Friday, December 9, 2016
Christmas 2016: December 8
Tenchi Muyo! Manatsu no Eve (1997)
Tenchi the Movie 2: Daughter of Darkness
“Tenchi Muyo!” is an anime series I have a lot of nostalgia for. Like many people, I was introduced to the series by Cartoon Network’s Toonami block. (Which I’ve written about in the past.) The show’s combination of lovable characters, sexy shenanigans, madcap humor, far-out sci-fi, and fast paced action made it my new favorite program. Unlike other shows I loved back then, the various incarnation of “Tenchi” hold up pretty well. The series was popular enough in Japan to lead to three theatrically released films. The second of which, known alternatively as “Tenchi Muyo! Manatsu no Eve” or “Tenchi the Movie 2: Daughter of Darkness,” has a slight Christmas theme, which is why I’m writing about it now.
I guess a primer is necessary. Each version of “Tenchi Muyo!” follows Tenchi Misaki, a Japanese teenager living with his widower dad and mysterious grandfather. Tenchi is the latest in the royal bloodline of an alien civilization, which links him with a magical sword. This intergalactic connection draws anywhere from five to twelve alien babes to Tenchi’s home. Each is extraordinary talented in different ways and most of them want to jump Tenchi’s bones, especially space pirate Ryoko and Princess Aeka. The series started with an OVA – direct-to-video animation – series before spawning TV shows, several manga, novels, and a number of spin-offs. This gets confusing quickly, because most of these shows occur in their own continuity, each one providing different interpretations og the same characters and events.
There’s a lot of reasons I love the “Tenchi” franchise but, if I’m being totally honest, the characters are the main one. Especially Ryoko, a bad-ass, amoral space pirate with near unlimited power… who is in love with a milquetoast farm boy. Most of the humor in “Manatsu no Eve” comes from Ryoko’s inflamed anger at Mayuka’s cutesy act. An especially memorable scene involves a fight escalating over a plate of noodles. Slow-motion chopstick action has rarely been so amusing. The idea that Tenchi had a daughter – meaning he procreated with somebody – is also very annoying to the possessive Ryoko. Some of the gags are big, like the established girls chasing the new arrival down the hallway. Others are more character driven, like increasingly fraught, comedic dialogue concerning Mayuka’s parentage.
Mayuka is what anime fans would describe as "the innocent fan service girl." She has a fully mature body but the mind of a child, leading to lots of non-sexual nudity. This is best displayed in the scene where a nude Mayuka joins Tenchi in the bath, calling him Daddy, and squeezing her naked body against his. He reacts with abject terror, the same way he responds to any sexual advances. Naturally, this leads to a lot of misunderstandings. This plays off the weirdo incest subtext found in so much anime. Yet the makers of “Daughter of Darkness” seems to call the fanboys on their bluff. When Yazuha assumes control of Mayuka, her actions become blatantly sexual, kissing and sensually touching her father. These scenes are played as creepy, contrasting against the funnier moments in an interesting way. It’s either a comment on Japanese hang-ups on incest or the director indulging a very specific kink.
The Christmas connection is, admittedly, tenuous. The film is actually mostly set during the summer. Yet Christmas is referenced throughout. An alien gift-giving festival named Starica features prominently. Mayuka’s desire to spend Christmas with her family motivates her character arc. For bonus points, a Christmas song plays over the end credits. To most of you, this entire review must’ve read like gibberish. To “Tenchi” fans, you’ll probably agree that “Daughter of Darkness” is the weakest of the three films. It’s only an hour long and disconnected from the rest of the show. Yet I still sort of love it, if only for nostalgic reasons. [7/10]
Seasons of Belief
“Tales from the Darkside” is a show whose cult following seems to have flourished since being released on DVD. Admittedly, I’ve only ever watched a few episodes and haven’t been super impressed with any. By most accounts, the show was more hit-and-miss then “Tales from the Crypt” or “The Twilight Zone.” “Seasons of Belief,” however, is a good one. A pair of parents are trying to have a quiet Christmas Eve but their bratty kids, especially the know-it-all son, are making that difficult. When the kids won’t settle down, Dad tells them a different kind of Christmas story. He tells the tale of the Grither, a monster from the North Pole, who becomes more powerful and draws closer every time his name is spoken. The kids don’t believe in the Grither, at first. Before Christmas Eve is over, that’s going to change.
What intrigues me about “Seasons of Belief” is that the Grither isn’t like most Christmas monsters. He’s not like Krampus or Pere Fouettard, acting as a reverse Santa Claus, punishing bad children. Instead, the monster is evil for evil’s sake. Just saying his name pisses him off. Belief seems to be what powers the beast. The episode has some great holiday trappings, mostly being set around a Christmas tree and featuring a Grither-ized variation of “Come All Ye Faithful.” Yet it’s still kind of weird that the monster’s connection with the holiday is loose, at best. It’s really just a spooky story, told to freak out the kiddies.
amazingly creepy opening. [7/10]