Recently, on an expedition through the netherworld of discount stores where old anime go to rust, I happened on a 2$ clearance copy of Tenchi in Love, i.e. the movie of the Tenchi Muyo franchise. I had enjoyed the anime on Toonami when it was on, and though I never made a serious effort to finish it, I was familiar enough with the characters. I also recently enjoyed the spin-off series, Isekai Seikishi Monogatari, and had heard recent scuttlebutt that this movie was a fairly solid piece of work. To boot, it was sporting labels from multiple clearance stores, something that plays on a fundamental portion of my nature as a regular customer of such stores. So I sunk eight gumballs’ worth of cash into the poor little Geneon dub, and popped it in my dvd player a week later. Before doing so, I got out one cookie to eat. 30 minutes later, that cookie lay untouched beside me, which is your first clue as to how I feel about this movie.
Presenting a discount hunter’s wet dream
Since this is my first full review, here’s an idea of how it’s going to go. I’m going to go through the 4 categories in my review index and give scores and some comments for each, followed by the category score.
Character Designs: The free point [Hiroyuki Horiuchi]
Character Designs are usually going to be something I just give a series credit for having, the reason being that a) I enjoy the anime art style in general and b) there are so many ways of being expressive with your characters it’s hard not to fall into one of them.
That out of the way, I did enjoy the Tenchi in Love’s character designs quite a lot. The characters’ faces are very expressive, and you get a rough impression of each character’s individual personality just by looking at them. I was particularly impressed with the character designs of Tenchi’s mom and dad, who got plenty of chances to show off a full range of emotions convincingly over the gamut of romance and drama the movie ran.
1/1 (What can I say? It’s the kind of art that makes anime fun.)
Soundtrack: Expressions of a gentle romance [Christopher Franke]
After an introduction mainly focused on introducing the villain, this movie opened in a way that gambled very heavily on the strength of both the soundtrack and the director. To say that it succeeded would be an understatement. The opening montage was a terriffic blend of music and setting, packing in a sense of grandeur in the nature surrounding a rural Japanese town with an easygoing sense of exploration as it focused on the school which would serve as the set for much of the movie. I knew by the time the movie hit the 8 minute mark I was in for an atmospheric treat.
While not every track was as good as that first one, many of them certainly were. The romance scenes between Tenchi’s parents are significantly strengthened by a number of sublime nature-themed tracks, and the soundtrack into the climax mixes flawlessly into the scene, attaching to the main villain an appropriate sense of dread. Many of the tracks used in the action scenes to build tension are less engrossing, and were at times a slight detraction.
Lastly, and I want to point this out because it’s not something everyone does, this movie knew when *not* to use music and/or sound. In scenes where the dialogue was doing well enough to build tension on its own, it is allowed to do so, sometimes in silence, sometimes accompanied with sounds of a lab humming or a film projector spinning in the background. More so than even the quality of the soundtrack, I was struck by how well sound was handled in this movie.
2/2 (Soundtrack blends into the movie, enhancing even the scenes you don’t notice it in.)
Writing: An anime filler movie plot, and more [Hiroshi Negishi]
The script of this movie had 2 main strengths. Firstly, it had 2 plots (a romance and a supernatural battle mystery) that it could cycle through to keep the audience interested. It leveraged this advantage a number of times to keep the pacing fresh. It also juggled expectations a bit by laying some false clues in front of the viewer. In one particular standout example, the movie actually made use of the fact that one of the tension-raising tracks stuck out like a sore thumb on 3 separate occaisions, building up a character who was essentially a red herring. This cleverness alone made up for the unfortunate reliance of some scenes on pure techno-babble.
Secondly, it had a cast full of unique characters. Some of these were already established by previous installments of the franchise. Still, even with my limited knowledge of the franchise, I felt I didn’t lose much for not having that background; the characters had little quirks that made them fun to watch as individuals and more fun to watch as a group. The new characters, Tenchi’s young parents, felt spot-on realistic as they experienced a very sweet 17th Summer love story. If that love story was typical, it’s only because it’s enough of a pleasure to watch to get remade a lot, especially when handled with care as this movie did.
3/3 (Great, dynamic characters carry a lively story.)
Direction: Won me over in the first 8, kept me won for the next 80 [Hiroshi Negishi]
Everything I have to say about the way this movie was directed comes back to those phenomenal first 8 minutes. From the watercolor backgrounds of the cherry blossom-covered rural town to the landscapes of famous Tokyo scenery, all the backgrounds were beautiful. The love story was set in motion with subtlety; Tenchi’s dad yawns at the entrance ceremony, which gets a chuckle from Tenchi’s future mom. Established characters are taken to be established, and the movie wastes no time by re-introducing them through narrative – just a quick pan for each one is enough. It wasted nothing, categorically. No camera focus, no shot, nothing was done without adding a modicum of meaning or fun to the picture. By 16 minutes in, I had totally given up on mentally tracking each individual good decisions the movie was making and just decided to see it for what it was, a sublime piece of atmosphere and entertainment from a director who knew his cinema. I mean, heck, Tenchi’s cinema buff dad even had an Easy Rider poster up in his room. This movie was all about little things being done right over and over again.
Nothing quite like straight-up entertainment
4/4 (The action is pretty, the comedy is wacky, and the atmosphere is sublime.)
I didn’t mean to do this. Really, I didn’t. I decided on making this my movie first full review to show my opinions on something solid, but by no means great. In that respect, I chose poorly. Tenchi in Love ends up as one of my 3 favorite anime movies, alongside Castle of Cagliostro and Redline. In that respect, I chose just fine. You can never have too much love.
Final Score: 10/10 (Utterly engrossing. I paid 2 bucks and would pay 20.)