Tactics Anime Review
US Release By
Light Supernatural Suspense
25 24-minute episodes
2004-10-05 - 2005-03-29
Kantaro Ichinomiya has two unusual jobs: He writes about folklore and mysterious tales of the occult to pay the bills, but on the side he is a skilled solver of supernatural situations. With the ability to sense things that others can't, he can seek out the root of mysterious situations of all sorts, but he's also quite friendly with a number of supernatural beings, and wishes the average person would treat them with the respect they deserve. To this end, he has long sought out the famed Demon Eating Goblin--strongest of them all--for whom he's already prepared a name: Haruka.
This good-natured 19th-century ghostbuster doesn't work alone--there is Yohko, a fox spirit in human form bound to serve him (begrudgingly, especially when he fails to bring home enough money to put food on the table); and as time passes he adds the enigmatic Haruka, the well-bred but naive little Suzu, and on occasion the rather quirky White Goblin Sugino and his "interesting" wife, Muu-chan.
What adventures await, and what is the truth behind Haruka's power and his relationship to Kantaro?
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Tactics offers a mild-shoujo take on traditional Japanese supernatural suspense injected with a shot of anime humor and wrapped in attractively rendered 19th century locales. Given the subject matter, it is a refreshingly upbeat series--it manages to serve up a variety of short character-driven vignettes without bogging down in melodrama. Unfortunately, while it puts an interesting focus on introducing a variety of one-shot characters the episodic stories are too short to develop any depth and the plots and characters are simplistic. It almost compensates for this with a wide variety of beautiful backgrounds, full of richly painted hues, architectural detail, and stark mood lighting. Sadly, that's where the entirety of the budget went, leaving none for the animation and barely enough to keep the character art from looking flat and out of place against the backdrops.
In all, Tactics looks to be an interesting formula with a lot of potential held in check by budget and adherence to anime cliche. It doesn't exhibit enough quality or creativity to stand out from the crowd, but it is attractive and offers a refreshing alternative to the unrelenting tragedy and gloom of many similar series. I'll be interested in seeing how it develops.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Tactics offers a mild-shoujo take on traditional Japanese supernatural suspense injected with a shot of anime humor and wrapped in attractively rendered 19th-century locales. Given the subject matter, it is a refreshingly upbeat series--it manages to serve up a variety of short character-driven vignettes without bogging down in melodrama. Unfortunately, the episodic stories are too short to develop any depth and the whole thing feels rather insubstantial.
The main cast is anime-standard: Yohko, the perky girl, Suzu, the cute little girl, and Sugino the lively weirdo with his marketing gimmick of a wife Muu-chan (a little green thing that only says "mu"). The central roles are the energetic hero Kantaro, who's such a cheerful do-gooder he borders on annoying, playing foil to the aloof Demon-Eating Goblin Haruka.
Being a shoujo series, it's not surprising that Kantaro has a not-so-ambiguous romantic interest in his Goblin "friend." Pleasingly, at least in the initial episodes, Tactics forgoes the traditional "cute young guy and stoic older guy in chaotic relationship" dynamic. Instead, Kantaro is more confident and indirect, offhandedly hinting at his feelings occasionally, while Haruka's reactions are ambiguous.
Kantaro, despite being a little whiny, is a competent hero. He also goes out of his way to save not just the poor human victims, but also the misguided variety of ghosts, goblins, and spirits that have fallen prey to demons in a moment of weakness. The tales of woe sometimes end poignantly, but other times everybody--including the perpetrating spirit--finds a reasonably happy resolution.
Given the thematic similarity to shoujo dramas like Vampire Princess Miyu, Tactics offers a refreshing take on a genre usually defined by relentless tragedy.
Where Tactics distinguishes itself most, though, is in its attention to the string of characters that cross paths with the heroes. It almost qualifies as a character study of sorts--the focus is often more on introducing and interacting with one-shot characters than on actually investigating their predicament or resolving it.
Sadly, this is also the series' main weakness--there's very little depth or substance to any of it. The stories are not at all hurried, but the casual pacing is part of the problem--the first half of most episodes seems to be spent just introducing today's supernatural infestation, leaving barely enough time in the second half for the briefest of investigations, a perfunctory battle, and a wrap-up of how the sorry situation came to be.
Fleshing out a string of one-shot characters is an interesting way to go about constructing a series, but it left the plots without enough substance to build up any notable dramatic force, and the writing is archetypal to put it kindly.
When you add the basic humor the series is sprinkled with, you get a sort of cotton-candy suspense--it's passably fun, but the drama is rarely involving. Even the episodes with ostensibly tragic conclusions didn't seem to be downers. While a welcome departure from often overwhelmingly dark shoujo series, I'm not entirely sure this was the intent, and, in any case, the execution isn't clever enough to make for a memorable experience.
The setting is another area where Tactics takes a good thing and doesn't seem to have the creativity to fully capitalize on it. Set during the Meiji era (late 1800s), the Japan of Tactics is stuck halfway between modernity and tradition; Kimono are still the norm and the supernatural is very close to the surface, but Western influence is everywhere. This seems an almost perfect setting, but for the most part it's a traditional facade on anime-standard material, and there are plenty of anachronisms if you were inclined to care (which, to be honest, I wasn't--just suspend some disbelief).
The visuals are interesting--an impressive compromise on a limited budget. The backgrounds are strikingly beautiful, full of sunlit architecture, lush landscapes, and vivid mood lighting. Stylistically, they range from paintings full of rich hues to stark minimalism to a sumi-like ink wash of subtle greys. The far less detailed anime-standard character art often looks out of place in contrast, although it compensates somewhat with attractive traditional costume design and sharp linework. The animation, however, has no upside--though every effort is made to hide it, the budget simply doesn't allow for much action of any sort. Action isn't the focus of the series, but the "battles" (really more like exorcisms) that cap off each episode are particularly disappointing--the monsters are bland in comparison to their surroundings, and the conflict is over in a matter of seconds.
The voice acting is acceptable if unremarkable in both languages. The Japanese cast, while a young lot, have a fair amount of experience between them, and they seem comfortable in their roles and with each other. Kantaro, voiced by Kouki Miyata, is the most distinctive--one of those high-pitched boyish types, he thankfully tends toward cheerful instead of whiny. The actual standout performances, however, are mostly in the minor roles--a variety of old-fashioned accents liven up otherwise simple characters. The subtitles don't capture this well, though Manga's translation is otherwise accurate.
The dubbed version has some minor script adjustments to improve the flow of the dialogue, but the only significant change is in the casting--the English Kantaro sounds somewhat more mature. There are some creative regional accents used for the minor characters, but I didn't think the effect quite worked. Partly because of this, I preferred the Japanese version--it's a better fit given the setting, and the acting is slightly stronger.
Musically, Tactics is rather quiet and largely unremarkable. Outside of occasional atmospherics the music is brief and cheesy. The opening and end themes are thoroughly modern, and while both are passable (the opening has a catchy rock riff), they feel a little out of place.
In all, Tactics looks to be an interesting formula with a lot of potential held in check by budget and adherence to anime cliche. Whether this was an attempt to keep it marketable or just lack of creativity, I'm not sure. It doesn't exhibit enough quality or creativity to stand out from the crowd, but it is attractive and offers a refreshing alternative to the unrelenting tragedy and gloom of many similar series. I'll be interested in seeing how it develops.
Fans of light shoujo, character-driven supernatural drama, or very light horror with a sprinkling of comedy will find Tactics an entertaining and upbeat diversion.
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A thematic relative is the Vampire Princess Miyu TV series for its similar stories of supernatural drama and tragedy. Night Walker does some of the same with the addition of funky investigating and vampire angst. Petshop of Horrors offers much more modern take on the same general theme, with a focus on twisting plots and refined art. Both, however, are notably darker. Fushigi Yuugi combines comedy and tragedy in a light shoujo package, but is far more scattered and melodramatic. Finally, Earthian has a combination of somewhat supernatural mini-dramas and shoujo style, both in the heaviest and darkest form, and a modern setting. Oh, and while few non-Japanese fans are familiar with the kid's classic Ge Ge Ge no Kitarou, it's remarkably similar for its variety of relatively light mini-mysteries with as much focus on the ghosts and monsters as the people.
Notes and Trivia
Tactics (actually, it's technically "tactics" with no capital) is based on a manga series written by Sakura Kinoshita and illustrated by Kazuko Higashiyama, available in English from Tokyopop.
The anime adaptation had somewhat odd market targeting: While it appears from the basic style to be targeted at a relatively young female audience, its 1:30am airtime on TV Tokyo pretty much squarely pegged it as a show intended for hardcore anime fans, which may explain the colorful setting and attention to artistic detail.
While Manga's translation is generally quite accurate, they did gloss over one joke: the names Kantaro gives the supernatural creatures he adds to his entourage are rather simplistic word plays. Yohko complains about the name he gave her because of its origin--"youkai," the word for "supernatural creature," which she is. Haruka's name similarly comes from his being "by far the strongest" ("haruka ni tsuyoi").
Another thing the translation doesn't address are "Tengu." translated rather broadly as "goblin," Tengu are a mythical race of supernatural birdlike creatures very common in Japanese mythology. They are often depicted as human-like crows, usually wearing geta shoes and the garb of monks (which, true to form, Haruka has on when he first appears).
On an unrelated note, it's interesting that Kantaro's high-pitched Japanese voice isn't a fabrication or the result of a woman playing a male role--his voice actor sounds exactly the same in the interview included on the DVD.
TV Tokyo has the official Japanese website for those interested.
US DVD Review
Manga's DVDs (or at least the first of the series) are all-around solid presentations. The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with rich colors, sharp lines, and almost no compression artifacts outside a couple of brief shots with very noisy backgrounds. They include Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks in both English and Japanese, all of which are crisp. The stereo tracks make good use of the soundstage, but the 5.1 tracks don't take advantage of all those extra speakers. The subtitles are accurate, although they gloss over the flavor of various dialects.
The first disc offers an impressive selection of extras--in addition to the standard textless opening and ending animation, an art gallery, and a couple of Japanese commercials, there is a lengthy, rather casual interview with the two male leads, Kouki Miyata and Takahiro Sakurai (Kantaro and Haruka). The female target audience is more apparent here; the first part offers some superficial commentary on the series, but for the most part it's just personal background on the actors, with a Valentine's Day theme no less.
As of the first volume, there is little outright objectionable material, but generally mature themes and some light violence make it at least 10-up, probably 13-up depending on parental lenience.
Violence: 2 - The monsters can get a little rough, but it's largely bloodless.
Nudity: 0 - None as of the early part of the series.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - There are semi-symbolic sexual gestures and one episode takes place in a red light district, but the mature themes are mostly implied.
Language: 1 - No notably objectionable language.