I’ve been watching anime for about five years now and recently I’ve been on a spree of re-watching some of my favourites from the earlier series I saw. Among them is Studio Deen’s 2003 title, Tactics – one of my first ventures into the world of supernatural anime.
Set in the Taisho period of Japan (1912-1926), Tactics follows Kantaro Ichinomiya, a young folklorist who has been searching for a legendary monster – the demon-eating tengu – since he was a small child. When he finally manages to track the youkai down, he releases him from his sealed prison and names him. The newly named Haruka then begins living with Kantarou as the pair begins to solve various supernatural problems occurring in the city.
The early part of the series takes more of a monster-of-the-week approach. It follows the same basic formula of a mysterious event reaching Kantarou’s ears that causes him to investigate and solve the issue at hand all in the hopes that he can write an article about it and put food on the table. Nine times out of ten, the incident itself involves an evil spirit possessing some unwilling being because of their unhappy circumstances, such as one-sided loves, jealousy or vengeance. Some stories are more intriguing than others; several occasionally take a turn for the abstract, ending up much darker and with bizarre visions of death. Certainly the heavier and more menacing plots – such as the tale that sees a group of soldiers stumble across a ghost-like battleship in the middle of a forest – are far more compelling than the lighter, more comedic episodes. However, no matter how interesting the subject matter, Tactics’ first half feels more slice-of-exorcist-life than anything else, and by seemingly lacking in any sort of purpose, it can be a little repetitive.
Halfway through the series, some semblance of ongoing plot emerges when the main antagonists reveal themselves. Unfortunately this soon crawls back into hibernation, awaiting the first signs of spring – in this case the series finale. To get us through the long, cold winter, Tactics whips out another run of episodic content that once again varies between darker demonic deeds and fun stories designed to lighten the mood. Occasionally the impending threat awakens from its slumber long enough to remind the audience it’s there, have a quick snack, a scratch and a fart before drifting back off for a few more episodes. Finally, when the first crocus of the year blooms, the show’s main focus bursts forth from its leafy bed for the final few episodes.
While there’s certainly a boost in tension for the series finale, it feels like somewhat of an anti-climax. While the lead-up builds a sufficient amount of intrigue and anticipation, the final ‘battle’ as such doesn’t last especially long nor is it particularly spectacular. There’s little resolution, and if the ending credits on episode twenty-five are anything to go by, it’s merely a prelude of bigger things to come. Sadly, unless you pick up the manga, these ‘bigger things’ won’t be coming any time soon and instead the anime leaves the viewer with a feeling of “so what next…”
Tactics’ character designs fare relatively well, if not a little on the standard side. Haruka is suitably handsome to keep the fangirls (and some boys) drooling, while Kantaro remains plain enough – without looking ugly or deformed – to successfully make the comedic distinction between their desirability crystal clear.
While one of the better-animated series that Studio Deen has produced, Tactics relies heavily on still shots with various sweeping camera motions. Both straightforward pans and erratic movements (mimicking either tremors or the path one’s eyes may take when staring at something massive) get their fair share of screen time. Another effect that occasionally plagues the series is movement akin to the basic tween effect in Adobe Flash; the person/youkai/object in question travels in a straight line from point A to point B at a dull, unnatural and constant speed: do not pass go, do not collect two hundred pounds. While I can understand it saves effort, time and resources, the overall result looks hurried and the difference in both pacing and frame rate makes these sequences stand out more than that one idiot who misreads the invitation and turns up to a ‘black tie’ event wearing nothing but a dingy dickie-bow wrapped around his flimsy little man-bits.
Tactics’ score offers up a blend of a more standard anime soundtrack and elements of traditional Japanese music. As somewhat of a mixed bag, the series’ music sometimes perfectly complements the plot and at other times misses the mark. One track in particular that works well with the menacing nature of the youkai is a haunting and uneasy melody that sounds as if it has been played on glasses filled with various quantities of water. On the other hand, the theme that appears each time Kantaro whips out his beads to exorcise a demon sounds so incredibly cheesy that it’d probably be more at home in an episode of Charlie’s Angels than in an anime set in Taisho-era Japan.
The Japanese voice actors perform well throughout, with Kouki Miyata according Kantarou a suitably higher-pitched and nasal vocal to enhance his comedic and somewhat irritating nature. Meanwhile Takahiro Sakurai’s dulcet, deadpan tones not only add to Haruka’s mystery but also the comedy of his inability/lack of desire to compliment anyone.
Kantaro strikes me as an odd kind of character. He’s one of the two central protagonists; we’re supposed to like him, and for the most part I do – he’s kind, carefree and bounces very well off of Haruka. However, at times he displays such a money-hungry attitude that it occasionally puts me off – much like Nami from One Piece – on top of that he can also appear lazy and has a tendency to whine a lot. Though his less attractive qualities do lead to most of the series’ humorous content, it doesn’t make him quite as loveable as a character. That being said, by far the best part of Tactics’ characterisation is Kantaro’s rapport with his best friend (and polar opposite) Haruka.
While Haruka’s stoic and nonchalant personality takes an inevitable backseat to his bishieriffic good looks, his connection the simpering folklorist-cum-exorcist and relationships with others saves him from being branded as little more than vapid eye-candy. While his deadpan delivery of compliments to Suzu accord the demon a certain social awkwardness that makes him inherently loveable, it’s his role as ‘straight man’ to Kantaro’s ‘funny man’ that truly adds to the raven-haired pretty-boy’s charm. Whether it’s Haruka getting annoyed at his master’s requests or Kantaro seething with jealousy at the tengu’s popularity with the ladies, the interaction between these two characters and the development in their friendship is a treat to watch.
Having watched this series a second time after a four-and-a-bit-year gap, I realise that (like so many other titles) I’ve spent the last third of a decade and more looking at it through rose-tinted glasses. That being said, while I no longer gaze upon it with sparkles in my anime n00b eyes, to this day Tactics still remains one of my favourites. Though not one of the most innovative and epically gripping shows out there, if you take it as it stands – a mostly episodic, supernatural anime with a reasonable dose of comedy and an occasional dark side – then it’s easy to enjoy and certainly well worth a chance.
Since he was a child, Kantaro Ichinomiya has had the ability to see demons; but one day, the young Kantaro was told of a goblin so powerful that it could vanquish any foe with ease. Intrigued, his search began. Now, in the present, Kantaro works as an exorcist, banishing demons who have possessed human bodies; yet still he searches – that is, until one day, he touches a mysterious seal and releases the legend itself! His name is Haruka, he's good with the ladies, and he can kick demon butt like no other; but can he help Kantaro raise enough money for his rent?
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While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.