Tactics: Volume 1 (DVD)

“Rin! Pyo! Toh! Sha! Kai! Jin! Retsu! Zai! Zen!”

Kantaro is a folklore researcher who, on the side, travels around Japan hunting and capturing demons. For years, he’s longed to capture the legendary “demon-eating goblin.” When the opportunity presents itself, he does so, and he names the goblin Haruka. Haruka isn’t happy to have to call Kantaro his master, but because Kantaro named him, Haruka is now Kantaro’s servant, using his awesome powers to further rid Japan of troublesome demons whenever they arise.

Is anime on the way out? I haven’t done any polls or scientific studies on the subject (I don’t care that much), but based on my own observations of the world of fandom, interest in anime does seem to be dwindling. It was fun when cool stuff like Cowboy Bebop made the jump from cult to almost-mainstream phenomenon, and anime influences found their way into big budget blockbusters like Kill Bill Vol. 1, for an obvious example. But, as more and more titles are released, weighing down store shelves, viewers’ attentions seem to be wandering elsewhere. Again, this isn’t something I’ve thoroughly researched, but I have many speculations as to why this might be. And, as I watch this first volume of Tactics, I can see my speculations come to light.

My number one speculation is that many viewers were initially impressed by the flashy visuals of anime, only to grow weary of a lack of interesting characters or engaging stories. Although a variety of genres can be found within anime, there is still a feeling of sameness to it all, especially after you’ve watched a lot of it. The action, no matter how stylized, gets to be repetitive, and the humor is never subtle. You start to see the same character types over and over. Plus, most of the endings have a disturbing habit of descending into incomprehensible weirdness. This might be fun to analyze on an internet message board once or twice, but after the 20th ambiguous dreamlike ending you sit through, you start to wonder why you’re bothering. Once you get past the gorgeous animation, most anime tales don’t offer much that’s new in terms of plot and character.

Look at Tactics. At first, it seems very exciting. The animation is incredibly smooth and detailed. Notice all the rich colors, the fluid movements of the characters, and the artistry that goes into having characters’ hair flow in the wind. Action scenes are larger than life, with booming sound, vivid lighting effects, quick edits, and exaggerated poses. Now look at the story. Although this is volume one, it feels like volume 48. The first episode kicks off with almost no background about Kantaro or the world he lives in, with him already in the midst of his demon hunting. As episodes progress, there is a little bit of character interaction, I’ll admit, and some interesting adventures, such as a photographer who captures people’s souls in his camera, and a dollmaker with some creepy dolls. But the characters are merely jumping from one adventure to another, with the audience just barely keeping up. As I finished all five episodes on this disc, I was left with the feeling that something was missing. I still had very little sense of who Kantaro is, how the magical/fantasy elements of the plot work, and just what sort of anachronistic setting this takes place in: we’re told that this is feudal Japan, but everyone talks and acts very modern. Was this an attempt at humor, or just poor writing? I honestly can’t tell.

I would love to see the second coming of anime. I want to watch an anime film or series with a thrilling story, fascinating characters, and powerful visuals that stimulate my own imagination. Tactics is not that series, and its flaws are the flaws of too many other anime discs out there. Diehard anime loyalists might disagree, but that’s OK. They’re the ones who knew about Akira back in the ’80s, and it’s from them that the rest of us will learn about the next big thing. It’s my prediction, though, that the next big thing isn’t coming anytime soon. And this’ll be probably be the last anime I watch for a long, long time.

The Verdict

Until then, Tactics: Vol. 1 is found guilty of being all style and no substance.

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