Tenchi The Movie: Tenchi Muyo in Love

Despite many efforts to become one, I just am not a Tenchi Muyo fan. Too many characters, too much attempted goofiness with too little return, too little soul...I can't explain my malaise towards the show beyond these items. It's well-made, but it's not one I've found myself longing to watch. So I was pleasantly surprised when I recently popped the first film, Tenchi Muyo In Love, into the DVD player. Although it still has a plethora of characters a newbie will have problems sorting out and a plot a bit too serious for this crew, it finally does find a heart, and it's that heart that conquers many of my quibbles.

As the film starts, the brazen criminal psychopath Kain escapes from his space borne prison, destroying the Galaxy Police headquarters at the same time. Imprisoned years ago by the royal Jurai family (Tenchi's lineage), he is determined to extract his revenge. His specialty is space-time distortion, and he decides the best way to get even is to travel back to 1970 and to take out the line a generation back. Tenchi finds this out when he starts to disappear in the present! Thankfully, with the help of his wacky friends, they are able to hop back a couple days before Kain wrecks havoc. Although they are determined not to muck around too much in the space-time continuum, Tenchi is torn...for the mother who died before he ever really knew her is Kain's target. But if Tenchi and the gang aren't careful, they could destroy Tenchi's chances of ever being born.

After going for months without seeing any animated feature films, it was a real pleasure to see the animation in Tenchi Muyo In Love. Although many films do look better, it's still a solid budget production that looks great. Any fans of the series will probably want to pick it up on that alone. I often forget just how wonderful anime can look when given a few million dollars!

Although the film looks great, it doesn't eliminate its problems. The Tenchi timelines each have a bunch of characters, and unless you've seen at least the first OVA season or some of the TV episodes, you may be confused as to who these characters are and why they are important. The show certainly loses some weight without that background. The plot itself is pretty flimsy and based on a number of contrivances; it's in essence a Back To The Future rip-off. And unfortunately, Kain isn't much of a villain. Not every bad guy has to talk his way to his defeat, but Kain is a stock character with no purpose other than to get the plot moving. And if you count on humor to get you through, you'll be disappointed. This keeps with the spirit of the second season of OVAs where the humor level dropped significantly.

And yet, I really did enjoy Tenchi Muyo In Love. The creators of the film are well aware of the weaknesses of their story, and so they rely on the emotionality of Tenchi meeting his mother to carry us past the plot holes. And darned if it doesn't work! I could get past my issues because I thought the heart of the tale was worth telling. For once, the Tenchi Muyo saga gives us something of importance to care about. And for my previous ramblings, it's often an exciting, adventurous tale. The first climactic battle on Tokyo Tower is really something, and it gets better from there. Director Hiroshi Negishi wisely realized that forward movement would keep us from lingering in the plot, and so we are virtually always in motion. It's not an action movie, but it's not slow.

If you have enjoyed any of the Tenchi Muyo incarnations out there, this film is probably already in your collection. Because of the need to know the characters before the film starts, I have to recommend it primarily to fans as well. Ultimately, it's a good if not great film that puts forth the best Tenchi Muyo has to offer--at least from what I've seen.

Tenchi The Movie: Tenchi Muyo in Love -- violence, brief nudity, brief profanity -- B+