Tactics vol. 1

Tactics vol. 1
 Chad Clayton  rates it:    

Author/Artist: Kazuko Higashiyama & Sakura Kinoshita
Format: Paperback
Price: $9.99

Over the past year, I’ve become increasingly bored with manga, and I know the exact reason why: so many recent manga are completely and utterly bored with themselves. Too many of them go through the motions already set forth by their predecessors, and only seem interested in fulfilling the expectations of the particular fandom niche they’re geared towards. There’s no excitement or wonder in repetition, nor is there any in Tactics, a manga without a single original thought to its name.

Tactics is the story of Kantaro, folklore specialist, friend to the goblins, annoying person, and detective/ghostbuster. During one case, he meets Haruka, a demon-eating goblin, and enslaves him by giving him a name. So now Haruka helps Kantaro and company on his detective capers.

About halfway through the first volume, it was clear that Tactics is suffering from an identity crisis. It most comfortably fits into the mystery/detective story mold, but it’s a detective story with an aversion to thinking too hard. The so-called “mysteries” in this manga are so unimaginative and obvious that you’ll figure out the solution almost as quickly as the mystery begins. I don’t think this fact was entirely lost on the creators, as they keep pulling the “Kantaro knew the solution all along, and just waited for the right moment to let everyone else in on it” card over and over again. But instead of making Kantaro look clever, it makes him look like little more than a master of the glaringly obvious. Given that, Tactics isn’t a detective or mystery story so much as a story about how Kantaro manipulates everything and everyone around him to his advantage – but again, not in any particularly clever or imaginative ways.

If you see this manipulation as the key theme of this manga, then I suppose the title makes sense. It’s about Kantaro manipulating everything, particularly Haruka and Yoko, to his advantage. Unfortunately, the comic suffers because of this. There’s no genuine rapport between the main characters, and nine tenths of the interaction between them comes from Kantaro messing with Haruka’s head in order to get him to do something. There’s also very little else this manga has to connect itself to the audience: the comedy is weak, what little of it there is. The little action present has been heavily sanitized to the point of being overly harmless – gutless, even. There’s never a sense that anything is ever truly at stake in this manga. One gets the impression that this manga is little more than an excuse to show a wimpy little boy dressed in a kimono jerking around a pretty-boy dressed in gothy European garb.

Which makes sense, because Tactics is swimming in shounen-ai overtones, which may explain the reason this series has fans. The entire relationship of Kantaro and Haruka is based around the dominance/submission politic, and there are a few scenes where Kantaro openly fawns over Haruka in what seems to be a bad impression of a fawning anime schoolgirl (though this fawning seems more indicative of the way a person treats a pet than another human being). I can’t say I appreciate shounen-ai, so I don’t know how well done that aspect of the manga would be to someone who actively seeks this kind of stuff out. I thought it felt tacked on: a hokey, superficial, overly obvious attempt to rope in the shounen-ai fan club.

Tactics might have at least been more entertaining had the cast not been so uniformly unlikable. Kantaro’s personality especially grated on me. He’s an ingratiating, self-centered, manipulative little snot when he’s not acting like a clingy little girl. His aura is probably supposed to come off as confidence, but it struck me as smug, smarmy self-satisfaction. He’s full of the same kind of sanctimonious idealism that slightly marred Rurouni Kenshin; he’s happy to, for all intents and purposes, enslave goblins, but in the name of all that’s good don’t kill them! Unlike other good heroes with questionable ethics, however, he’s not nearly witty or likeable enough to redeem his less savory, opportunistic side. And that would be okay, if the manga wasn’t so gosh-darned earnest in trying to make us like the little fart. Not that Haruka or Yoko are necessarily any better. Yoko’s the obligatory whiny, annoying girl, and Haruka doesn’t have much of a personality. He’s supposed to be calm, detached, and cool, but he ends up dour and lacking in affect. He’s not even terribly interesting as a character; he loves his rice bowl, and that’s about it.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that Tactics isn’t very good, and unless you crave all manner of shounen-ai like a crackhead craves a bag of rock, there isn’t much here to get excited over. This comic is very bored with itself, and I was very bored with it too. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy to come up with great new ideas or a compelling new way to approach an old idea, but I really don’t think it would kill anyone to put a bit more effort into the attempt.

Added:  Tuesday, January 17, 2006

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