Saga Of Tanya The Evil
A nameless sadistic opportunist is killed by one of his victims, and is reincarnated by "God" in a parallel world in the person of a blonde girl named Tanya Degurechaff. Tanya, it turns out, has some magical ability, and so at the age of 10 not only becomes a flying combat mage (giving a whole new definition to air support), but quickly rises in the ranks (after all, ambition WAS a central part of her former self's character), eventually commanding a combat battalion. "God" (who she will not dignify by that name; she refers to this as "Being X") is trying to teach her humility, but Tanya is... a bit defiant in taking this to heart.
There's a scene in the first episode of this show that's simply stunning- Tanya has just been informed that two soldiers who defied her, and she therefore set up to be killed, have in fact died- and while her former self had a self-satisfied smirk when he did something awful to someone, Tanya gives us the full grin, baring teeth and all- and it's the most horrifying expression ever seen on the face of a little girl, and that includes the one who crawled out of the well in The Ring. Corporal Viktoriya Serebryakov, who brings her this news and witnesses this reaction, has a line that perfectly captures how anyone would react to this- and it's a masterpiece of black comedy writing. (Viktoriya nevertheless becomes Tanya's lieutenant through the rest of the series. I thought Viktoriya was about Tanya's age, though she later seems to actually have breasts- but that might have been a dream sequence, the show can be pretty surreal- and both Tanya and Viktoriya are drawn with ENORMOUS eyes and over-wide mouths, while all the rest of the troops are more or less realistically drawn adult males. The character design does a more than credible job of making Tanya LOOK evil- and Viktoriya look innocent- but Viktoriya is a patriotic soldier of the Empire, even if she basically is playing Max to Tanya's Grinch.)
In any case, the "Empire" (which is apparently supposed to represent Germany) soon becomes engaged in a war with "The Republic" (France). The war does expand in scope, just like the two big ones did in our world, and is a bit self-consciously set in the 1920s, so we know it's not quite either I or II- some parts resemble either our WWI or WWII, while other events resemble neither one of our real ones. Tanya senses tremendous opportunities for advancement to some cushy job in headquarters, but she soon learns the truth of the maxim- which I think is also true in business so she SHOULD already know it- that if you suggest some improvement or innovation, you put yourself in danger of being placed in charge of actually implementing it. So she gets thrown in the thick of things, while God (excuse me, "Being X") keeps taunting her, in various guises- as a nutcracker, as an animated corpse- to try to make her humble. But Tanya doesn't break easily, and while she's annoyed at having to fight, she's not afraid to- it even gives her some opportunity to indulge her natural sadism- and she's actually a very competent field commander (under the rather ironic call sign of "Fairy 1"- she IS kind of a magical girl gone bad, after all.) Of course, she's just as effective (and hateful) behind the lines as a strategist, parsing the rules of war for loopholes- rather common practice in our OWN world too, of course. There are times when this show seems to be aspiring to being the Catch-22 of anime, a war tale grounded in cynicism and black comedy. (There's a scene where Victoriya is exchanging some light banter with a fellow soldier in a medical tent, both of them so lost in their little world that they're oblivious to the cries of agony from a wounded soldier in the next bed.) Like Schwarzes Marken, the battlefields in this show are studies in black, brown, and grey, a realistic setting with the mages adding a surreal counterpoint. Apparently their magic spells make them impervious to bullets, except bullets that are "wound about with spells" as Tolkien would have put it. A particularly bizarre detail is that some of the Repubic's mages ride through the air on fake horses rather than simply fly or float on their own as the Empire's mages do- it's a little hard to understand what advantages being "cavalry" in this case entail, but it certainly does amp up the weirdness. There's also a rather loopy Empire mad scientist named Dr. Schugel who at one point engages Tanya and her troops in a particularly frightening experiment to get them into battle faster- a LOT faster.
This show's World War (call it "World War 1.5") is notably different from either of ours in that it is NOT started by the Empire. (And before anyone mentions it, I've been reading Geoffrey Wawro's history of Austria-Hungary and the beginning of WWI, A Mad Catastrophe, and Germany was not only in agreement with Austria-Hungary's declaration of war, it had been encouraging Franz Joseph to do this for quite some time.) I was a little confused about the Empire's overall strategy, but it was explained simply in Episode 10, which I was grateful for.
But the show is at its best when Tanya is in full-blown madness mode, which you only see a limited number of times: in the scene mentioned at the beginning of the review; when she's training her troops (she believes in what we'll call "full immersion" training); and one other time. Her continual defiance of "Being X" remains a consistent theme throughout the show (and maybe beyond), though I'm not sure if she's defending "humanism" ("science" and "reason"), or Randian Libertarianism (she vows to "teach" Being X "free market principles")- the two things are not necessarily the same. The allegorical aspect of the show is pretty blatant in any case.
Oh, I can't leave this show without mentioning the opening song, a piece of cacophonous electronica called "Jingo Jungle" that kind of grew on me after a while, and captures its protagonist's madness beautifully.
If Tanya's madness had in fact been even MORE emphasized, or if Being X had been a little more effective in putting her in her place- I would have been fine with either- I think I would have gone five stars here. As it is, there's a long stretch where Tanya becomes just a typical soldier- an effective warrior, sure, but growing war-weary and yearning for peace- and since she SO dominates this show, when she loses her edge, even temporarily, so does the show. But honestly, there's NOTHING else I've ever seen quite like this. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Extreme war violence, including people being shot full of holes and gushing blood. Adults only.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Saga Of Tanya The Evil © 2017 NUT
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