Tactics: Volume 1

Tactics: Volume 1 (2004)
Manga Entertainment
Cast: Kouki Miyata, Takahiro Sakurai, Blake Shepard, Chris Patton
Extras: Textless Opening/Ending, Interviews, Commercial, Still Gallery, Activities, Trailers

Friendly monsters and evil demons run rampant in "Tactics, " the latest anime series to make its way to DVD from Manga Entertainment. Part detective story, part supernatural mystery, this thoroughly enjoyable show boasts fun characters and a spirited sense of adventure. Though not as complex or deeply involving as the best anime, "Tactics" hits just the right notes for pure escapism, and Manga has released the first five episodes of the series for its American debut.

"Tactics" follows the exploits of Kantaro Ichinomiya, a young mystery writer for a tabloid newspaper. With a gift for expelling demons and binding monsters, Kantaro makes his living traveling through Japan, battling evil forces and transcribing his supernatural encounters as sensational news reports. While he enjoys his work, he receives a little unwanted pressure from Yoko, a fox demon who is bound as his assistant, and Reiko, his pushy editor, to complete a manuscript by an elusive deadline that grows ever closer as the series progresses.

In the first episode, "The Black Goblin Awakens," Kantaro is called upon to help a family whose eldest daughter has been entrapped in a block of ice by a servant who is possessed by a demon. I must point out that demons in Japanese culture are not the hellish imps that we normally envision in Western culture, but rather the evil spirits that are brought on by jealousy and other human emotions. Before Kantaro can help the family, he must first conjure up the legendary Black Goblin, a demon eater. He names the goblin Haruka, thus establishing control over him. Together, they set out to save the young woman, though Haruka seems troubled by personal issues.

Episode 2, "Bizarre Love at Yoshiwara's," finds our heroes investigating strange occurrences at a brothel. It seems that one of the courtesans has been displaying odd behavior since the death of her lover. Could a demon be involved? Along for the fun this time is Suzu, the little sister of the entrapped woman from the first episode. Suzu does little over the course of these episodes except look sweet and adorable, a staple of such anime series.

"Mountain Fairy Tale" finds Kantaro and the gang heading to a mountain village where children are mysteriously disappearing. The potential danger of the case means little to Yoko, who is ecstatic about the hot springs available in the village. Two more recurring characters are introduced in this episode, Sugino the White Goblin and his wife Muuchan. They are a most peculiar couple indeed. Sugino is a clumsily frantic counterpoint to Haruka, and Muuchan is a loveable monster cub who says nothing but "Mu."

The fourth episode, "The Forbidden Portrait," revolves around an enigmatic photographer whose beautiful female subjects slowly begin to disappear not long after being photographed. The case hits home for Kantaro when Reiko becomes the photographer's latest victim. Adding to his problems, Kantaro also discovers that he is the unwitting object of desire for Muuchan.

In the final episode, "Dancer in the Darkness," Kantaro returns to his home town to visit a childhood friend who is now a famous geisha. She expresses concerns to him about her latest client who has her perform the same dance during every session while a stranger watches from the shadows. Her client also happens to be a renowned dollmaker who engages in questionable behavior with his latest creation.

As you can see, the episodes play out much like "Scooby-Doo" crossed with a healthy dose of "The X-Files." There is no continuing storyline and little character development along the way. We do, however, receive subtle hints about a possible attraction between the decidedly effeminate Kantaro and the handsome Haruka. Thus far, "Tactics" is a mostly lightweight series that is easy to get into, and just as easy to get out of. The characters are endearing, but there is nothing as far as plot is concerned for viewers to really latch onto. Each episode pretty much follows the same structure, opening with a mystery and concluding with a tidy wrap-up.

The DVD release from Manga Entertainment could not be more pleasing. The series is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Image is sharp and clear with no grain or blemishes to be seen. Colors are vibrant, and the beautiful animation is richly preserved. Flashback sequences and a few other moments display a soft quality that is reproduced excellently in this transfer.

Audio comes to us in Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English and the original Japanese, as well as 2.0 stereo tracks in both languages. As a closet fan of anime, I am a purist when it comes to language and immediately went for the Japanese track. I am happy to say that the 5.1 track did not disappoint me, with dialogue coming clearly through the over-the-top sound effects and music. Audio was never overly aggressive and managed to achieve a fine balance between all channels. The English track featured the same overall excellence from a technical standpoint. I am not a fan of dubbing, but for those who prefer it, the dubbing here was not bad, but it simply does not convey the same energy as the original Japanese. As with most anime DVDs, the English subtitles only correspond with the Japanese track and do not offer a direct transcript of the English dubbing. Fortunately, there is an alternate subtitle option that translates signs and words visible onscreen only, which is perfect for viewers watching in English.

The first of several special features is a textless presentation of the fantastic opening and closing sequences. A visual feast accompanied by snappy music, this is a fun bit that I must admit to watching more than once. I just couldn't get enough of it.

Next up we get some promotional material for the series. An original Japanese TV commercial is provided, with optional subtitles. After that is a lineup of ads for products available in Japan, including CDs.

The "Player Cards" extra is nothing more than a gallery of images for each of the main characters with their name, a quote, and the episode number in which they first appear. For some reason, Reiko's card lists her first appearance as episode 4, though she actually makes her debut in episode 2. After this we get a brief image gallery with stills from the series.

Without a doubt, the most interesting special feature is a video interview with the lead Japanese voice actors, Kouki Miyata (voice of Kantaro) and Takahiro Sakurai (voice of Haruka). They are both rather spirited fellows with a lot to say. Their conversation has to be one of the wackiest ones I have been witness to anywhere in quite some time. They start out discussing one of the episodes, then abruptly dive into a discussion of Valentine's Day (!) complete with embarrassing childhood memories. Throughout their conversation, bizarre graphics pop up across the screen. At the very least, this is by no means a boring feature, but it may leave you scratching your head a little.

Lastly, we have yet another set of promotional ads for CDs and such, followed by trailers for other DVDs available from Manga.

If you're an anime fan who's looking for something entertaining and spooky but doesn't much thinking, "Tactics" might be right up your alley. I certainly had a lot of fun watching it, and Manga Entertainment's presentation is up to standards. This is not the kind of series that is addicting, and you may indeed have your fill of it with these first five episodes. Do bear in mind that although the packaging looks quite innocent, this is best left for ages 13 and up, as there is some fairly sophisticated subject matter. For those who are game, "Tactics" is a lighthearted adventure that is pleasantly recommended.