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Tenchi the Movie 2: Daughter of Darkness
A reion 2 DVD review by CNash
 

The Tenchi series of animé and manga has a long and complex history, with three OVAs, three movies, two animé TV shows, two spin-off series and a multitude of mangas and novelisations. And to make it worse, not all of them are in the same continuity – the same basic characters are present in each, but their various backstories can be radically different.

Thankfully for viewers, movie number two – Tenchi: Daughter of Darkness [Tenchi Muyô! Manatsu no Eve] – takes place within the first (and some might consider "main") continuity, established by the OVAs produced under the name Tenchi Muyo!. I won't bore you with any more details of when this movie is meant to be taking place; you can find this information on any of the multitude of Tenchi fan sites.

Tenchi is what's known as a "harem comedy", following in the footsteps of Love Hina. It concerns a young man named Tenchi, who lives at a Shinto shrine in the Japanese countryside with his father and grandfather. One day, Tenchi accidentally releases a space pirate named Ryoko from imprisonment at the shrine. Her release leads the alien Princess Ayeka and her sister Sasami to Earth in order to recapture Ryoko; they're then joined by galactic police officers Kiyone and Mihoshi, who seek the same goal. Travelling alchemist Washuu then notices the commotion and decides to come and watch. One way or another, all of these women end up living in Tenchi's house with him. And to top it all off, Tenchi discovers that he's actually a prince of Ayeka's royal family, and that his grandfather was once in line to the throne of planet Jurai.

If this is enough to put you off, I don't blame you. It is a lot of continuity to take in, and it's very clear that this movie is aimed squarely at viewers who've seen the original OVAs and have a working knowledge of the characters and situations. The movie makes no attempt to ease new viewers into the story, instead simply continuing with established characterisation. I was fortunate enough to have seen two of the TV series when they were aired on digital channel Toonami several years ago, so I didn't exactly come into it blind.

As for the movie itself: shortly after Christmas (hence the DVD's slightly belated release date of January), a strange girl named Mayuka appears at the shrine, claiming she's Tenchi's daughter from the future. This claim sparks a new round of jealously between Ryoko and Ayeka – who are both in love with Tenchi – as it's unclear who Mayuki's mother is. In addition, Ryoko senses trouble from the amnesiac Mayuka. She's right: Mayuka is being manipulated from behind the scenes by the impish demon Yuzuha, who seeks revenge on Tenchi and his grandfather.

Most of the movie revolves around the group trying to figure out the mystery behind Mayuka's appearance, and what should be done with her. There are short bursts of energetic combat throughout, as well as a protracted battle sequences towards the end of the movie – this is typical of the Tenchi series, which often mixes sitcom-style comedy with alien battling, with varying levels of success. In this instance, it doesn't work so well. The action seems forced and too far removed from what goes on before. As for the comedy – well, it tries hard, but never delivers a good laugh, preferring to stick with the slapstick rivalry of Ayeka and Ryoko, or placing Tenchi into a compromising situation with one of the women (a hallmark of harem comedies).

The issue of its runtime is also perplexing. Daughter of Darkness is released as a movie, but has a running length of barely an hour. While animé movies in general tend to be about this length, I felt that in some places it would've been better to extend the story into a three-episode OVA and use the extra time to focus on more of the characters. The only ones who get a decent amount of screentime are Tenchi, Ryoko, Ayeka and Mayuka; Kiyone and Mihoshi might as well be invisible. As it stands, the movie feels more like an extended episode of Tenchi Muyo!.

On the animation front, the artwork – character design in particular – is good, exactly like the various TV series. Backdrops and scenery are pleasing, with good mixtures of colour. There is no detectable CG usage. The movie was produced in 1997, and has aged better than most animé of that time – there's no graininess or roughness to it, just solid lines and colours. Muscially, it's unspectacular, with only the ending theme remaining notable in my mind. The voice actors are the same as from the rest of the franchise, and while many of them don't sound suited to their roles – and some have voices that are plainly annoying – there aren't any technical problems and everything comes across as fine.

In conclusion, Tenchi: Daughter of Darkness will be of interest only to fans of the franchise, and those familiar with the characters. Anyone else will simply be lost. While ordinarily this would count heavily against a production, the movie was clearly designed with hardened Tenchi fans in mind. And to be frank, only those fans would really appreciate this movie; it's too situational and laugh-free for casual viewers. Even speaking as someone familiar with the series and characters, I found this to be a little on the dull side. Don't write off Tenchi as a whole, though – it's still one of the most enjoyable and popular franchises out there. It's a pity that this movie couldn't live up to its legacy.

sound and vision

The picture is framed 1.85:1 and is an NTSC to PAL conversion. Although this is standard practice for MVM animé releases, there is no anamorphic enhancement. Colour and detail level are quite good, but the latter is reduced noticeably by zooming in to fit the picture to a 16:9 screen. The trouble is, you can't do that anyway if you're watching the Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles, as they are positioned partly in the border area below the picture.

Japanese and English soundtracks are offered, both as stereo 2.0 or surround 5.1. Both 5.1 tracks are well mixed, with good frontal separation and LFE bass in places (a fireworks display, for instance) and an effective but subtle use of the rear speakers. Atmospheric sound is nicely handled (echoes are well done) and there is some specific use of directional effects. The English language mix is slightly different to the Japanese, with some sound effects being louder in comparison to the voices.

extra features

MVM, usually so good with extras, have let themselves down here – serving us only with the Japanese credits, and trailers for the movie itself, Le Portrait de Petit Cossette and Saiyuki Reload

Tenchi the Movie 2: Daughter of Darkness

Japan 1998
59 mins
director
Satoshi Kimura
starring
Masami Kikuchi
Ai Orikasa
Aumi Takada
Chisa Yokoyama

DVD details
region 2
video
1.85:1 letterboxed
sound
Dolby stereo 2.0
Dolby surround 5.1
languages
Japanese
English
subtitles
English
extras
Japanese credits
Trailers
distributor
MVM
release date
8 January 2007
review posted
12 January 2007

See all of CNash's reviews