Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tenchi Forever (1999)

As the 1990s closed Pioneer and AIC decided to conclude the Tenchi franchise. The previous television series Tenchi in Tokyo hadn’t been the hit they expected, and the previous film Daughter of Darkness wasn’t what fans had expected. So they figured it was time to retire the franchise with a final film, one that would wrap up all the lose ends of the television series Tenchi Universe and bring the decade to a close on a high note. Did they succeed?

One day as Tenchi (Matt Miller) is walking down the stairs from the family shrine he hears a strange voice. He walks into the forest and encounters a huge camellia tree. Before you can say “Don’t touch it” Tenchi touches it and disappears.

Six months later Ayeka (Jennifer Darling) and Ryoko (Petrea Burchard) are searching Tokyo for Tenchi. Sasami (Sherry Lynn) has returned to planet Jurai to find out some key information. Mihoshi (Rebecca Forstadt) and Kyone (Wendee Lee) head to the science academy to tap into the vast knowledge there so Washu (Kate T. Vogt) can use it to find Tenchi. Meanwhile Tenchi’s grandfather, Katsuhito (Bob Pappenbrook) has a secret that may tie to Tenchi’s fate. The entire time Tenchi finds himself living with a lovely young woman named Haruna (Debi Derrberry) who is completely dedicated to him. As happy as he is, he begins to feel that something is wrong. Can the gals find their lost love before they lose Tenchi Forever?

Good Points:
  • The shift in animation to make the characters older is effective
  • Tenchi’s relationship with Haruna is an interesting twist
  • Ryoko and Ayeka get some great scenes together 

Bad Points:
  • Didn’t we just see this movie… twice before?
  • Most of the other characters outside the love triangle are useless
  • This is a very poor conclusion to a series and franchise 

Judged as a film, this in an entertaining entry in the Tenchi franchise. But looking at it as the conclusion to the Tenchi legacy, it is pathetic. The story and visuals are directly borrowings from the previous two films and Tenchi in Tokyo. Nothing is resolved for the characters. Nothing is concluded in any satisfactory way. This is just another adventure for Tenchi and the gals. Should have been so much more than just OK.

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

In Depth Review
Tenchi. Puzzled by his updated character design?
Obviously there are two ways to judge Tenchi Forever (or Tenchi in Love 2 as it was known in Japan), as a stand-alone adventure, or as the finale for a franchise that dominated Japanese anime throughout the 1990s. Let’ look at it as a straight film adventure for our characters.

One of the most interesting aspects of this film is the change in animation style. At the end of the ‘90s animation company AIC was going through a bit of a switch up in their style. Part of this was related to the way computer animation and coloring was affecting the industry, and the result was a simpler design that ended up becoming the standard for the anime industry for the next decade and beyond. Tenchi Forever was one of the first times this was showcased, and it added a bit of a refreshing twist to the old character designs. Everyone looks a bit more mature here, giving us the feel that this story takes place a few years after the events of Tenchi in Love.

Haruna and Tenchi share breakfast in her world.
When Tenchi is pulled into Haruna’s alternate world, he looks a lot older, his little ponytail from the series turning into a full-fledged mane of hair. Even his clothing and the surrounding environment look a lot more realistic and current than most previous incarnations of the series. I also liked how Haruna’s world had a golden hue to it, making everything seem almost nostalgic. This is contracted to the real world, where blues are harsh and the colors more vivid. In addition to the costume changes for Tenchi, Ayeka and Ryoko are dressed a lot differently for their search in Tokyo.

Finally there is Haruna, who looks a lot more normal than any of the other girls in Tenchi’s harem. She has a sweet demeanor, and even wears a bow in her hair (reminding me strongly of Aeris from Final Fantasy 7). But there is a sadness and desperation in her face (and excellent vocal performance by Derryberry) that makes her an interesting character.

Tenchi sporting some serious hair in Haruna's reality.
Since most of Tenchi Forever occurs in real world settings (even the alternate world is based in reality) there is nothing really crazy in the animation or sound. The scope of Tenchi in Love or the creativity of Daughter of Darkness is missing here. But grounding the look and feel of the worlds in reality fits the story.

Mirroring this is the music used in the film. Most of it is typical drama scoring, using piano. There is also an odd bit of traditional French flair with an accordion used for scenes in Haruna’s alternate world. Tsuneoyoshi Saito’s score is a little nondescript, but it works fine in context. The end credits feature a nice pop theme performed by Anri called “Love Song ga Kikoeru”.

Ayeka outshines Ryoko as a waitress.
Once again the voice actors do an excellent job. For nearly all of them, this was the last time they would play the characters, and it was great to hear them give it one final go. The only cast member not returning was Ellen Gerstell who had voiced Mihoshi until Daughter of Darkness. But Forstadt does a fine job playing one of the dumbest characters in anime history. The best performances are provided by Miller as Tenchi and Derryberry as Haruna, who get some juicy scenes together. Miller hadn’t had a chance to really play this side of Tenchi before and he does it well. Derryberry had been providing the meows and chirps for Ryo Oki for years, and finally got to perform an actual character. She knocks it out of the park. Both Burchard as Ryoko and Darling as Ayeka get to expand on the touching scene from Daughter of Darkness and move the characters past the petty fighting that plagued Tenchi Universe and Tenchi in Love. Of all the characters in the film, these two seem to actually grow and change, and the performances are key to this.

Ryoko is going to stand for any alternate realities!
Tenchi Forever does have some pacing issues. The story seems to meander at times, with scenes that don’t really move the plot forward. Most of these revolve around the girls attempting to find Tenchi. While Ryoko and Ayeka both have some excellent character moments together, the rest of the cast is pretty much providing filler scenes just so they can be in the film. In a way they all provide vital information to finding and getting Tenchi back, but it all feels like a shallow attempt by the writers to work them all in. Tenchi Forever also flashes back to scenes we just saw multiple times, something that is annoying, but also happened in the previous films.

Where the film works best is in providing Tenchi with a real woman to contrast with the rest of the harem. Haruna appears to be the best thing Tenchi could hope for in a relationship. She loves him. She supports his decision to pursue a career in art (and his schooling). She isn’t overbearing, bitchy, rock stupid, egotistical or under twelve. It is impossible for Tenchi not to like her. The only thing that keeps him from truly delving into this world is the fact that he has memories of his past life that keep coming back. Well, there’s also the little hitch of Haruna using his Jurai power to keep this world from collapsing. Much like a succubus, she is draining him to keep him happy and to fulfill her selfish wish.

Haruna, a sweet, sad antagonist.
Make no mistake about it, Haruana is the villain. Her motivations are all selfish. She is attempting to create the life she was denied, and use Tenchi to do it. Yes, she cares about him, but only so that she can life out this fantasy with him. It’s a very interesting dynamic, one that could have made an excellent stand-alone story if it didn’t have so much baggage tied to it. If Tenchi Forever didn’t have to be part of the Tenchi franchise (and therefore have to cram moments for all the main characters into it) or if it hadn’t been the finale event for the franchise - it could have been one of the best of the films. Once again, the potential for making a really great film is nearly in sight and completely missed.

Looking at it in the light of 1999, as the last delving into the Tenchi story, this is pathetic. The plot is exactly the same as the one used in Tenchi in Tokyo and Daughter of Darkness. A mysterious being pulls Tenchi into an alternate world and the girls have to save his sorry butt. It pulls from the second movie with the villain having a connection to Tenchi’s grandfather. It pulls from the first movie having the girls harness energy from points around Tokyo. And it uses Washu like an exposition dump, and nothing more.

The final image of the series? Not quite.
The whole thing is so familiar (and even more so if you watch the previous two films anywhere near this one). It would be funny if it wasn’t supposed to be the climax of the story. And that was the real kicker back in 1999. We kept hearing how Tenchi was going to choose a girl. Tenchi was going to go all the way with a girl. Tenchi Forever was going to wrap it all up. Well, Tenchi doesn’t pick a girl (unless you count Haruna). Tenchi does get it on with Haruna, but you could argue that it was all a dream. And while there are plenty of hints that Ryoko is the girl who is Tenchi will end up with, the creators don’t have the balls to commit to the idea. I guess they didn’t want to offend all those folks who were hoping for a Mihoshi/Tenchi hook-up.

These days, we know that Tenchi didn’t end in 1999. AIC couldn’t keep the font dry long and soon Tenchi Muyo: GXP hit television screens in 2002, with two other OAV series following it. With all that baggage gone, Tenchi Forever doesn’t look quite so bad. It’s got some good moments for Ryoko and Ayeka. It’s a nice final hurrah for the English voice cast from the 90s, and it entertains for most of its running time. For me, it just feels like a missed opportunity, and sometimes that stings more than having a regular old stinker.

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