The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide Saga of Tanya the Evil
How would you rate episode 1 of
Saga of Tanya the Evil ?
What is this?
In a cursed world engulfed by war, there is a country known as the Empire. Beset by enemies on all side, soldiers of the empire fight for the glory of their homeland in an endless battle. Among these soldiers, there is a girl known as Tanya - Second Lieutenant Tanya Degurechaff, a decorated commander and keen strategist. Tanya's abilities in battle are second to none, but her loyalty seems to be only to war itself. When subordinates disobey her, she sends them off to die; when orders demand victory, she kills all foes with her own hands. Cutting down her enemies with gleeful abandon, she is truly a devil in the form of a little girl. Saga of Tanya the Evil is based on a series of light novels and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Fridays at 10:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
The basic premise of this series characterizes lead protagonist Tanya as a middle-aged office worker reborn into the form of a roughly 10-year-old girl. If you don't know this going in, though, then you're unlikely to pick that up from the first episode, as only one brief, vague reference is made to it in a single scene. That gives me the impression that this could be an in media res introduction, with the actual explanation for how that came to pass coming in future episodes.
What is clear from the opener is that this is an alternate version of 1920s Europe where World War I either started late or never ended. (The former seems more likely in a practical sense.) In this setting mages have replaced airplanes and can bring both air support and devastating firepower of their own to bear against enemy forces. Comparisons to last season's Izetta: The Last Witch are inviting here, but this is a much darker story (both figuratively and literally) with a vastly different narrative approach and a wholly different protagonist; about the only things that Izetta and this series’ Tanya Degurechaff have in common are the abilities to fly and imbue weapons with magic. Whereas Izetta was devoted to Finé, Tanya is devoted to her own advancement and the Fatherland, in some order. Whereas Izetta was buxom, Tanya is a loli. And whereas Izetta was fundamentally a good-hearted young woman, Tanya is fundamentally an evil bastard.
There's no getting around that point, either. Tanya is ruthless both in combat and in dealing with subordinates. Cross her and/or defy her and she might not kill you directly but definitely isn't above putting you in a situation prone to getting killed; in other words she's much more comparable to Light Yagami from Death Note and has the evil smile down to match. Doubtless some of the intended entertainment value here is the irony of what looks and sounds like an elementary school girl behaving like a middle-aged, and certainly hearing Aoi Yūki voice Tanya like a hardened, embittered schoolgirl is an interesting effect, but I actually find those aspects to be a distraction. Tanya is a deliciously ruthless character with captivating expressions of evil glee, with Corporal Serebryakov serving as the more moral, caring, and perhaps even more genuinely patriotic contrast.
The first episode certainly delivers in a production sense. Visuals are sharp despite the frequently-dark color overtones and everything is well-detailed and well-animated, especially the magical effects and explosions. The eyes of Tanya and Serebryakov especially stand out, both for their size and vividness. All of it is back by the kind of heavy, vocals-enhanced soundtrack one might expect of a Hollywood sci fi/fantasy epic. It's going to be hard to beat this one as being one of the better technical openers of the season.
Funimation's English simuldub for this series is its first to debut for the season. That's probably because it was one of the earliest-debuting titles of the season, but them already having the most ridiculously obvious casting choice for the title role in their regular talent pool certainly didn't hurt; Monica Rial's natural speaking voice has always sounded like a little kid's in an adult's body, so I can't imagine any other English VA doing even equally well (much less better) capturing the tenor of what the reverse should sound like. That being said, adding in a slightly more acerbic edge (which Aoi Yūki's original performance does have) might suit the character even better. Other casting choices seem fine so far, with Jeannie Tirado and her vaguely Brina Palencia-like sound being an especially good fit for Viktoriya. The English script raises one big quibble, however, as the sole line in the first episode which has Tanya referring to a salaryman is excised entirely in place of a more generic statement. While the new line fits the scene, it eliminates the “huh, that's weird” moment which is supposed to be the tip-off to those who didn't read the premise that all is not what it appears to be with Tanya. I also think there's a fairly obvious choice for who should be Being X, but apparently we'll have to wait until next week to find out about that.
Overall, I can see this being a very polarizing series. If you can't get into the idea of an evil protagonist then this concept isn't going to work for you at all. Frankly, I mostly love how director Yutaka Uemura (Punch Line) has handled things so far and am eager to see more.
Rating: 2Somewhere in 1920s alternate reality not-Germany (just kidding, it's totally Germany), an über-powerful army spends all of its time protecting its borders against encroaching forces. Except instead of this leading to their strategic downfall, in this pro-bad guy version of history, Germany is still going strong, thanks to its team of powerful mages. Lead amongst them is a dead-eyed doll-looking girl, who's not only pretty high up the chain of command, she's also the most lethal mage in their ranks (and probably the continent). Think Strike Witches meets Emily Blunt's war wunderkind character in Edge of Tomorrow, except Emily Blunt is a child whose claim to fame is being ruthlessly evil.
Her main sidekick is another mage, a dopey-eyed girl whose upside-down 1990s anime eyes give her face the look of either a potato or an old woman's bosom. She tries really hard, and she's supposed to be kawaii, but she's no match for the hard-on that war otaku will get from Tanya's brazen disregard for life. Those looking for a grizzled war story will maybe get that in snippets, though it's hard to take it seriously when the air fleets are people flying around on rocket horses and magic consoles.
It's somewhat of a neat idea, in theory. Though that would indicate that Saga of Tanya the Evil was the first or even second of its kind in girls-flying-around-with-guns military anime. Instead, it feels like just a grislier take on an old conceit, with more explosions, and fewer stories about girls doing military drills. I assume at some point we'll learn how Tanya got to this point, though I'm not sure I'll stick around long enough to find out. I'll freely admit that I just can't get past the character designs of the two main girls. They're so ugly that they pull me out of the scene, and I find myself focusing more on their creepy eyes than anything else. I've enjoyed my fair share of girls with guns in the past, but this won't be one of them.
I'll admit that I'm a bit of a military otaku; after all, I'm the guy who volunteers to do episode reviews for shows like Kan Colle and High School Fleet. It should mean something, then, when I say that Saga of Tanya the Evil is a bridge too far even for me. I can talk shop about tanks and battleships all day long, but the first episode of this series had me checking the time on a regular basis to see how soon I'd be able to get away from it.
There is some interesting stuff going on here, and there are moments when this series is able to present the horrors of war on a very human level. The supporting cast is brought face-to-face with the sight of overwhelming firepower being unleashed on living people, and there's some thematic significance in their reactions. Given a different premise and a different main character, this could have been a compelling and sobering counterpoint to the standard “cute girls with big guns” formula. The grim background art and muted colors certainly help to reinforce the dark mood and sense of suffering.
But then we get to Tanya and the way the show presents her point of view. It definitely feels like the audience is supposed to be in awe of her destructive abilities and merciless tactics, and that's where things start to get uncomfortable. Yes, she's a monster, but she's a monster presented as a total badass for the viewer to cheer for. Even if you take the story out of the whole “wartime Germany” context, we're still looking at a story that uplifts the wholesale and unquestioned slaughter of anyone who gets in the protagonist's way. I can't tell you exactly where the line in the sand is, but this series definitely looks like it's on the wrong side of it.
Saga of Tanya the Evil will work for some people, and it could make for an interesting ride as long as you're able to keep it in its own “not reality” box. There's entertainment to be found in the intrigue of how Tanya will inevitably defeat her enemies, and it's a reasonably good-looking series once you get used to the odd character design choices. If it doesn't work for you, though, you'll know pretty damn quick. I think the deciding factor may be what you normally look for in a military anime series. If you're just in it for big explosions and detailed mechanical trivia, then the self-indulgent and bloody violence will likely spoil the party. It looks like this series will be good at what it does, but for me it's a big bucket of “nope.”
“Cute girls plus military fetishism” is a staple anime subgenre at this point, from Strike Witches and Girls und Panzer to Kan Colle and Arpeggio of Blue Steel. While most of these shows lean into historical nerdery in a variety of vague ways, their conflicts tend to be divorced from the specifics of world history. This makes sense - while it's relatively easy to divorce military trivia from tragedy and moral ambiguity when you're just showing off your favorite tanks, it's a little harder to do that when those tanks are rolling over trenches to murder actual human beings. Framing military encounters as sports drama or fights against a nebulous, inhuman foe inherently softens the implications of glorifying military hardware in the first place.
The Saga of Tanya the Evil doesn't do that. Presenting a nation called “The Empire” that is clearly just Germany circa World War I, it centers on a little girl who is an actual military lieutenant, gunning down actual human beings with actual (magical) bullets.
In a way, I can almost admire its brazen approach. Tanya the Evil isn't messing around with military technology as cool toys - it's acknowledging that these are tools designed to murder, and that murdering is what they have historically done. Unfortunately, Tanya the Evil's approach to the genre wasn't chosen because it wants to make any sort of commentary on the nature of cutesy war imagery, or even because it wants to tell a traditional starry-eyed historical fantasy (like last season's Izetta). Tanya the Evil takes place in World War I because Tanya the Evil thinks killing is awesome.
The actual narrative of this first episode is “Tanya kills people effectively, then sends some disobedient soldiers off to die, then kills people even more effectively, grinning while she does it.” It seems difficult to enjoy this show without enjoying the slaughter for its own sake - there's just nothing else here, and Tanya's jaded perspective is the only one consistently raised and championed. I got echoes of Mahouka's “the protagonist is always right and awesome, also let's explain made-up magic systems in excruciating detail” vibe from this episode's grand finale, wherein Tanya charged up a single magic bullet to kill a bunch of soldiers while her subordinates breathlessly commented on her technique and patriotism. Tanya doesn't actually seem patriotic at all, though - she's mainly just loyal to killing, and a person who happens to exist in a show that loves traditional German symbology. The show mostly uses its historical context as backdrop for a bloodthirsty and proudly nihilistic power fantasy.
That all seems pretty dire, but this episode's underlying mean-spiritedness is somewhat mitigated by its unintentional comedy. Divorced from the generally upbeat style choices of standard mecha musume, it is basically impossible to take anything Tanya or her droopy-faced subordinate do seriously. The two are default cute anime girls in a grizzly German battlefield, surrounded by characters who share none of their stylistic embellishments. Tanya herself is presented with constantly pouting lips and extravagant eyelashes, style choices that are more distracting than anything. It's like watching a teddy bear monologue about the evil of mankind.
The contrast between the attempted seriousness of the show's tone and the transparent silliness of its premise and character designs mean the show is fundamentally at war with itself. Presented with something like Tanya grinning as she beheads an enemy soldier, I can only laugh at the silliness of the contrast. Glorifying ultraviolence feels juvenile to me at the best of times, and ultraviolence inspired by a tiny girl who says stuff like “give me the power to destroy the enemies of the Fatherland” is not the best of times. Between its love of violence, worship of its own protagonist, magic explosion exposition, and self-defeating style choices, there's basically nothing I actually enjoyed about this episode.
The good news: outside of the character designs of those two leads, Tanya the Evil actually looks fairly good. The show manages to find a kind of tragic, dignified beauty in its battlefields, buoyed by a strong sense of background composition and a subtly rich color scheme. I only wish those pretty backgrounds had a better show to work with.
Wow. The title of this show is not lying – Tanya is one of the most evil children I've encountered in recent fiction. While that may say more about my choice of reading and viewing material than the show, the fact remains that as the episode goes on, young Tanya is revealed to be more and more vicious in her zeal to serve her Fatherland. The fact that she appears to be somewhere in the neighborhood of ten years old makes it all the more disturbing – what could have happened to this child to make her into the monster she so clearly has become? There's a supernatural plot twist coming to explain this that hasn't quite been revealed yet - it's only hinted at near the end of the episode, but it's in all the official promotional material so I'm not sure why they're teasing it. Must be that way in the source material.
In the alternate 1924 of the series, World War One appears not to have ended. Thinly veiled Germany and France are fighting in the Rhine Valley, and if names are anything to go by, Russia appears to be on Germany's side. Battles are enhanced (or complicated) by the fact that magic users fight for both sides, although their “magic” looks to be more like specialized flying equipment and weapon enhancement – as far as I can tell, their magic is channeled through their rifles, making for bigger, more powerful explosions, although there is a shielding aspect as well. It isn't quite enough to make this a “magic” show, but it does provide plenty of room for enhanced violence. The battlefields are only brightened by the splash of blood and if someone's head is cut off, there's plenty of spray to make sure you know that this show is violent. It's much less subtle about the fact that it's a war story, in fact, than it is about revealing the depths of Tanya's cold calculation, and that imbalance does make parts of the episode feel a bit weighed down. More focus on Tanya's foil figure, Empire mage Viktoriya, and less on the horrors of war would have made for a better reveal of Tanya's character in some ways, although the final moments of the show, when Viktoriya learns the truth about her child commander's ruthlessness, are definitely the strongest. They're also the moments that will determine if you're going to want to pursue this as the season goes on, because if watching evil go to ever greater depths in pursuit of what's “right” and “just” isn't your thing, this show might not be either.
In the more immediate present, there's something that just doesn't work about the character designs for the females. Men are drawn relatively realistically, albeit with some truly terrible hair, but women and girls are given huge, oddly shiny eyes in vibrant shades of blue, green, and amber, round sweet faces, and glossy bee-stung lips. It's completely at odds with the rest of the art in the show, and even if the animation takes pains to show the little reactions, such as what someone's hair does when a gun recoils after firing or a zipper sticking a bit, Tanya and Viktoriya are consistently jarring. I appreciate the attempt to make Tanya look as harmless as possible, but this feels like taking it a bit too far.
Generally speaking, war stories are not my cup of tea. This one looks like it will focus on the cruelties of the battlefield and what happens when one soldier in a position of power goes too far in the name of their country. Tanya's prayer-like chants to activate her magic speak to the depth of her conviction – but that conviction comes with a depravity that won't sit well with all viewers. Take note of the title. As I said, it isn't lying about the protagonist.
Rating: nein, kommandant
If you saw the trailer for Saga of Tanya the Evil and thought “hey that looks like a bunch of military fetishism with an uncomfortable German Imperial sheen” you're right, and that's what the show is. Tanya, a bug-eyed, duck-lipped Lolita is presented as a fearsome, malevolent badass murdering people in the name of a generic fascist government (chock-a-block with dragon symbols, naturally) beset on all sides by enemies to slaughter, clad in a slightly redesigned German WWI uniform. The way this whole episode is written – literally the whole thing, there's no other story movement - you're supposed to cower in awe the entire time and imagine just how evil and ruthless Tanya can get. I think. That's the way the show presents the character, anyway. Look at all this cruelty and violence, isn't it badass? Look at her twisted face! She's so evil!
I rolled my eyes. You already know whether or not this show is for you. Moving on.
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