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"Tactics Vol. 1": Spirits and Demons and Goblins, Oh My!

Fantasy anime are becoming rarer and rarer over here in the States nowadays. Sure, you’ve got InuYasha and some other Rumiko Takahashi works, but the majority of the anime has a sci-fi twist (like Saiyuki or Steel Angel Kurumi). It’s been far too long since we’ve had a good horror/adventure story set in Japan’s past. Well, Manga Entertainment aims to fill the void with Tactics.

ForlornKantaro Ichinomiya has both good luck and bad luck. On the positive side, he’s gotten some notoriety thanks to his exorcisms and his general knowledge of all things spiritual. Plus, he’s got a cute little fox spirit named Yoko to do literally anything he wants her to do. Unfortunately, being an exorcist doesn’t pay the bills, and Kantaro’s too wrapped up in meeting the Demon-Eating Goblin. Things are looking up though, as the Demon-Eating Goblin is finally summoned. Because the rules in this world state that the human who summons the demon/goblin gets to name him/her, Kantaro decides to change the Demon-Eating Goblin’s name to Haruka. It works better in Japanese. Anyway, with the powerful goblin Haruka (who’s a very handsome young man instead of a short green monster) by his side, Kantaro can get back to work and make some money. But is Kantaro’s power enough? Will the scar on his chest, which causes him great pain whenever a demon is near, hinder his abilities? And will Haruka be able to serve someone who refuses to let him kill?

I didn’t really have any expectations at all going into this series. I had never heard of this show before, and the front cover didn’t offer much information besides what seemed like a lovey-dovey relationship between Kantaro and Haruka. Luckily though, Tactics provides a good and enjoyable story to give some meat to the flowery packaging. Kantaro, though a bit stiff when it comes to expressing some of the more traditional anime expressions (he has this glazed-over look a lot), provides a good pillar that the other characters can bounce off of. Yoko is the cute girl comedy relief, though I’m a bit disappointed that she apparently can’t defend herself very well, which is a lot different from all the other fox spirits I usually see in anime. Haruka is probably the most handsome goblin not from a Rumiko Takahashi work, and gets a bit of character development, as he wonders why he can’t kill anything anymore and more importantly, uses his good looks to get free stuff from the ladies around town. The final main character, Suzu, is basically the plucky young kid around to get kidnapped every so often. She doesn’t add much to the story, but does have good chemistry with Yoko.

I can't believe how pretty I amThe stories themselves are interesting as well. While you do have your typical stuff like ice demons, there are other demons who are more inventive. For example, one of the stories involves a demon possessing the spirit of a young man, who then takes over the soul of the woman he loved. The result is a weird demon face gutting out of the woman’s knee, which was certainly unexpected. The end result of the story is also surprising, as it’s left unresolved (I’m assuming it comes back to haunt our heroes later on in the series). Another story takes the old Japanese myth of photographs stealing your soul (familiar to viewers of Rurouni Kenshin) and acts on the myth. What I liked about that story was the way in which the soul was stolen; it’s not just automatically taken like some other anime would have done it. We also get a fun story involving a dragon god, and one of the weirdest married couples around, as a White Goblin (as opposed to a Black Goblin like Haruka) is the husband of a weird, green, blobby thing which looks like a Wooper (from Pokémon) except with legs. I guess Muu-chan is in the show simply to sell plushies.

But while the story is very interesting, it’s not perfect. From what I can see in the beginning, Kantaro wants to awaken Haruka because everyone picked on him when he was a kid for being able to see and interact with spirits and monsters, but once Haruka is awakened, Kantaro doesn’t change at all. He acts basically the same, with his deepening love for Haruka barely hinted at. I would say he’s a bit more brave, but we only get about 15 minutes or so with Kantaro alone before Haruka awakens. I would have liked to see more of Kantaro before Haruka was revived, such as how he got his scar, how he met Yoko, and how he became a Shinto priest. I’m assuming all of these will be answered later on, but for this volume, these things just kept nagging at me. Further, while the individual stories were interesting, I do wish there was some underlying plot (other than “Oh my God! Haruka can’t kill!”) or a big baddie that’s lying in wait in the background. Though from the looks of the opening, I may get my wish, as there are a couple mysterious characters that are in the intro but don’t appear on this volume.

Warm colorsIf you’re gonna tell an interesting story, you need good animation, and luckily this series pulls through. The actual animation is really quite nice and fluid (except during the battle between the good guys and the Mountain God), and is much better than some of the other anime lately have been. But the animation is enhanced by the excellent coloring of the series. Much of it involves warm shades of primary colors that give the series depth while also giving it a vibrant look. The CG is also used effectively and works extremely well with the 2D animation, just adding to the richness of the coloring. Even the opening has some great animation and coloring, as various effects are used to give everything a fresh look. It makes the opening slightly romantic, but combined with the music, also very dark and dangerous, especially near the end. The character designs, while not groundbreaking, work very well within the series and each character has a very good design to them. I do wonder how Haruka can extend his wings without ripping his suit all the time though.

If this wasn’t released by Manga, I’d swear this was an ADV dub. Brent Weaver, Chris Patton, Luci Christian, Monica Rial and all your ADV favorites are here in this series (as opposed to the LA and New York groups Manga usually uses), and they do make the dub enjoyable. The only question mark is Brent Weaver’s Kantaro. The voice does fit him well enough, but he doesn’t seem as lively as the Japanese voice is. Patton is perfect as Haruka, though his Japanese voice is no slouch and Luci Christian is great as always as the fox spirit Yoko. But, in an effort to confuse me even more I guess, not only does Manga use ADV’s voice actors, but they also use ADV’s ending credit style and font, as well as their subtitle font. This makes me think that ADV was originally going to dub the series, but something happened and Manga got the rights to it. It doesn’t seem like a co-production, since ADV’s logo is nowhere to be found. Very strange. Oh, the music is pretty good as well. The opening theme takes some getting used to, especially with its bagpipes-ish start, but by the end I liked it, and the ending song’s refrain is very catchy. And in a very rare touch, not only do we get a 5.1 Surround Sound for the English dub track, but also for the Japanese track, which is always nice.

DVD coverThe DVD has some decent extras too, as there’s a photo gallery, the usual textless opening/ending themes, Japanese commercials of all kinds, special DVD cards, trailers (including one for Ghost in the Shell 2nd Gig, and the usual anime stuff. The longest feature on here is the interview with the Japanese voice actors Kouki Miyata (Kantaro) and Takahiro Sakurai (Haruka). The interview, as most Japanese interviews are, is pure fluff. You won’t be getting inside info on what it was like to record for this series or anything like that. Instead, the two answer some Valentine’s Day questions (as the DVD was set to be released then), where we find out that Mr. Sakurai didn’t like chocolate when he was a kid (leading him down the road to rejection in grade school) and that Mr. Miyata eats far too many sweets in the morning. If you like the show, this will be entertaining, but if you’re looking for inside info, you might want to look elsewhere. I do wish we had gotten at least some interviews or commentaries or something. Ah well, maybe next volume.

If you’re in the mood for a fantasy series set in late 19th-Century Japan, and you’re ok with lots of flowers and the possible romance between two men, pick up Tactics. It might surprise you.

Episodes on Tactics Volume 1:
Episode #01: The Black Goblin Awakens
Episode #02: Bizarre Love at Yoshiwara’s
Episode #03: Mountain Fairy Tale
Episode #04: The Forbidden Portrait
Episode #05: Dancer in the Darkness

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