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"Tactics" Ends Wonderfully

After a long bout of waiting, endless delays, and a lack of answers from company representatives, Tactics Volume 5 was finally released last summer. Now maybe it will stop being the black sheep of Manga’s catalog.

Previously, Raiko Minamoto, and Doji Ibaragi had continued their quest to awaken the true Demon-Eating Goblin residing inside Haruka, and they’d made good progress. Kantaro is worried for Haruka, but feels they are safe for the moment. Besides, he’s got his hands full trying to deal with his rival, the cynical Hasumi, and his newly-adopted daughter Rosalie, who is not only very much in tune with the spirit world but is easily possessed as well. Luckily, he has the help of the fox demon Yoko and the young heiress Suzu in his daily troubles. But with Minamoto becoming more and more forceful, will Yoko and Suzu prove to be more of a hindrance than a help? Can the gang stop Raiko from awakening the Demon-Eating Goblin, or will all their efforts be in vain? And does Haruka even want to keep the Demon-Eater, along with his memories, sealed away?

We start out with “The Door to Memory.” While Kantaro researches how Raiko plans to awaken the Demon-Eater, Suzu invites Haruka (and eventually Yoko and Rosalie) to travel to Osakasa for a day of leisure. However, when Rosalie becomes possessed by an evil spirit, it awakens more of Haruka’s former life and his memories. This episode starts out like one of the other stand-alone episodes in the series, with the gang goofing around while taking on random evil spirits, but quickly shifts into the main storyline when Haruka starts to awaken. It’s a good episode overall, with some fun laughs and sweet moments, especially between Suzu and Haruka, with the former becoming a little more forceful about her love for the latter. I do wish we could have spent a little more time in Osakasa, as it would’ve provided a nice change from the typical Tokyo backdrop we’re used to, though I do have to laugh at one particular moment. Late in the episode, Haruka starts going crazy and ends up destroying an observational tower in his fight against Rosalie, Sugino, and Kantaro. However, this wrecked tower is not only ignored, but it’s never even referenced again. I just find it funny how our heroes can destroy this city landmark and not one person seems to mind.

Next up is “Blue Eyes.” As Haruka’s memories begin to surface, he and Kantaro head out to an old mansion to quell an evil demon. Unfortunately, said demon only serves to make Haruka even more crazy, and in front of Suzu, no less. Like the last episode, this episode starts out normal but ties into the main storyline by the end. I rather like this technique since it helps to tie in the one-shot episodes that don’t directly affect the storyline at all. Another nice moment has Suzu witness Haruka’s slaughtering of the Oil Baby demon. Not only is this rather shocking in itself, as Haruka ruthlessly tears open a demon who looks like a human baby, but Suzu’s witnessing the act only adds to the drama of the episode, and specifically to the rift between Haruka and Kantaro. It had been hinted at for a few episodes now (with an especially nice foreshadowing early on in the episode), but it really starts to take shape here, making the underlying storyline of the series progress much faster than before.

After that comes “A Snowy Landscape of Glass.” Haruka, afraid of what he might do to the others, has run away, while Kantaro has fallen into a lull without his better half. This is more of a transition episode than the previous two, as it focuses a lot on Haruka’s previous changes while Minamoto puts his plan into action. Much of the episode is padding, but it’s still enjoyable as Haruka finally starts to truly question whether he wants his memories or not. It’s also refreshing to get an episode where we actually see Kantaro troubled. Usually he wears his game face when on the job, or affects an air of calm to cover up his worries, but this is the first time we see him truly afraid that he might lose Haruka forever. As if that isn’t enough, the episode’s ending is really tense as the bad guys start advancing their plan, endangering not only Kantaro but even Yoko, who’s been on the sidelines for the most part. I really like the cliffhanger it ends on, and the beautiful coloring only adds to the greatness.

The final battle begins in “A Long, Lost Heart.” Kantaro is forced to choose between saving Yoko’s life or casting away Haruka’s name, a decision he can’t make, while Minamoto continues his persuasions and Haruka snaps and attacks everybody, including Kantaro. Normally in this kind of episode you would expect a big battle, with Kantaro and Haruka teaming up against Minamoto and his lackey Watanabe, but that’s not the case here. Instead, the episode has Kantaro trying to fend off both Minamoto’s mind games and a deranged Haruka at the same time. There is some action, as Haruka eventually focuses his bloodthirst on Minamoto, but action was never Tactics‘ strong point, so it’s no surprise the battle lacks the oomph that other series, such as Naruto or Avatar, have. This is made up for, however, by the excellent writing and the interactions between the various cast members, most of which are much more dramatic than what we’re used to. Plus, the Kantaro/Haruka relationship ends with real closure, something rare in anime nowadays.

The series ends with “Unseen Power.” Kantaro must face up to what he’s subconsciously been doing the whole series, while Haruka, who has regained his memories, finds his trust in Kantaro not full healed. That’s the crux of the episode, but it resolves itself so quickly and is brought up so late in the episode it feels as though this particular plot point was made just to tie up one loose end and provide an easy conclusion of the other plotline, which has the main characters trying to cope with the loss of one of their own. The revelation that this character had died genuinely shocked me, though on re-watching the series you can see the hints sprinkled throughout. Of particular interest is how Yoko deals with the death, as she’s always been the most emotional one of the bunch, so seeing her deal with it made the episode that much sweeter and more charming. Unfortunately, the creative staff just had to ruin this excellent episode with an end credit epilogue. Don’t get me wrong, the epilogue is fine and actually has some funny moments to it, but it’s all one giant tease for a second season of Tactics, and knowing that will likely never happen makes me really angry.

If you’ve been one of the ten or so people watching Tactics on DVD, you know that the series has some excellent digital coloring that makes the visuals really pop, but also that the actual animation leaves a lot to be desired. Well, the same holds true here. While the visuals look stunning in still shots or non-action scenes, the animation continues to falter whenever the characters exert some effort. The CG of Haruka’s red lightning bolts still feels a little clumsy, and the framerates of the few action scenes are at best stilted, nowhere near the likes of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex or Avatar. Thankfully, the series itself manages to make up for this, and you won’t really mind when all is said and done. One odd thing, however, is that in two of the episodes on the disc, the episode starts up with the intro, “Secret World.” Usually, the episodes start with a prologue, then the title screen, then the intro, but here a few episodes skip straight to the intro. I doubt it’s an oversight by Manga/ADV, but it still feels a bit odd nonetheless.

Normally, it’s FUNimation that manages to get the best out of the Texas VAs, often creating dubs that are far more enjoyable than their Japanese counterparts. Well, ADV’s able to do that as well, and Tactics is a prime example. I’d give Blake Shepard the most praise, as his Kantaro has steadily improved as the series has progressed, and by this volume he nails the role perfectly. Chris Patton makes an awesome Haruka, though I would have liked for his Demon-Eater side to be a bit more fierce. (In all fairness, though, I could say the same of the Japanese actor as well.) The real stars, oddly enough, are Luci Christian’s Yoko and Jessica Boone’s Suzu. Their two voices are wonderful and lend a lot of character to the roles, making Episode 25 all that much more heartbreaking (in a good way) when all is said and done. The only sore spot is Minamoto. While Jason Douglas improves from Raiko’s debut (as it’s not as clumsy-sounding as in Volume 3), the final result still makes the chief bad guy sound way too old, especially since Raiko’s design makes him seem like he’s in his mid-to-late-twenties. I personally wonder how Jason Liebrecht would’ve done in the role.

The final volume has a decent set of extras. We get a (thankfully) small number of Japanese commercials for the DVDs, a still shot of a Japanese ad for the soundtrack, trailers, an image gallery, and a music video entitled “In a Corner of the World.” While it’s a nice video that actually tells a tale instead of just using random shots set to music, I would’ve preferred music videos set to the series’ excellent opening and ending themes “Secret World” and “Unseen Power.”

Unfortunately, this volume leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and it’s all in how it was released. See, this volume was originally delayed indefinitely, and neither Manga nor ADV would provide any answers whatsoever. It was largely ignored in Manga’s press releases and was pretty much the only Manga title not originally announced for Ani-Monday. Now, the DVD is obviously out in stores. The only problem is that it’s only available in a boxset with Volumes 1-4! And this isn’t a nice, space-saving boxset either, it’s all 5 DVDs as you would see them in stores in a regular artbox. The fact that you can’t get Volume 5 by itself just pisses me off to no end. I can understand bringing out the boxset soon, since Volumes 1 and 2 of Tactics are hard to find in stores, but Manga shouldn’t penalize the loyal fanbase that paid good money for the other four volumes by doing this! And for the record, I’m personally more pissed at Manga for doing this than at FUNimation for the similar DBZ fiasco a while back.

Overall, Tactics gets major points for actually having a well-paced and conclusive ending, but loses points thanks to Manga’s bungled release. Give the series a watch on Sci Fi’s Ani-Monday, then go out and buy the set. Give some love to the red-headed stepchild of the Manga family.

Episodes on Tactics Volume 5:
Episode #21: “The Door to Memory”
Episode #22: “Blue Eyes”
Episode #23: “A Snowy Landscape of Glass”
Episode #24: “A Long, Lost Heart”
Episode #25: “Unseen Power”

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