiculous.

Pacing in the first half is also a mess. The movie starts with Kains escape, a huge action scene perfect to get Tenchi in Love off to an explosive start. But after that, there are flash forwards to the past (I know, writing it now makes no sense), then back to the current time line. Then you get people remembering things that happened only ten minutes ago and wasting valuable story momentum (I’m thinking this was to keep the budget down). I can’t tell if the script just wasn’t fleshed out or the director wasn’t sure how to keep the whole thing moving in the middle, but it’s a muddled mess.

But once Washu provides the details of when Kain will attack and the best plan to defeat him, the movie gets on track and all the characters get to help out. The second half of the movie is worth seeing and has the best animated sequences to boot. I also like the inclusion of the under cover Galaxy Police agent who acts as a red herring for the first portion of the film. A little more could have been done with him (and his relationship with Kiyone and Mihoshi – who he seems awfully dismissive of). In the end he doesn’t do much to help against Kain, but what we do get seems to have a cool idea never fully fleshed out.

Tenchi's parents in high school.
In the end, I like Achika as a character. Her character development and the early romance between her and Nobuyuki (Tenchi’s dad) is the saving grace of the first half. Her interaction with Ayeka and Ryoko makes for some of the best comedic moments. And Tenchi’s ability to see his mother, who died when he was very young, is touching.

This element comes into play in the finale, when Achika takes on Kain by herself, using all her energy and Jurai powers (she is related by blood to the royal family of Planet Jurai) to save Nobuyuki and a son she doesn’t know yet. Tenchi realizes that because of this whole time travel adventure – his mother’s life was shortened to protect him. It’s a bittersweet victory, something that the series never really delved into, and does well here.

Even after near death, nothing really changes.
For me the whole thing boils down to an entertaining movie, but one that could have been so much better if just a little more time had been spent on the script and the planning of scenes. It really feels like the idea of going back in time appealed to the creators, and the second half of the story was fully fleshed out. But when it came time to build up to that second half, no one could come up with material that would work. Tenchi in Love is really uneven, but still manages to entertain the audience and give us a little insight into Tenchi’s family. Why it is called Tenchi in Love? I still have no idea. Tenchi in Pain would be a better name (after all the groaning he does when he almost disappears) Worth checking out if you really enjoyed the series or Tenchi Universe a lot and need more. But kind of skippable otherwise. It was followed by a direct sequel, Tenchi Forever in America or Tenchi Muyo in Love 2 in Japan.


  1. I actually had the exact opposite reaction, as this film was my introduction to the Tenchi universe thanks to Sci-Fi Channel. I remember being rather disappointed that the series leaned more on the "wacky" catfights and less on the space opera elements that interested me. I guess coming from different angles makes a huge difference.

    1. That's funny. My reaction was pretty much the same when I finally saw the television series "Tenchi Universe". I had heard that the television series was the superior version of Tenchi, and I thought the OAVs were pretty good, if a little goofy. But when I finally got around to seeing "Tenchi Universe" I was really disappointed. This movie carries along a lot of the same feel of the television series, especially in the first half. My first introduction was the second film, where everyone appeared to be friends. So the rest of the television series continuity came as a bit of a shock. I'm revisiting the television series now, and should have a review for next year. I was hoping some time and perspective would put a new spin on it.