Tactics Vol. 1
Japanese folklore is something that all fans are familiar with. From the monkey king Goku, to the use of little paper charms to deal big damage, Japanese superstition and tradition permeates anime and manga.
Tactics is a title that has a little more folklore than most. Kantaro Ichinomia has been able to see oni since he was very little, and it's been his mission to bring the worlds of demons and humans together in understanding harmony. To do that, he needs an extra strong spirit to help him, an oni-eating tengu he calls Haruka.
The only problem with his plan is that chasing after spirits doesn't pay the bills, and even anime characters have to eat. So Kantaro uses his extensive knowledge of folklore to work as a spiritual detective, exorcist, and columnist for the local paper. Chapters and episodes are all about strange happenings that Kantaro must figure out and resolve in the name of racial understanding and meager profit.
There are many other such manga out there already, where a detective solves case after case with the help of a sidekick or two. Tactics is unique in that it is set during the era of westernization in Japan, and all of the mysteries have a link to traditional Japanese folklore. While some things are obviously made up, many more have genuine roots in Japanese tradition, such as seals used for spirits, greedy tanuki and special types of goblins. ADV has done an excellent job in explaining many of the references in the manga, and even letting some of the original Japanese dialogue remain with the translation beside it. The only thing I would have liked to see would be the Japanese terms for goblin and demon remain untranslated, with a note of explanation in the back, because a western goblin has little if nothing to do with Japanese oni.
Another bonus for the manga is its artwork. The sister team of Sakura Kinoshita and Kazuko Higashiyama has managed to put together a manga that has loads of detail. Besides the frames themselves being artfully and logically arranged, the characters are bedecked in all sorts of flowing garb. The various outfits that Kantaro wears when he's out demon hunting is enough to attract those with an eye for aesthetics. He's almost like the boy version of Card Captor Sakura!
After enjoying the manga, it's easier to see the pitfalls of the anime, which is now airing in Japan. Besides characters and general premise, Tactics the manga and Tactics the anime are two different things. The cases that Kantaro comes across and the people that he meets are totally different between the two. Even the way in which Kantaro meets Haruko isn't the same. In one way, this isn't too much of a bad thing. Instead of watching an anime version of the manga, readers are treated to entirely new situations and mysteries.
The downside of this is that in changing the plot, the anime loses a lot of the characterization that exists in the manga. Manga Kantaro is a smart, plotting kid who seems to always know what the enemy is planning, and manipulates those around him - Haruka in particular - to get the job done. Manga Haruka is constantly exasperated with Kantaro's ploys, and although he acts serious and tough, he's really just a little demon that wants some peace and quiet. It's the colorful characters that make me enjoy the manga as much as I do.
In the anime, some of the lightheartedness of the manga remains, but little of the characters' original personalities show. Kantaro still is lazy and boyish, but he's hardly as devious as his manga counterpart. Instead of being the one in control of situations, he becomes just another boy running around from place to place and uncovering clues. The sense that Kantaro is one step ahead of everyone else is lost, because he isn't anymore.
Haruka is still a lady-killer, but he's not as silly in the way that he deals with his new master. In the manga he's constantly whining over his horrible treatment and rolling his eyes at the jobs that Kantaro gives him. In the anime, he is more stoic, which translates as more flat. Everyone's heard of the formal, mysterious goblin, so in losing his personality, Haruka loses a lot of his originality as well.
Because I saw the anime first and enjoyed it, I was more than pleasantly surprised when the manga turned out to be so much better. Besides translators' notes and postscripts, there were no extras, but the story and artwork was so enjoyable that there wasn't a need for anything else.