Tenchi The Movie 3: Tenchi Forever!

Why is it that comedies get serious near the end? The last two seasons of M.A.S.H., one of the longest-running sitcoms of all time, turned to constant drama. More modern comedies like Everybody Loves Raymond still tend to get more dramatic as they conclude, making us just a little misty-eyed about their exits from the scene. Perhaps it's because comedies hit our emotional center in making us laugh that they can also easily pull our heartstrings as they wrap up.

And such is true of Tenchi The Movie 3: Tenchi Forever! As the expected conclusion to the Tenchi Muyo franchise -- a promise that was not kept, as two more series have been seen since -- Tenchi Forever has a few light moments, but it's far more serious than anything anyone would expect from a show that was at one time synonymous in the American anime community with "madcap." The movie didn't do well for that reason in Japan, and most Tenchi fans don't have lots of great things to say about it. That's a travesty, because in this reviewer's opinion, it is by far the best thing I've seen in the Tenchi Muyo canon.

Tenchi has disappeared. One couldn't blame him for trying to flee from the crazy harem he's collected over the years, but he's always returned in the past. Six months after vanishing, the gang is genuinely worried that they may never see their spiky-haired love interest again. Through their galactic resources, Ayeka and Ryoko have been able to pinpoint Tenchi's location to a specific city; they take up residence there and get waitress jobs to support their search. Meanwhile, Tenchi wakes up from his disappearance a few years older! What's more, he lives with the sweet, beautiful, and utterly devoted Haruna. The love he shares with Haruna seems completely genuine, but he's not sure he remembers how they met. In fact, he's not sure he remembers anything but the present. But as he paints, the memory of a blue-haired girl haunts him.

Although Tenchi Forever was a theatrical release, it's not on par with most filmed anime. The artwork is acceptable, but it looks no better than what was seen in the OVA series. The production and music is all nondescript; it works, but I rarely paid any serious attention to it. If you've been a Tenchi fan, then it will be perfectly acceptable, but it isn't a film meant to impress technically.

What makes Tenchi Forever work is the outworking of its plot with characters we've grown attached to over the years. Now naysayers will rightly point out that the storyline follows one of the simplest devices in all of harem anime: introduce a new love interest that confounds the old cast and makes them work together to expel the intruder. But Tenchi Forever's variation on the theme is evolutionary, if not revolutionary. For one, the antagonist is someone the audience can genuinely appreciate and empathize with; we are not left with a cipher but a genuine character who presents a real alternative for Tenchi. Second, we see the growth of the relationship between Ayeka and Ryoko. In fact, their hostile relationship shifts throughout the film, and it's their growth together that is the center of the film. We're able to see that they both truly care for Tenchi outside of all the antics we've seen over the years, enough so that they can work together to find him. It's these elements that take what would be a standard harem situation and make it into something a bit special, especially since I couldn't predict how the whole thing would end.

If you've absolutely loved how Tenchi Muyo has worked in the past, I must admit that you may find this film way outside your entertainment zone. There are a couple of comedic moments, but it's the polar opposite of the OVAs and TV shows that throw in joke attempt after joke attempt. If you watch Tenchi Muyo only to laugh, you'll be disappointed. And though sexual humor has been part and parcel of the show since its inception, there's never been any actual sex, which is introduced here. Admittedly, the love scenes are very short and show nothing important; they also aren't intended to be titillating or humorous but are part of a loving, committed (possibly even married) relationship. They are, frankly, unique in the anime canon, and though I generally don't approve of love scenes, this is much better than what we typically see. But there are some who can't imagine this sort of thing, even though the OVAs joke about it and offer fan service. How much change you can take from the original will largely determine whether you think the movie is great or garbage.

Ultimately, this is Tenchi grown up. If you're like me and you always found Tenchi not quite as funny as everyone else, if you find it amusing but not great, you may agree with me and think this is the best Tenchi property yet. Even if you've loved Tenchi, if you can appreciate the cast acting a bit more mature and a storyline that doesn't rely on a hundred laughs, I'd recommend it to you. For once, I felt I really connected with these characters and enjoyed their adventure thoroughly. I'm just sorry that the movie did poorly and they've gone back to humor without significant substance in the Tenchi universe. Nevertheless, I'm glad they took the risk and made Tenchi Forever; for those of us who get it, it's an excellent piece of work.

Tenchi The Movie 3: Tenchi Forever! -- brief non-detailed nudity, brief sexual situations -- A