Tenchi the Movie: Tenchi Muyo! in Love (1996 - DVD)

While I have my doubts that I'd feel as attached to this movie if I only just now saw it as opposed to having first seen it when I was younger and far less cynical, the first Tenchi movie still holds a very special place in my heart. People familiar with the Tenchi characters from either the OAV or TV series or both will be the ones to get the most out of it (especially considering all the little "easter eggs" for fans), but it's not completely inaccessible for newbies. After all, this was the first Tenchi thing I ever saw and I still ended up loving it.

Part of the reason it works so well is because the story is really about Achika, Tenchi's mother, and an intergalactic monstrous villain named KAIN, both of whom are introduced in this film, so previous knowledge isn't necessary to understand anything about them. Tenchi and his friends, a group of alien women with various personalities and powers, must travel back in time to save Achika from being destroyed by KAIN, which would consequently cause Tenchi to be erased from existence. It might sound kind of like Back to the Future, but aside from the basic underlying premise, it's about as much like that movie as Urusei Yatsura 2 was like Groundhog Day.

Ultimately, the movie does such a great job building up its story and characters, that the final battle against KAIN ends up being one of the most intense scenes I've ever witnessed in a cartoon. Thankfully, some of the characters' more obnoxious traits from the series are either toned down or not touched on here, so you don't have to deal with that constant "fighting over Tenchi" that is usually present. It's a bonus that all of this is achieved on top of gorgeous visuals and a great soundtrack.

Rating: 4/5

Tenchi the Movie 2: The Daughter of Darkness (1998 - DVD)

I had very high expectations when I first saw this movie years ago because of how good the first Tenchi movie was. It doesn't really live up to it, feeling more like an elongated episode of the series, and thus I was very disappointed in it. I ended up being harder on it than I now feel I should have been.

Though it's not the epic the first movie was, it's still a decent and entertaining little story on its own. Tenchi discovers a mysterious girl named Mayuka on the steps to his family's shrine who seems to think that he is her father, despite their obvious closeness in age. She might be the work of Yuzuha, a demon from another dimension who fell in love with Tenchi's grandfather, Yosho, many years ago. The mystery of Tenchi 2 is kind of interesting, just like how in the first one there was a mystery about what was exactly going on, and what would happen, and who the villain actually was. But whereas KAIN was a complete and total evil entity/demon, Yuzuha kind of has a human side to her.

There are also some really great sequences of animation: The scene of hundreds upon hundreds of ribbons encircling Tenchi and Ryoko and forming a giant tree is very impressive, as is the animation on the giant Akira-ish Teddy Bear.

The ending has its cake and eats it, too, and I could've lived without those soup-slurping and watermelon chomping scenes (really, why does everyone in anime always eat like Robert Wagner in a Saturday Night Live sketch??), but aside from that, I found the humor, story, and character moments strong enough to elevate my opinion of this sequel after a rewatch.

Rating: 3/5

Tenchi Forever! (1999 - DVD)

Holy diminishing returns, Batman! If the second Tenchi movie was a step down from the first, this one's a step clear off the face of the planet. I went into this movie with lowered expectations. I knew it wouldn't be as good as the first one, so I really wanted to enjoy it for what it is, just like I did with the second movie. But there wasn't any way of getting around it - Tenchi Forever! is like watching a bad Tenchi fanfiction brought to life.

First of all, it's painfully slow. There are lots of scenes of characters doing normal, everyday (boring) things - like Ayeka and Ryoko working in a restaurant, or Tenchi going to art school - in order to drag out the mystery. And the mystery, as it turns out, is lifted almost wholesale from the second movie. Once again, a woman (Haruna) who was in love with Yosho (Tenchi's grandfather) has somehow come back and stolen away Tenchi. What happens next ends up being a huge violation of how anti-entertaining it is to watch two people who don't belong in a relationship together trying to have one.

It's also maddeningly repetetive. I thought it was giving me vague flashbacks to Urusei Yatsura 2, but I tried chalking that up to over-familiarity with that movie. But then at the end, yes, Tenchi starts repeating the same day over and over - complete with reused animation of him waking up and seeing Haruna cooking breakfast - 3 times this is used - twice almost in a row! Then after Ayeka and Ryoko figure out how to get into the alternate dimension where Haruna is keeping Tenchi, three times they go in to get him, as they're kicked out (with reused animation) the first two.

If you don't want this movie's ending spoiled, don't read past this point, but this movie is so rotten I'm going to pounce all over it.

After several hours of nothing happening, annoying constant reused animation of Washu typing, abandoned logic, terribly cheesy music, and ripping off ideas from better movies, Tenchi Forever has the gall to end with a duplicate of the final scene of Tenchi Muyo! in Love, only with Tenchi and Ryoko standing together in the woods instead of Nobuyuki and Achika. Really? Seriously??

If your story's ending is Tenchi finally choosing Ryoko out of his "harem" of alien women, then the story needs to be about that. You have to face it, you have to explain it, and you have to deal with it. That's what makes good writing. But this movie doesn't do that. When Tenchi is trapped in the alternate dimension, his thoughts of Ryoko momentarily bring him back into the real world. But we don't know why he's thinking of Ryoko. The thing about the Nobuyuki/Achika scene is that in that movie, you saw their relationship start. You saw it grow - that they had things in common - their strength as a couple - and what ultimately sealed the deal. You can't just have an hour and a half of not dealing with Tenchi and Ryoko's relationship, then justify the ending by putting scenes from earlier series that selectively show Tenchi and Ryoko doing things together over the end credits. As it is, he could've picked anyone else and it would've made no difference at all.

Rating: 1/5

The Original Transformers (1984 - DVD)

I'm not going to pretend that this thinly-disguised half-hour animated toy commercial is not without its flaws, but let me say that after enduring the awfulness of Transformers Energon, this was like observing a work of art in comparison. First and foremost, it's much more animated and animated really well. There's a lot more action. Even though the first couple of episodes are all about Megatron stealing energy, much more still happens in them. And you know exactly what Megatron's plans/goals are - there's no withholding information for a "big reveal" later.

But just about anything (except maybe Tenchi Forever!) looks good compared to Energon, so how does yet another iconic 80s cartoon stand the test of time on its own? If you can ignore the numerous little animation mistakes, amazingly well. Of utmost importance is that the strength of the characters and the writing make it easy to forget that this even is a cartoon based on toys. While the premise of alien robots coming to Earth and disguising themselves as man-made vehicles, guns, and tape recorders is rather absurd, somehow the show really sells it.

Overall, the stories of this first season don't quite have the strength of the mid-Season 2 era of Transformers, but that's mainly because it took some time to get going, as many great TV shows do. Despite some silly plots that make little sense, it certainly wasn't a bad start and has some rather iconic episodes.

There is one rather odd side effect being a fan of this series has caused me: I've noticed that sometimes relatively non-violent cartoons, like DuckTales, have no qualms about showing robots get destroyed, even if the robots seem to have as much intelligence and personality as anyone else. It's no doubt a testament to how good Transformers is at making me care about its characters and showing that "robots are people, too" that I find scenes like that disturbing.

Rating: 4/5



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