Tenchi Forever (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, February 18, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, August 31, 1999
The highlight of this year's "Fant-Asia" festival here in Montreal was seeing "Tenchi Forever" on the big screen at the old Imperial cinema on de Bleury street! (Come to think of it; it was the only film I saw at this year's "Fant-Asia" festival! But I did see (and enjoy) "The Iron Giant", which premiered (at least for Canada) at "Fant-Asia", outside the festival. Unfortunately, very few other North Americans did.) But I have a dilemma; when I first saw this film in July, I wrote a great review for a certain popular anime news Web site (a site to which I occasionally submitted reviews when I didn't have something on DVD). Unfortunately, the first few times that I sent it to that site, the editor told me that it came out garbled. After several attempts and several weeks, the editor of the site informed me that he had finally received the file intact. Alas, since then, there has been an editorial shake-up at said anime site (hint: not "EX"), and my hapless review seems to have been lost in the shuffle. (They've apparently abandoned their written review format for a "Siskel and Ebert" style "Real Audio" Internet Radio broadcast.) So, for this review, I'll try not to plagiarize my previous review, on the odd chance that the new editor of that other site (whomever that may be) might still see my review as fit to post. (Personal note to J.S., the previous editor of that anime site, should he see this review: this isn't a criticism of you or the site. I fully understand that these things happen.)
Let's start with the packaging: unlike some people, I like the white Amaray case. I can't believe that the color of the case is even an issue of contention. For those of you that have shelf upon shelf of DVDs, don't you have the spines facing out? What difference does the color of the case make? Are you losing sleep worrying about this? I'm not sure if the picture on the cover was the design that they originally intended to use. I seem to remember a picture of Haruna topless (albeit without any explicit anatomical details shown), though it could have just been an ad. I'm glad that they went with the current design, if just so that I don't get in trouble with Canada Customs for ordering this through the mail. I like how they used the same font for the logo as they used for the "Tenchi Muyo Ultimate Edition" packaging.
Surprisingly, this is another Pioneer disk that falls into the bare-bones category. (For my comments about bare-bones disks, please see my review of "Tenchi in Tokyo" volume 5.) The only special features you get are two trailers (the teaser from the "Tenchi Muyo Ultimate Edition" set, plus a different one), and a collection of production drawings. That's it. But that doesn't really matter to me. The main perk is that it's anime on DVD. Do you really need anything else? I'd rather that anime companies release lots and lots of bare-bones disks than have them release just a few showcase titles as feature-laden DVD-ROM enhanced disks. However, there are three special letters that separate this one from the rest of the pack of bare-bones disks: THX. How cool is that? I think that I could count the number of anime disks with THX sound with one hand (and of those, how many don't feature "Tenchi" characters). Many major live-action disks like "The Matrix" (the top-selling DVD of all time) aren't even THX certified. I only have the most basic of set-ups with my DVD player connected to my stereo TV using ordinary A/V cables, but it sounds gorgeous.
Visually, this is a Pioneer title. 'Nuff said. It's the visual quality that you've come to expect from Pioneer titles. However, while the quality of the video during the movie itself is gorgeous, I do have some issues with the second trailer (the one marked as "Trailer") on this disk. For some reason, they added some type of mist or smoke effect on top of the video. I can tell that this was added later because, even though the shots from the movie are in letterbox format, the "smoke" is full screen. It looks terrible. It is the single worst example of "artifacting" that I've ever seen on my player; you can see whole squares of the "smoke" disappear and reappear. This makes the video quality of this trailer look like something out of a PlayStation game. Not what I expect from Pioneer, but it's only a minor section of the disk.
Any other complaints? Well, unlike most Pioneer disks, this one ignores my language presets. It's easily rectified using the menu, but why make it different from the other "Tenchi" disks in the first place? Other than that, I can't come up with any more technical problems with this disk. We can argue until the sun freezes over (or Tenchi kisses Ryoko; whichever comes first) about what we think SHOULD have been included, but as it is, the disk is excellent for the price. (I've seen plenty of people indicate that they'd like director's commentaries on the disks. I'm afraid that this is a "pipe dream". Aside from the obvious language barrier, I doubt that many Japanese animation directors would be willing to dissect their work scene-by-scene. The problem with being an animation director is that you're a lot more detached from the production than an ordinary director. You're not on a set with any actors. You have different people responsible for animating different characters and different scenes. A true director's commentary track would have to feature dozens of different people who were responsible for everything from screenplay to storyboards to photography. However, I could envision, say, Roger Ebert providing critical commentary, as he did for the "Dark City" DVD. I know that he loves "Princess Mononoke". But as for the directors: interviews: yes; commentaries: no. (I mean, I'd like a solid gold toilet, but that's just not in the cards now, is it?) Myself, I wouldn't have minded Japanese language subtitles, as were included on the first "Tenchi Muyo in Love" disk.)
The dub cast is stellar, as always. There's only so much I can say about the "Tenchi" dub cast without repeating myself, and I think that I've even repeated this line before! Let me just say that when I saw this at "Fant-Asia", it was the dubbed version, even though it was advertised as "Japanese with English subtitles", and I didn't mind at all. To think that I used to be a "dubs suck" flamer! (I'll expand more on that in my upcoming review of "Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer".)
Okay, this time I propose two levels of spoiler warnings. This is a level one spoiler warning. If you haven't seen the film yet, but are aware of what makes this particular "Tenchi" film so controversial (presumably from reading long discussions about this aspect of the film in the "Anime on DVD" forum), please feel free to read on. I won't give anything away that you don't already know.
Since some of you will glance below the spoiler warning anyway, I'll deal with the less controversial "controversial aspect" of this film first: the character designs. They're slightly different from those used in the "Tenchi Universe" TV series, but, they're not nearly as radical as the "way out" re-designs of "Tenchi in Tokyo" are. The main difference here is actually that the shading is a lot more dramatic. It actually reminds me of the difference in character designs between the "Patlabor" OVAs/TV series, and the two "Patlabor" films; there the difference was also mostly shading. Also, Ryoko and (especially) Ayeka could stand to gain a few pounds. They look almost anorexic. And, of course, there's Tenchi himself. The character design used for Tenchi for most of this film is meant to convey a certain "difference" from his regular self (but to say any more would ruin it for those of you who only want to see the level one spoilers). I can talk about his hair. If you've seen the trailer for this film in the "Tenchi Muyo Ultimate Edition" set (or if you've seen the preview for this film in Animerica magazine), then you know that (for whatever reason) he has long hair. In the trailer, there was a person, whom I originally thought was Kiyone, looking up from a futon through a doorway. How surprised I was to find out that this was Tenchi!
Now for the main point of contention among Tenchi fans: the sex scenes. What are they doing there? They add nothing to the plot. They're certainly not the most graphic sex scenes ever animated in Japan by any means. The nudity in "Ranma 1/2" is more detailed. But it's completely out of sync with the rest of the series. I think that they felt that they had to show Tenchi getting laid because, at the time of planning, this was to be the final installment of "Tenchi Muyo". It's not that I'm upset that Tenchi wasn't "together" with the right girl (whomever that may be in your opinion). I just don't want to see Tenchi sleeping with any of the girls. You assume that he will eventually choose one particular girl and they will get married and so on, but I feel that it is something we don't need to see illustrated. There have been scenes in previous episodes of "Tenchi Muyo" that have made me feel somewhat uncomfortable (Washu's proposed specimen extraction methods in episode 7 of the OVA series; most of "Manatsu no Eve", particularly the scene where Mayuka licks Tenchi's chest), but this film really takes the cake. I had to listen to the "Tenchi Muyo Christmas Album" import CD (PICA-1024) after watching this film to get all of the ickies out and to rediscover the true meaning of "Tenchi Muyo"! (Like J.C., I have my own "back door" to explain why, in a way, these scenes never really "happened", but I won't get into it until after the second spoiler warning.)
This is the level two spoiler warning. Do not read below if you haven't seen this film yet and you don't want to know anything. In the following paragraphs I will not be ambiguous about which girl Tenchi most likely will end up with. However, I think that anyone (even those of you in Rio Linda) who has seen any of the "Tenchi" series should easily be able to guess which one of the girls it will be. If you can't guess, then I'd wager that you have not seen "Tenchi Muyo" before, and, if that is the case, you should not start getting acquainted with the various worlds and universes of "Tenchi Muyo" with this installment, as this film requires previous knowledge of the characters to be comprehensible. (Get the 13 episode "Tenchi Muyo Ultimate Edition" OVA set or rent the 8 volumes of "Tenchi Universe" first.)
One day, Tenchi decides that he's had enough of Ayeka and Ryoko's constant bickering, so he goes for a walk in the woods. He does not come back. Ayeka and Ryoko go to Tokyo to look for him. Six months later, they are working as waitresses at Jonapan, a fast-food restaurant. (Fortunately for the manager, episode 5 of "Tenchi in Tokyo", where they worked as waitresses at "Doremi", a pizza place, took place in an entirely different continuity! Here, they make a serious effort at doing their job well!) Meanwhile, Kiyone and Mihoshi use false ID cards, provided by Washu, to infiltrate the galactic Science Academy to find some explanation for Tenchi's disappearance. (How did Washu know to look for information there at that point in the movie?) Sasami returns to Jurai to ensure that the human forms of Azaka and Kamidake can make a cameo... er, I mean, to use the "Jurai Network" to search for traces of Tenchi's "wave imprint" in the "temporal netting", whatever that means. (Can't Washu just do that herself from Earth? And, while this can only be an astonishing coincidence, isn't it interesting that Jurai Knight Azaka and Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) ended up looking quite similar to one another?) As for Tenchi? He's living in an apartment in Tokyo with a woman named Haruna. He looks several years older, and apparently has no memory of Ryoko and Ayeka. Tenchi is studying art at college; he's painting a portrait of Haruna but, much to her dismay, he also likes to sketch drawings of a mysterious green-haired woman that he can't seem to get out of his mind, even though he can't seem to remember who she is. On a few occasions, Ryoko and Ayeka spot Tenchi in Tokyo, but he doesn't seem to be able to even perceive them, almost as if he's in a different reality! (Okay, it's not much of a spoiler giving that away, as you already know that he is in a "parallel world" should you have read the back of the DVD case before seeing the film!) Azaka and Kamidake tell a story about Yosho's (a.k.a. Katsuhito Masaki) past that ends up being quite relevant to Tenchi's disappearance. (Wow. Isn't Sasami lucky that she just happened to pass by the statue of Yosho and got all of that information about Camellia from the Knights? It seemed extraneous at the time.) Washu enlists Kiyone and Mihoshi to set up devices on Camellia trees (cough cough, blatant rip-off of the "setting up devices on the five-color Fudos" scene from the original "Tenchi Muyo in Love" film) around Tokyo (just around Tokyo?) to help transport Ryoko and Ayeka to the alternate dimension. But, even if they can get to Tenchi, will Tenchi want to leave Haruna?
As you probably know, this film is set in the continuity of the "Tenchi Muyo"/"Tenchi Universe" television series. This is actually my favorite "Tenchi" continuity; I feel that Kiyone and Nagi provide a nice sober counterbalance to the exaggerated personalities of Ryoko, Ayeka, Washu and Mihoshi. Also, there were fewer loose ends at the end of "Tenchi Universe". I watched a few episodes towards the end of the "Tenchi Universe" series with this film in mind. Although neither Haruna nor Camellia are mentioned in the show, as far as I can tell this film doesn't actively contradict anything in the "Tenchi Universe" continuity. I like how this film provided a little more background on why Yosho came to Earth in the first place, and you get to see Tenchi's grandmother (albeit as a small child).
The first "Tenchi Muyo in Love" was an all-out, kick ass, action-romance-comedy blockbuster with Achika, one of the most sympathetic anime heroines ever. It was the "Star Trek: First Contact" of "Tenchi Muyo". This film doesn't remotely compare, but I don't think that it's trying to compete. (This is the "Star Trek: Insurrection" of "Tenchi Muyo", perhaps?) I think that this film is more of a story of Ayeka and Ryoko than Tenchi and Haruna. The best thing about this movie is that Ryoko and Ayeka have pretty much resolved their differences. While they have been allies in the past, it was usually only against a common enemy (Kagato, Kain, Yuzuha), and once the villain was overcome, they resume their bickering. Here, not only are they working together, they are actually encouraging each other when one of them feels discouraged!
Haruna is a character who seems to elicit very little in the way of moderate opinion; you either really like her or you think that she's the worst travesty of a character ever seen in any "Tenchi" series. She serves a specific dramatic purpose: she brings out a side of Tenchi that we haven't seen before. The Tenchi of Haruna's world is most likely meant as a projection of what Tenchi will be like in a few years, when he's more mature and less indecisive. I'm surprised that no one else here has picked up on something that seems to be so obvious to me: Haruna is almost like a psycho version of Belldandy! Is it just a coincidence that Haruna is portrayed by the same seiyuu as Belldandy, Kikuko Inoue (in case you didn't know, Keiichi Morisato in "Oh, My Goddess!" was voiced by Masami Kikuchi, who is also the voice of Tenchi)? Maybe Ms. Inoue was intentionally chosen for the role so that the audience would draw parallels with the relationship between Keiichi and Belldandy; except, where Belldandy is attentive, Haruna is possessive. Or maybe I'm just reading much too much into things again. She's not my favorite "Tenchi" antagonist, but I don't find her totally unsympathetic either. I just wish that they hadn't felt the need to show her and Tenchi having sex. My "back door", just in case you were wondering, is simple: it's her dream world so it never really "happened".
Let me start this paragraph by saying that I'm not belittling anyone's views when it comes to the issue of whether or not this film went far enough in tying up all of the loose romantic threads, particularly between Tenchi and Ryoko. I had the advantage of seeing this film before all but a handful of you got a chance to see it (before "Fant-Asia", I believe that the only public showing in North America was at Anime Expo '99 in Anaheim, California), so my views weren't tainted by reading others' comments on the message board. Personally, I thought that this film made it crystal clear that Tenchi loves Ryoko before anyone else. (I don't consider that a spoiler. If it were Kiyone or Washu or even Ayeka, I wouldn't give it away, but Ryoko? Just by watching the ending of the first TV series (on which this film is based), you could easily guess that Tenchi and Ryoko will eventually become an "item".) I didn't think that the producers needed to spell out Tenchi's feelings for Ryoko with a kiss, as thought we are too dense to be able to tell otherwise that Tenchi loves Ryoko. But, upon reflection, I can easily understand why Ryoko fans particularly dislike this film: Tenchi is shown having SEX with Haruna, yet he doesn't oblige his dearest Ryoko with even the smallest peck on the cheek! And this was supposedly the final "Tenchi Muyo" ever! I'm not one who subscribes to the premise that they have to show Tenchi and Ryoko kissing just because it is the final episode, but anything would have been preferable to the sex scene.
Which leads me to another point: is this truly the final episode of "Tenchi Muyo"? At the time that this film was originally released in Japan, this was supposed to be the final installment of any "Tenchi" series. But now Pioneer seems to have changed the official line about this film to "this is the final episode in the continuity of the 1995 "Tenchi Muyo" TV series", leaving the door wide open for a third OVA series (or, for that matter, a new "Shin Tenchi Muyo"/"Tenchi in Tokyo" series or film; I, for one, would love to see Sakuya on the big screen). A.I.C., the production company which produces "Tenchi Muyo", has added fuel to the speculation by running a survey in a Japanese magazine and on the Internet asking fans what they would like to see in a third "Tenchi Muyo" OVA series. (Yes, I've filled it out myself, and no, I don't remember the URL.) But, if they're running a survey, this would indicate that they're not even at the planning stages yet, let alone production. Whether or not a third OVA series ever will be produced is another matter entirely. Only a fraction of series that go into pre-production (i.e. ideas pitched to a production team, scripts written, character designs drawn) ever reach the actual production stage. But let us assume, for a moment, that a third OVA series will be made. Should Tenchi and Ryoko get together at last? I have to say the prospect of resolving the love triangle in the third OVA series makes me uncomfortable. I don't want anyone thinking that I am against the idea per se, which I am not. I would love to see Ryoko happy. My problem is that when producers decide to resolve long-standing sexual tension between two characters, more often than not, they do a horrible job of it that pleases nobody. ("Lois and Clark" was a terrific show, until they decided that Lois and Clark should get hot and heavy. After a while of that, the show quickly became trite and unwatchable (even before they were married).) "Tenchi Muyo" isn't like shoujo series, where the relationships between the various couples are all planned well in advance. "Tenchi Muyo" is more of an animated sit-com (like "Urusei Yatsura" or "Ranma 1/2") where a "happy ending" can be defined as "homeostasis", or a return to the status quo.
If it were up to me, I'd probably relegate any serious relationship between Tenchi and Ryoko to the realm of "fan fiction", where, if you don't like the way that one author handles their romance (or if you'd prefer to see Tenchi get together with, say, Nagi), there are literally hundreds of other possibilities from other "fan fiction" authors. (Hmm... watch a story and then write your own ending. What does that remind me of? Palabra Jot, Palabra Jot!) But, if the producers feel that they have to end the series with Tenchi and Ryoko becoming a couple, I propose a couple of interesting scenarios. The important thing to keep in mind is that this is a comedy series, so I don't want any bummer endings like "I Want to Return to that Day", the original "Kimagure Orange Road" ending film. My first scenario is a final film that is similar in concept to "Sliding Doors" or "Run Lola, Run" where they can show Tenchi choosing Ryoko in one time-stream and Ayeka in another. I'm sure that some of you will no doubt call this a cop-out, but hear me out: you already have multiple "Tenchi Muyo" continuities to begin with so why not have two continuities in one film? This would satisfy both the Ryoko and Ayeka factions of "Tenchi Muyo" fandom. My second scenario is a "everybody's happy" type final episode. Ryoko gets Tenchi and Ayeka gets Yosho (whom was the reason that she came to Earth in the first place). Remember that in the OVA continuity the old "Katsuhito" is a fašade; he can switch back to being Yosho at any time, not looking a day older than when he left Jurai. As a bonus, Tenchi's father, Nobuyuki, can tie the knot with Kiyone (there were hints of feelings between the two of them in "Manatsu no Eve"/"Daughter of Darkness"). I wouldn't want a third OVA series to be "Oh, My Space Pirate!" I would rather want the focus of a third OVA series to be on expanding the OVA mythology a little more: have Kiyone make her first real appearance in the OVA series (note: if you read the disclaimer on the back of the Mihoshi special, you'll know that the entire incident was only in Mihoshi's head); explain how Azusa first came to Earth and met Funaho; explain the connection between Washu and Tokimi; go into more detail about Tsunami; perhaps show Washu's baby as an adult. I'd also want more of the same. I like the light comic "filler"!
While this film has its drawbacks, I feel that there is plenty to like about it, and it is a decent way to end the "Tenchi Universe" continuity, although it's nowhere near as good as the original "Tenchi Muyo in Love". For my money, the fact that Ryoko and Ayeka have finally learned to live with each other and become true friends is immensely more satisfying to watch than any resolution of the romantic tension between Ryoko and Tenchi would ever be.
Toshiba SD-2107 player, Sony Trinitron 28" television (I don't have the exact model number) using the set's stereo speakers, standard red/white/yellow A/V cords ("Gold", from Radio Shack).
Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: A
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 95
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Tenchi Muyo