Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Kantaro Ichinomiya is a young man with the ability to see goblins and other mythical beasts. He's made a full-time hobby out of it, writing books and articles on Japanese folklore while doing some freelance goblin hunting on the side. Rather than hunting them out of malice, though, Kantaro tracks down goblins because he wants to be friends with them. When an assignment leads him to a rural shrine, Kantaro's fortune takes a momentous turn. The legendary demon-eating goblin is sealed in that shrine, and when Kantaro breaks the seal, he finds himself partnered up with the mighty creature he's been seeking since childhood. With his new, impeccably dressed goblin friend Haruka, Kantaro is primed to take on all sorts of mystical tasks.
Those familiar with Sakura Kinoshita's Matantei Loki Ragnarok could easily accuse her of recycling her character designs in Tactics. Kantaro is practically a clone of Loki, and Haruka is a slightly modified Yamino. However, writer Kazuko Higashiyama provides a story that sets Tactics firmly in the Japanese mythos rather than the Norse one. Those with an interest in Japanese folklore and Eastern sorcery will find their niche in this manga.
Volume 1 presents three tales of Kantaro's goblin-hunting adventures. The first story, which involves an exorcism at a rural shrine, is where Kantaro meets Haruka for the first time. This is the only major plot point in the book; the second story is about Kantaro investigating a shady "goblin circus" and the third is about a newly founded cult that mistakes him for a prophet. There's no need to worry about plot complexity in this series yet, since the story pattern follows the well-tested formula of a gifted individual solving people's problems in an episodic manner. Even so, these short stories stumble in their pacing -- a scene that logically seems to be leading somewhere will suddenly be cut short, or have no resolution. With this first volume, it looks like Kinoshita and Higashiyama are still trying to find their chemistry as a storytelling team. The real gems in Tactics are individual scenes and gags, but when it comes to having a cohesive story, Kinoshita doesn't always seem sure about what she's supposed to draw.
Despite the failings of the story, however, Tactics does have an appealing core of characters. Kantaro may be a noble-minded crusader for human-goblin relations, but he's also full of quirks: he's shamelessly materialistic, the folklore articles for his publisher are never on time, and he doesn't always explain his motives when he gets Haruka involved in his adventures. The supporting cast is just as amusing. There's Yoko, the resident kitsune (fox-spirit) and housekeeper who keeps Kantaro in check -- at least when she's not fantasizing about making Haruka a male gigolo. Haruka, of course, behaves exactly as you might expect a near-omnipotent creature to behave. When asked to fight a demon right after being released from the seal, Haruka lets his new master know: "I'm not what you'd call a morning goblin." It's interchanges like these that make Kantaro and Haruka's relationship more fun than the usual hero-and-sidekick fare. Sure, Kantaro's the boss, but Haruka clearly follows his own agenda (often centered around his personal rice bowl).
Sakura Kinoshita brings these characters to life with the same polished visual style that she used in Matantei Loki Ragnarok. Kantaro, with his wide eyes and slightly ruffled hair, is an adorable young male lead; Yoko is a cute girl who's even cuter as a fox mascot, and Haruka is the very model of a modern bishounen. (Somewhere, someone is already producing a doujinshi about Kantaro and Haruka's "relationship"...) The artwork sits on the elegant and cutesy side of adventure/fantasy manga without falling into swishy shoujo clichés, and it switches effortlessly into a comedic, exaggerated style when things get funny. However, the action sequences lack a dynamic quality: more than once, Kinoshita tries to imply a big motion using speedlines and a striking pose, when it would be more exciting to portray the motion itself. We already know that Kinoshita is a talented illustrator, but if she could render action more effectively, then her artwork would really be top-notch.
Japanese culture pundits will probably have some nitpicks with ADV Manga's translation of Tactics. In dealing with Japanese folklore, words like youkai, tengu and oni lack a true English equivalent since these creatures don't exist in Western folklore. While some translators insist on preserving the original Japanese terms, ADV chooses to approximate them words like goblin and demon, making the manga more accessible to readers who aren't well-versed in Japanese culture. Nitpicking aside, the translated dialogue runs smoothly and is free of typos. More notably, every bit of Japanese text
(not just sound effects) that is printed on artwork or screentone -- i.e. anything not directly on a white background -- is preserved, with a translation added right next to it. If you ever wanted to learn how to read Japanese, Tactics has the makings of a beginning phrasebook. (Well, not really, but seeing entire sentences in Japanese AND translated is relatively new in domestic manga.)
ADV Manga appears to have abandoned the larger format of their Azumanga Daioh and Full Metal Panic! manga releases, switching to the now-industry-standard sized volumes for Tactics and other current titles. It's a shame that the artwork has to be squeezed to a smaller size, but it's still readable, and they get bonus points for keeping the original Japanese cover on this one.
Japanese folklore and legends have a habit of turning interesting manga and anime ideas into plodding history lessons. The first volume of Tactics, however, decides to sacrifice cultural accuracy in favor of lighthearted laughs and appealing characters. Haruka may be way too handsome to be a traditional goblin, and the storytelling may need some work, but the character interactions and artwork make this manga a pleasant read. It's probably worth sticking around to see the further adventures of Kantaro and the gang.
Story : C
Art : A
+ Lovely character designs; great sense of humor
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