Monsters, spirits and exorcisms … oh my!
Review by: Sophie Stevens
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Running Time: 600 minutes
Release Date: Available Now
On the surface, Tactics is one of those series that doesn’t seem to be any different from other anime series featuring the supernatural and old-school Japanese-styled exorcisms. Then again, you will slowly realize that this series has multiple layers, among them an underlying love story that never really evolves until the very end. It’s style can sometimes humorous, slightly creepy at times and heartbreaking in others. In short, I enjoyed the hell out of Tactics and this box set that includes all 25 episodes.
The series revolves around Kantarou Ichinomiya, a young man who has always had the gift to spirits, monsters and other supernatural beings. He has becomes a master in the arts of performing exorcisms and is able to tame demons by simply releasing them of their demon bond and giving them a name … which is how he was able to get a fox spirit to turn into a cute girl named Yoko to serve him as a maid.
Yet Kantarou was always interested in a famous demon known as the Demon Eating Goblin (mainly because he devours other demons) and in the introductory episode is able to seek this demon out, free him from his imprisonment and give him the name of Haruka. It turns out that Haruka is quite handsome and skilled in combat by way of a staff he carries. He also has black wings that sprout from his back that allow him to carry Kantarou out of danger. Haruka isn’t particularly fond of being a servant to anyone and is put off by the fact that Kantarou never really gives him a good enough explanation for why he summoned the Demon Eating Goblin in the first place.
What follows is a number of monster-of-the-week styled episodes where Kantarou and Haruka dispose of evil spirits and monsters that happen to plague the city that is just slightly set in the Taisho period of Japan. You see Kantarou exorcises demons for a living (although he hardly gets paid much) and in his part-time attempts to writes articles pertaining to the world of the supernatural. I say “attempts to write” because he usually doesn’t get around to it even with Yoko, Haruka and Kantarou’s lovely editor who sets strict deadlines for him. Then there’s Suzu Edogawa, a wealthy young girl who has the world’s biggest crush on Haruka and hangs out with the trio mainly to be close to the oblivious Haruka.
As I mentioned before, the majority of the episodes feature a monster or spirit-turned-evil that Kantarou and Haruka attempt to exorcise even though it never is as easy as it sounds. In episode 5, a dollmaker steals the spiritual essence of girls to implant in his dolls. In episode 3, children are disappearing and it seems to be linked to a children’s fairy tale. The series follows the same formula, only breaking the pattern in the tenth and eleventh episode (a two-part storyline) where two sisters are linked to a number of inexplicable deaths. Most of these episodes usually end with Kantarou yelling out his chants and Haruka usually saving Kantarou. After awhile, it gets pretty repetitive that you’ll know Kantarou’s chant by heart.
Still, not every episode follows the same formula. In later episodes, a little attention is given to Yoko and there’s an episode where Suzu solves a mystery on her own. Unlike most shows where characters don’t mention events that occurred to them in past episodes, Tactics at least keeps the continuity going from episode to episode so characters do mention past events and are wiser because of it. What sets Tactics apart from other series, however, is the somewhat unspoken love between Kantarou and Haruka. While the underlying homosexual tension never evolves nor is mentioned by any character, it is evident throughout the series … until the end where their relationship turns sour.
The series often doesn’t take itself serious … thank God. There are some funny moments that revolve around another friendly demon that is married to a small green monster that has a huge monster crush on Kantarou. Suzu is often trying to spell out her feeling for Haruka but it never comes out the way she wants and it usually results in hilarity. Kantarou also has a rival who doesn’t believe in monsters even though they surround him constantly. When a dour English lass named Rosalie joins them, Suzu wonders why the girl doesn’t really like her or why Rosalie sees monsters and never reacts to them.
The last five or so episodes introduces regular villains that come in the form of a soldier and an attractive woman who has a link to the supernatural. Their goal is to turn Haruka back into the savage Demon Eating Goblin for reasons that aren’t explained too fully. When they do succeed in bringing the worst out of Haruka, Kantarou isn’t able to save his servant and friend. In the 25th and final episode, the series reaches a surprising conclusion that is quite a tear-jerker. Really, the ending had me literally in tears and will certainly bring up memories of movies like “Ghost” and “The Sixth Sense.” That’s all I’ll say about the moving ending.
As far as box sets are concerned, this one is packaged with very little that will have fans that bought past volumes not really missing out on anything special. It does come with a sleeve that indicates that this is a box set but the rest is DVDs that were sold individually. This isn’t a complaint but rather disappointment from a fan that likes her box sets, well, filled with extras that separate it from the original release. That’s just me, though, a nitpicky sort I am.
Still, there is much to be said about Tactics: The Complete Series and there’s a lot to like about it as well. The story structure might be repetitive at times but in the end the humor, nicely put-together characters and heartbreaking ending will mean you will have a blast watching this one. If you bought the series individually, there’s nothing here that should warrant a purchase but if you are new to the series I highly recommend you pick this up.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
Composed of only 25 episodes, Tactics has a few lows but many highs and the characters are just too darn likeable. The box set contains five DVDs that had been released individually so you get the same extras.
VIDEO QUALITY: B+
Sharp and clear as most Manga DVDs, each episode looks in top form and fans will certainly appreciate it. Still, this one could have used a Blu-ray treatment. How about it Manga?
AUDIO QUALITY: B-
The Japanese voice cast is stellar and so is the English dub so you’ll be glad that the sound comes through nicely on all the discs. Personally, the opening theme song is a joy to hear but I’m not too keen on the closing credits song.
Each disc comes with interviews with the Japanese cast, TV spots, a still gallery and textless versions of the opening and closing theme songs. Other than that there is very little else.
The monster-of-the-week story structure might not sit well with most anime fans but believe me that the later episodes really push the story to a more entertaining and exciting level. It’s rare to find a series that feels familiar yet has a deeper meaning that separates this series from other fare.