Reviewby Casey Brienza,
In the third volume of Tactics, folklorist and part-time youkai exterminator Kantarou Ichinomiya takes on two new supernatural assignments. The first involves a rural village's annual festival whose young fortuneteller seems to be laboring under a terrible curse—all of the men who get involved with her meet with a gruesome death! All is not what it seems, however, and it's up to Kantarou and Haruka to unravel the mystery. In the second story, Kantarou and his rival Hasumi compete at the behest of a former professor to see who can retrieve a Kappa's bamboo ladle first. Will Hasumi, who follows human leads and does not believe in the supernatural, or Kantarou, who listens to youkai and has something to prove, be the one to win the day?
In the world of manga, fueled by fads and driven by trendsetters, three years might as well be three millennia. And yet it has taken over three years for the third volume of Tactics, originally licensed by ADV Manga and subsequently reappropriated for American release by Tokyopop, to see the light of day for the first time in English. Which begs the question: Was it worth the wait? Well, that depends upon your point of view. Are you here for the adventure or the eye candy? If it's the former, you might as well stop now because this series is not for you. But if on the other hand you are here for the latter, by all means, do feel free to read on.
Although why you would feel compelled to wait for an English-language edition if all you are really in the market for is the pretty pictures is, admittedly, a mystery. The prose does not improve the pictures. Chapters are episodic, self-contained plots for the most part, with only the occasional, tantalizing—but most likely mostly meaningless—foreshadowing of bigger and better things to come. Even a decent adaptation does not disguise the fact that story takes a backseat to art. In the first story, for example, we learn that the “curse” is actually the fault of a girl who is trying to save her twin sister's life by killing all the men in any way involved with said sister. Naturally, it does not work, and the unnecessarily lonely, sexually unfulfilled girl dies anyway. Good grief. The second story resolves when Kantarou and Hasumi learn that the kappa they are looking for has a bamboo ladle so that it can keep spooning water onto itself while living in the mountains. Good grief again. For a series about supernatural creatures, it sure is good at stripping out all the pleasure of the wondrous from its story.
Ah well. Never mind all that. Art, of course, is what Tactics is really about. Namely, it is a two-way jam session between Sakura Kinoshita (who draws Kantarou) and Kazuko Higashiyama (who draws Haruka). Gorgeous panel layouts and scrumptious beauties, both male and female, are what these two women do best, and they are utterly shameless here in the exploitation of their assets. There is eye candy for every taste. Kantarou is a mature adult who looks like adorable jailbait. Haruka is handsome in his Western dress and occasional set of big black wings. The many supporting female characters with their flowing locks and layered kimonos are lovely. And there are plenty of super-cute critters for those moved by anything “kawaii.” Kinoshita and Higashiyama make visual perfection look light and easy…and it most definitely is not.
It must also be noted that there is a subset of fans out there who come to Tactics specifically for the homoerotic relationship between Haruka and Kantarou. They are liable to be disappointed, however. In actuality, this is not even a shoujo manga per se, and there are strict editorial limitations upon content of that sort. (There is a reason why the creators themselves publish Tactics-inspired doujinshi!) Unless a brief vision of Haruka licking blood off of his claw makes your blood rise, a game of strip poker played for laughs is about as sexy as this volume ever gets. Fair warning.
Volume three rounds down with what has got to be the most idiotic installment thus far, and that, it may be said, is quite an achievement. Youko and Haruka bring home a stray dog. Kantarou, impelled by his hatred of all canines, discovers that the irascible creature is actually a robot dog from the future. That's right—a robot dog from the future. What the heck?! Three volumes not even yet in the bag and the creators are already desperate enough to write something that bizarre. This certainly does not bode well for its future prospects, and it may well be enough to discourage many from reading further. Even glancing, albeit evocative, references to future ill tidings will entice those already committed to seeing this series through to the bitter end.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : A
+ An enticing, Taisho Period setting, skilled draftsmanship, and exquisite bishounen.
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