Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tenchi Muyo: Daughter of Darkness (1997)

The Tenchi Muyo series was certainly the king of anime in the 1990s. So it goes without saying that after a successful television series and first movie, there would be another movie. But this film seems to follow the original OAV series, and instead of looking at Tenchi’s past, looks to his future – as a father!

As Tenchi (Matthew K. Miller) is heading home one summer afternoon, he comes across a pretty girl sitting on the shrine steps. She smiles warmly and calls him “Daddy”. Her name is Mayuka (Julie Maddalena) and while she knows that Tenchi is her father, she has no clear memories of her past. This is all very odd, since she doesn’t look that much younger than him. Of course this puts Ryoko (Petrea Burchard) on her guard, convinced that this girl is a threat to Tenchi. Washu (K.T. Vogt) starts doing some research on Mayuka’s DNA to find out more, especially when Mayuka displays the same powers as Tenchi.

But mostly everyone in the house befriends the lost girl, especially Sasami (Sherry Lynn) and Ayeka (Jennifer Darling). But evil is lurking in the background as a mysterious figure called Yuzuha (Barbara Goodson) watches and waits. She’s got a few tricks in store for Tenchi and the girls. All she has to do is let this Daughter of Darkness trap him.

Good Points:
  • All the characters seem to be their less intense OAV versions
  • Mayuka is a likable character
  • Ko Otani provides a really good musical score 

Bad Points:
  • Yuzuha’s motivations and plan aren’t well developed
  • Some confusion on what continuity this takes place in
  • Reduced scope compared to the previous film

For me this is one of the most entertaining of the Tenchi Muyo incarnations. The characters seem like friends, all dealing with the bizarre revelation of Tenchi’s daughter. Miyuka is so sweet (if a little weird) that you really worry about her fate, and place in Yuzuha’s plan. If only the script was polished a bit this could have been the best of the movies. As it stands, it’s a bit confused, but still very entertaining.

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

In Depth Review
Tenchi is about to meet... his daughter?
In the interest of full disclosure I should say this was my first exposure to the whole Tenchi franchise. I picked up this DVD on a whim. It was one of the few anime DVDs available at Tower Records, and I was just getting back into Japanese animation. I had heard about Tenchi, but hadn’t had a chance to see any of it. The OAV series and television series would not come to DVD for many years. This was the first bit of Tenchi to come out on a shiny disc in Region 1.

What I’m saying, is that Daughter of Darkness holds a lot of nostalgia for me. Every time I watch it, I’m taken back in time to a lot of good memories. That is one of the reasons why it gets regular play at Christmas time, and why I still count it as one of my favorite incarnations of the franchise.

That said, I’m going to do my best to be level headed in this review. As a whole, this is entertaining, but kind of a mess all the way around.

The Startica festival on planet Jurai.
From an animation point of view, things look pretty typical of the OAV continuity, looking a lot like the animation style from the later half of Series 1. Some of the epic scope from Tenchi Muyo in Love is missing here. No huge space battles or massive destruction. One of the most elaborate sequences is the star festival on planet Jurai called Startica. The flashbacks on Jurai give us a little bit more of a peek at this world and their tree based technology. Sadly, most of the footage is reused several times in the film.

More time and design was spent on Yuzuha’s dimension of darkness. It’s filled with bizarre tunnels, deranged toys and moist and sticky television monitors (call David Cronenberg!). It plays a large part in the finale sequence and the animators get to have some fun with scale in it. Yuzuha’s obsession with Startica and Christmas fuel her final attack and so you get scenes with a huge Christmas tree, killer gift ribbon and a teddy bear the size of King Kong.

The English voice acting in Daughter of Darkness is pretty solid all the way around. The cast has Tenchi and the girls down cold, and they perform all their roles with skill. New to the cast is Wendee Lee playing Kiyone. Lee was a veteran of anime voice acting, so I’m sure this was an easy fit for her.

Yuzuha has a wicked plan that just doesn't add up.
The two new roles, Mayuka and Yuzuha are played very well. Maddalena brings an innocence and exuberance to Mayuka. It’s critical that she come across as both na├»ve and yet mysterious. Maddalena manages both. Her curiosity about the world around her as well belief that Tenchi is her father are conveyed with sincerity. Contrast this to when Yuzuha controls her and we can almost hear the demon speaking through her. It’s a very good performance and key to the whole movie working as well as it does.

Goodson’s performance as Yuzuha is just as effective. I love the maniacal glee at the mischief she is creating. In flashbacks, she is sympathetic, until we learn more about her. But it is her seething rage at Tenchi’s grandfather that becomes the key here. The final scenes of the movie are driven by this rage. It’s an interesting character with some twisted morals, and Goodson is really great in the part.

Ko Otani’s musical score is probably my favorite of the three films (and probably my favorite of the franchise). He creates three themes for the film. One based on Yuzhua and her dark world. One based on the innocence of Mayuka (and seems very connected to Yuzuha’s theme). Finally there is the theme for Christmas/Startica. All three themes are woven into each other, given different variations and conclude in a satisfactory way. Mayuka’s theme get the most airtime, with several variations throughout her story as she arrives innocence and ends up twisted by Yuzuha in the finale. The score is heavy on electronics, but Otani uses them well, creating a wonderful atmosphere, as well some excellent driving action when needed. The end theme, Manatsu no Eve is based off the Christmas/Startica theme is performed by Mariko Nagi and is a nice pop piece.

Ayeka doesn't think Mihoshi or Ryoko have a clue.
There are few things that really appeal to me about Daughter of Darkness. One is the entire summer atmosphere of the whole movie. The cast is dressed in summer clothing and doing things around the house that are typical of the season. The animation and action combine to create a real sense of time, and a feeling of carefree summer days. No one is going to school. They’re doing some chores, but then hanging out eating watermelon, watching fireworks and trying to stay cool. This is well contrasted to the Christmas flashbacks. Here everyone is bundled up, there are decorations all over the house and the whole cast is celebrating. It’s no wonder that Mayuka wants to stay with the gang and have fun all day long.

Ayeka opens up to Ryoko about her fears.
In sharp contrast to Tenchi Muyo in Love, the cast here seems to be enjoying each other’s company. Ayeka and Ryoko aren’t constantly fighting. In fact the two rivals have a great scene together, as they talk about the possibility of Tenchi not picking either of them as a girlfriend. Darling as Ayeka and Burchard as Ryoko both get to show off some acting chops here, letting the girls take things a notch down. It is this fellowship, as well as the fact that Mihoshi isn’t a drooling moron that leads me to believe this is supposed to fall in the OAV continuity. But more on that in a minute. It was nice to see all the characters behaving like a family. Sure Ayeka and Ryoko aren’t going to ever be friends, but here we see that they at least respect each other.

Daughter of Darkness also drops a lot of the stupid comedic moments that plagued Tenchi Universe and even Series 2 of the OAV. Humor comes out of situations naturally, not because of some gag the writers tried to force into the plot. Instead of going for full-blown laughs, the movie focuses on the group dynamic once Mayuka is introduced, and how each character reacts and changes because of it. It’s really more character-centric than the plot heavy previous film.

Ryoko has had enough of Mayuka.
But this second movie is far from perfect. As I mentioned, no one really knows what continuity this event happens. While it seems to fit the OAV timeline, and shares the one hour running time, as well as the watercolor images during the end titles, a few things don’t add up. First Kiyone did not appear in the OAV series at all. My guess is that she was popular after her appearance in Tenchi Universe (gotta admit she’s one of the best parts of that show), so they figured they couldn’t have a movie without her. The other element is Tenchi’s energy weapon. In the OAV this was known as the Light Hawk Wings, a kind of triple bladed thing he used against Kagato. But in Tenchi Universe it became the Light Hawk Sword, and that is what the whole cast refers to it as in this film. It looks much more like the blade in the television series. It’s a bit confusing, but only for folks who have been following Tenchi closely.

More annoying are all the odd little elements that just don’t add up from a script point of view. Most of this revolves around Yuzuha’s plot. We know she hates Tenchi’s grandfather, Yosho. But instead of focusing her attack on Yosho, she focuses it on Tenchi. She never says why, but it’s implied that Tenchi looks so much like Yosho that it makes her hate transfer to him.

Father and daughter about to disappear.
So Yuzuha creates Mayuka to go to the Tenchi household and … um… do stuff? Obviously Ryoko becomes jealous of Mayuka almost immediately, and Washu and Yosho attempt to figure out more about her. But the few times Yuzuha takes control of Mayuka it’s to have the girl grope, kiss and lick a stupefied Tenchi. Um, yeah kinda gross if that really is his daughter. Each time this happens, a dimensional doorway opens. But usually another cast member comes in and sees the whole unpleasant scene and it stops.

Two things could be going on here – but again nothing is explained. I’m guessing Yuzuha wants to pull Tenchi into her dark dimension to mess with. I’m also assuming that her love/hate of Yosho makes her love/hate Tenchi. So she actually possesses Mayuka to exercise her desires on Tenchi while he is in a trance. This is supported by the fact that each time Mayuka does the forbidden dance with Tenchi her eyes are a different color and she speaks more like Yuzuha.

Happy Christmas memories
But it still feels sloppy. The kissing, groping and licking aren’t necessary to open the dimensional door because Mayuka doesn’t need to kiss Sasami to open the door and abduct her. I don’t want to think it, but maybe the writers were just pervs and wanted to see Mayuka get it on with Tenchi.

Part of the issue with Daughter of Darkness is the really short running time of an hour. It must have been tough to cram in all the needed exposition, as well as all the great character moments they did come up with. The movie flies by a little too briskly, and if they had another 20 minutes or half an hour, all these odd little script moments could be resolved. Or maybe not, hard to say really. For what it is, you get some solid entertainment and a few great character moments for just about everyone in the cast. Yes, nostalgia plays a big part in my enjoyment here, but still it’s my favorite of the Tenchi films. One more Tenchi film was released in 1999: Tenchi Forever.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks. Recently revisited this film again, and it is still one of my favorites from the franchise. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. The father/daughter dynamic has rich potential that isn’t often exploited in film except in the most superficial way – e,g. the standard action-movie featuring gangsters who make the mistake of kidnapping the daughter of the retired SEAL/supercop/mercenary/whatever who then goes apeshit on them. The names of the characters – much less anything more personal about them – scarcely matter. It’s all about the righteous mayhem. But the flicks that try something more nuanced often get interesting results, even (maybe especially) when it’s a bit twisted, such as the Big Daddy/Hit-Girl pair in “Kick-Ass” in which Nicholas Cage seems to channel Gomez Addams. See also the dynamic between the Mayor and Faith in the third season of “Buffy” – Whedon was never reluctant to give his villains sympathetic qualities and frequently had them speak truths that others avoided.

    This sounds like a fun movie but perhaps a little too “in medias res” for a first introduction to the series. Then again, maybe not: it seemed to work as an intro for you.

    1. Yeah, the Mayor and Faith made a very interesting combination. That whole season had a lot of really cool story elements to it.

      Yeah, I recommend watching the first OAV series of Tenchi first, and then following it up with this movie. The first OAV is a little rough to start with, but it gives you a good starting point for the characters and situations.