And we all thought Tenchi would never get laid.
To recap: the Tenchi Muyo franchise is, by and large, pretty insufferable. Tenchi, the story of an awkward, indecisive teen who somehow has babes from all over the universe clamoring for his attention, helped curse us with the otaku wish-fulfillment harem genre from which we’ve yet to escape. But somehow, Tenchi Muyo in Love, the first Tenchi movie, shed a lot of what made the series so painful and became a pretty decent film.
The next film in the series (excepting Manatsu no Ibu, a one-hour film set in a different Tenchi continuity) was 1999’s Tenchi Muyo in Love 2, or Tenchi Forever, as it was titled in the US (apt, as even though this was the last film, the franchise would go on, well, forever). Tenchi Muyo in Love 2, once more directed by Hiroshi Negishi, moved even further away from its roots. While the first film included the time-worn Tenchi tropes (though in less-annoying form), the second seems to actively rebel against them.
The film begins Tenchi-ly enough: the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and the whole harem is out sweeping leaves. As usual, Ryoko and Ayeka start to argue; unusually, Tenchi says “fuck this” and wanders off into the forest. There, he stumbles upon a tree he’d never seen before. A woman appears inside it and beckons him in, and Tenchi is transported into an alternate universe in which he and this woman named Haruma live together in the city, are engaged, and even have sex.
Yes, Tenchi finally does the deed, and it’s not with either of his main love interests: it’s a ballsy move on the part of Negishi and screenwriter Masaharu Ayano, and it’s only one of a few game-changers.
For example, this is ostensibly the sequel to an action-packed, time travel-filled film, but consider the average scene in Tenchi Muyo in Love 2. We oscillate between Tenchi and Haruma, who live in domestic tranquility, and Ryoko and Ayeka, who work as waitresses while searching for Tenchi. The scenes are heavy with dialogue, much of it somber. Cuts are slow, and for a while, not a whole lot happens. The few scenes that pass for action involve Ryoko chasing Tenchi down a street until a bus goes by and she loses track of him. Mainly, we see Ryoko and Ayeka learning to get along and reflecting on their relationships, both with Tenchi and each other.
Things start to come crashing down when Tenchi keeps getting headaches and feeling out of place, while Ryoko and Ayeka discover Haruma was once the lover of Tenchi’s grandfather (a fine bit of retconning if there ever was one) whose spirit lived on in the tree under which she was buried. Finally, they’re able to break through into Haruma’s world, but only one can go and fetch Tenchi back. In perhaps the most emotionally satisfying moment in the entire franchise, Ayeka admits that Ryoko should be the one to do it and, by extension, the one to be with Tenchi (forever). In this version of the Tenchi universe, at least, these characters finally make a choice.
Many Tenchi fans were bored with this film’s dialogue-laden scenes and somber tone. What bores me, though, is that a series based on a love triangle never delivers a conclusion. During this film, one gets the idea that Hiroshi Negishi was getting a little bored with the whole enterprise himself. Though I’m not trying to dub the director of Burn Up W and Amazing Nurse Nanako an auteur, I think this film takes Tenchi Muyo to far more intelligent and mature places than it ever really deserved.