Reviewby Kim Morrissy,
Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Movie
The film's story follows from the events of the television anime. In 1926, Tanya and her battalion return home from defeating remnants of the Republic's army. However, upon arrival they receive word of a massive mobilization near the border with the Russy Federation, so the Empire's army must prepare. At the same time, a multinational army under the leadership of the Allied Kingdom moves into the Russy Federation. The enemy of an enemy is a friend, but among the Allied Kingdom army is Mary Sue, a girl who has sworn to exact justice against the Empire for the death of her father.
Saga of Tanya the Evil was such an odd show. Ostensibly a fantasy military story starring the world's most conniving little girl, the series is really an extended argument between the mysterious god-like “Being X” and a self-serving capitalist convinced of his own rationality. In the midst of scenes of war depicting fantasy Germany's rise as a world power, Tanya reflects on the nature and futility of war. It's such a bizarre mix of priorities that even by the end of the TV series, I never quite grasped what this series was trying to accomplish.
There's one thing I can say for certain, though: Saga of Tanya the Evil is an entertaining anime. For me, the fun of the series was always about watching Tanya get herself into a fix and struggle to get herself out of it, only to fall into an even worse situation immediately. And on that level, this sequel film delivers in spades. The situation Tanya gets into this time is the most over-the-top this series has ever gotten, and the climax is glorious. I was way more satisfied by this film than I thought I would be.
At the same time, I'm not really sure how many tricks Saga of Tanya the Evil actually has up its sleeve in the long term. Although the film ramps up the scale of the action, it essentially retreads the same themes as the final episodes of the TV series, even featuring an antagonist who's essentially a reskin of the TV series' villain. As if to drive the parallel home even further, this character is literally the daughter of the original antagonist. Tanya's actions have drawn her into a cycle of hatred and revenge, but it's already starting to feel as if the series is beating us over the head with that point.
For the moment at least, The Saga of Tanya the Evil film is a worthy addition to the franchise. The action animation is a significant improvement over the TV series, and some of the set pieces are truly breathtaking. There are cuts where almost every part of the frame bursts with movement and explosions, which reminds me how rare it is to see scenes of war in anime where it genuinely feels as if every soldier in the background is an active participant. The sound design is also a significant improvement; at some points, it feels as if bullets are flying all around you.
Perhaps more importantly, the new girl feels more like a threat to Tanya's existence than any previous obstacle this series has presented. It initially felt like some weird in-joke when her name was revealed to be Mary Sue, the term used by fanfiction writers to refer to poorly-written female characters who benefit disproportionately from narrative convenience. (Yes, this term exists in Japan too.) After watching the film, however, it kind of makes sense why this name was chosen, because it quickly becomes clear that only a Mary Sue could possibly stand toe-to-toe with Tanya the Evil. After Being X grants Mary Sue some plot armor (literally), it becomes truly uncertain who will win the fight.
The clash between Mary Sue and Tanya the Evil is also interesting because I wasn't actually sure who I was supposed to cheer for. Over the course of the film, Mary Sue becomes increasingly hate-ridden and deranged, to the extent that she becomes incapable of making rational decisions. When she confronts Tanya, her expression contorts in a grotesque, almost inhuman way. And yet it is her fury that feels more “human” than Tanya's cold and calculated murders. Mary Sue's humanity turned her into a monster, so no matter who won the conflict, there could be no true victory for anyone. Nobody seems to be more aware of this than Tanya. She's annoyed at Mary Sue for bringing emotions into war, but there's a sense of bitter irony to her way of thinking. War is driven by emotions; if anything, Tanya is the odd one out.
The setting of the conflict reinforces that idea as well. This time, fantasy Germany is at war with fantasy Russia, which results in a conflict set in cold wastelands where bodies pile on top of each other. And yet even though their technology is inferior compared to the enemy, the soldiers continue to advance, undeterred by the death around them. There is nothing “logical” about their willingness to die for an ideology. Tanya didn't need to curse the “wretched Commies” for the historical parallels to be obvious. (She does anyway, and for some reason she's the only person in the film to refer to the federation as “Commies.”)
However, I'm still not sure where the series is going with all of this. Although no anime continuation has been announced yet, the film gives the impression that the scope of the conflict will expand further. It's hard to see anything in the series' future besides more war and misanthropy, and it's honestly a little depressing that there are no truly sympathetic characters in this story. Even the “ordinary” soldiers who work under Tanya are complicit in bombing cities and harming civilians. They get some comedic scenes in this film, but nothing that really humanizes them.
In conclusion, Saga of Tanya the Evil is a good film that expands on what made the TV series so entertaining and compelling, but it leaves me with mixed feelings about the series overall. If you were on the fence about this story, then this film will probably not change your mind. In fact, the tightrope it continues to walk by maintaining its shaky status quo may frustrate you. But as a pure military action film, I'll admit that I enjoyed this a lot.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Expands on all the most entertaining aspects of the TV series, improved sound design and action animation
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