What’s it about? The Empire is a strong nation defending its borders from potential enemies. A force of military mages travels around, destroying invading forces from the surrounding countries. One such force is led by Second Lieutenant Tanya Degurechaff, a fierce leader who looks like a child but is known as “the Devil of the Rhine”.
There are typically three problems with military anime premiere episodes: too many politics, too many cast members and too much identifying personal information. Why gradually weave in background information when you could just dump a voiceover with montages and maps at the start? Why introduce character details organically when you could flash their name, rank and company on screen for two seconds before switching to another character requiring their own lengthy, complicated namecard?
Saga of Tanya the Evil is no different, frontloading a lump of information about a bunch of characters and countries you’ve never heard of before, expecting you to care. The most interesting story elements it does not explain at all. Why is The Empire really fighting with surrounding countries? What part does religion play in this world? Why is Tanya a child?
Some of the worldbuilding is effective, presenting an odd mix of magic, the military, religion and workplace culture without going into detail on any of them. It will be interesting to unravel these elements and figure out how Tanya fits in. Why they didn’t extend this same light touch to introducing the characters and the politics is a mystery.
This kind of clunky storytelling is a consistent problem with military anime though, so let’s look at the traps they avoid.
There’s no difference between male and female uniforms! This. is. HUGE. Look at Tanya’s subordinate, Corporal Viktoriya Serebryakov – she seems to have a fairly large chest, and her uniform somehow manages not to adhere to every curve of it! In fact, no attention is drawn to her chest at all! The one close-up we get is completely unsexualised as she zips up her bulky, gender neutral military uniform! See how you can’t even tell the size or shape of her breasts under her clothes? THAT IS THE WAY BREASTS IN CLOTHING WORK.
I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to see uniforms that actually look like uniforms even when on a female body. Neither Tanya nor Viktoriya’s hairstyles would work for actual soldiers, but at least neither of them has tied up their hair with colourful ribbons, as seen in other military anime (GATE, Schwarzes Marken, I’m looking at you).
It also looks as though the central relationship of the story will be between two women, and a commander and her subordinate at that. Viktoriya has the utmost respect for Tanya, but harbours serious misunderstandings about Tanya’s essential nature. Early on, she thinks of Tanya as “noble”, “like a fairy of the battlefield”. Over the course of the episode it becomes clear that nothing about Tanya is fairylike, other than that she can fly (as they all can, using magic-enhanced technology). A disillusionment story arc for Viktoriya could be engaging. She is sweet and well-intentioned but early enough in her career to be influenced by Tanya’s ruthlessness.
As for Tanya herself, she is evil in the sense that she seems to have no regard for human life and actively enjoys using her powers for destruction, but it’s a very professional and understated evil. Her motivations are murky, as is the source of her great magical abilities and combat skill, or the reason behind her religious incantations. It will be a stronger show if at least some of the series aims to go beyond Tanya’s “evil” to what humanity is – or was – beneath.
To challenge one criticism I have seen of Tanya , she looks like a child but is far from a lolita character. She’s not cute. She’s not sexualised. She wears the same clothes as the men around her. She’d probably rather slit her own throat before she’d use it to say “Oniichan.” She’s no more designed for lolicon purposes than Conan or Negima are for shotacon. I don’t particularly like the voice they’ve cast for her, but if that’s the worst thing I have to say about a little girl soldier character in anime, she’s doing fine. It takes a bit more than just existing to make a young girl into a lolita character.
War stories in general aren’t really to my taste, but I don’t have any feminist objections to this episode. No fanservice, plausible uniforms, no difference in the way female characters are spoken to or treated – it’s an anime which so far presents the radical notion that women are people. Murderous people or naive people, sure, but people all the same.