In this week's RTO, there are hot zombies, hot sex, hot kitchen utensils, and hot climates as we look at new volumes of Cage of Eden, Happy Marriage, and another digital-only release. All this and more stuff that may or may not be hot awaits you in Right Turn Only!
Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 24th 2006
Kantaro is a folklorist who's always had a gift for sensing and interacting with monsters and bears a scar on his chest which pains him in the presence of demons. Though he writes for a career, he also investigates strange phenomena and deals with spirits and monsters as a side job. Already served by a female kitsune (fox demon) he named Yoko, Kantaro has also long sought the “demon-eating goblin,” whose strength he admires. When he finally finds him, he names him Haruka and engages him as a servant as well. Together with the little girl Suzu and the occasional help of others, he faces off against entities ranging from possessing demons to mountain gods, each with their own story. All the while he continues to dodge his editor Reiko, who is constantly on his case about his writing deadlines.
A play on words created by homophones usually doesn't translate well into another language, which is how this series about demon-fighting ended up with such a seemingly inappropriate name. That's only the beginning of the problems, however. Tactics wants to be cool, comical, and the next big bishonen thing while also taking an insightful look at Japanese folklore, but all it really accomplishes is being a tepid monster-of-the-week series which looks pretty but offers little substance or cohesiveness.
Most of the faults in Tactics lie in the writing, which borrows material from better series rather than come up with anything new. The demon-hunting angle is fine but there's nothing fresh or exciting about this take on it, and attempts to make Kantaro's Shinto chants, which are the basis of his power, seem flashy and stylish come off as silly and overblown instead. The “writer dodging the editor” gags are purely recycled material; they were also done, and done much better, in Kodocha and Fruits Basket. (Is it an unwritten rule somewhere that writer characters in anime comedies have to go through this routine?)
Other faults appear in the characters and characterizations. Yoko, who fills the role of the practical-minded female housemate who's always grousing about money shortages, is a kitsune but nothing much is ever done with her special nature beyond fox ears occasionally popping up on her head. Suzu becomes a regular character without any clear justification beyond the need to have a cute little girl in Kantaro's posse, and Haruka's personality is so ill-defined and inconsistent that even by the end of five episodes one doesn't get a good sense of his character. It doesn't help maters that Kantaro isn't especially interesting, either. Other recurring characters, such as the editor Reiko and the ridiculous god Sugino, don't fare much better.
The one thing the writing does do well is its exploration of Japanese folklore, such as the insight into the origins of the classic children's “kagome” chant/game, which well-traveled viewers may recognize from other anime titles. It also does occasionally get off a good series of gags, such as Haruka learning to use the power of his overwhelming bishonen looks on women, and starting with episode 4 the storytelling becomes more cohesive. Only one or two worthwhile episodes out of five is not a promising sign, however.
The one thing that Tactics does consistently do right is its artistry. Kantaro and Haruka have classic bishonen looks, while Suzu and Yoko are more typically cute for their ages, but all are drawn and costumed well, as are the recurring and supporting characters in each episode. (Though Reiko's clothing seems grossly inconsistent with the setting, which looks to be early 20th century.) Backgrounds are also nicely drawn and detailed. Full-sized demons and monsters look more ordinary, while the weird little “kid” monsters are the kinds of simple, cutesy designs you'd expect from a series for kids. Colors are sharp but not over-bright. The animation takes too many shortcuts to be given any praise, however, which results in action scenes that lack energy and fluidity.
The musical score is also not free of problems. Though it generally does its job, someone made the unwise decision to highlight the Shinto chant scenes with a musical selection ripped off from the original incarnation of “Charlie's Angels,” which will sound laughably corny to anyone old enough to remember watching “Charlie's Angels.” At least a smarter choice was made with the opener and closer, with the J-Rock tunes “Secret World” and “Unseen Power” providing a lively start-up and close-out to each episode.
Oddly, no credits are given on the DVD for the dub production, but the casting clearly indicates that it's an ADV effort. The only key cast member who isn't a long-time ADV regular is Blake Shepard, who's done only one major role prior to this series (he was one of the leads in Gilgamesh) but gets the lead role here. Whether or not Mr. Shepard is ready for such a prominent role is debatable, as his is the one questionable casting choice and some of his pronunciations for untranslated words are awkward. Everyone else is a good match, however, and all the other roles are capably-performed. The English script stays very tight in most places and does a remarkably good job of retaining the meaning of the “kagome” chant and still sounding right. The only iffy point here is whether or not “goblin” was the best translation choice for references to Haruka and Sugino.
Manga Entertainment's production of the first volume offers a respectable set of Extras, which include standard stuff like clean opener and closer, some Japanese commercials and promo spots, and a 10-minute interview with the two lead seiyuu. A Gallery is also included, although it entirely consists of screen shots. Less typical is a collection of untranslated Japanese merchandise fliers.
On the whole, the first few episodes of Tactics just fail to adequately come together. Characters are not sufficiently defined or established, the plotting lacks originality and cohesiveness, and it has trouble finding a proper comic/dramatic balance. While the series does improve a bit as it progresses and offers a few good points, it's not enough for this one to be worthy of a recommendation.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D+
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Some good insight on Japanese folklore, good costuming and background art.
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