[Review] Saga of Tanya the Evil – episode 1

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”.

A European map with fictional flags and names in a fictional alphabet, overlaid with images of fire and of soldiers fighting. Subtitle: "Its vast military and industrial power made it virtually synonymous with victory."

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?

Close-up of blonde, green-eyed Tanya speaking in front of a cloudy sky. On screen: "Imperial Army 205th Assault Mage Company Platoon 3 Commander Second Lieutenant Tanya Degurechaff", in English at the top of the screen and Japanese at the bottom. Subtitle: "Enemies sighted on the ground, two o'clock."

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?

Tanya in front of a cloudy sky with her eyes closed and a resigned expression. Subtitle: "But I guess losing new troops already would hurt my promotion chances."

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.

A group of a soldiers, including Tanya and her subordinates, face her superior officer giving them orders in a dark room.

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.

A low angle shot looking up at Viktoriya as she zips her bulky winter coat up over a white shirt and military badge.

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).

Close-up of Tanya looking into the distance. Subtitle: "Like a fairy of the battlefield."

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.

Tanya gathers her power in a ball of light, her eyes changed from their usual green to yellow. Subtitle: "Oh, Lord... Save our Fatherland from these faithless invaders."

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.

Read the ANN Preview Guide review.

 

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  • Shi

    Well, the plot shall develop itself with time, but that’s for me as a viewer to decide, because at least I CAN do it without feeling grossed out on the first episode.
    Thanks for your work, Amelia!

  • GreyLurker

    From what I understand, Tanya dosen’t simply look like a child, she is actually 10 years old. It’s one of the reasons her subordinates have such a problem obeying her.

  • Belaam

    I wasn’t completely sold on her “evilness”.

    She warns enemy troops to surrender and in most modern militaries, disobeying a direct order from a commanding officer on the battlefield is pretty much going to get you arrested, dishonorable discharge, and either imprisonment or execution with no benefits to next of kin. In many historic militaries, it will get you executed on the spot.

    But definitely agree that we need more backstory. It’s rare to see Germany portrayed as the poor, innocent targets, under assault by an alliance of warmongers, so I suspect that there is a lot more going on. The mere fact that they’re using child soldiers isn’t a good sign.

    But in my usual, “Watch the first episode of everything, then trim down” this definitely warrants a second episode.

    • DronesGoodMeBad

      Seems to me that ‘Being X’ is the evil one. Creating a whole world, presumably, just to convince one atheist of it’s existence. Insecure or perhaps boredom is leading this entity to strong arm faith. An interesting take on the role of God being more direct action and bestowing exclusive favor. Maybe ‘Being X’ talks to everyone before they die, which our salaryman just happen to be reincarnated as the embodiment of a miracle. An asian man is put into a body of Aryan looking girl and is given a godlike status. Each time Tanya was given a chance believe in god, he declined, resulting in ‘Being X’ delivering more miracles or divine gifts.

      Prior to WW1, Germany was said to be paranoid of being surrounded by foreign powers that did not mean them well. If you look at a map, you may find that they were not paranoid; they WERE surrounded. By powers that looked at germany as a new and growing threat (The German Empire was founded on January 18, 1871). The bad press that germany got for things such as the rape of Belgium was a new phenomenon as news could reach the world stage. Their military doctrine wasn’t any more harsh than their enemies and they were just as strict to their own citizens for crimes than foreigners.

      BUUUTTT…. sending a doom army through Belgium -to capture France -before Russia was prepared to help; was not only terrifying to anyone who took notice, but looked awfully evil. According to rumors, occupying germans would rape babies and eat human flesh. To the dismay of many French soldiers, Most Germans spoke perfect french; a sign that German culture valued or envied the french. the opposing forces actually had a lot in common.

      Tanya isn’t really a child soldier… in the classic sense. Tanya has god powers and unmatched intellect. In a meritocracy, dominated by magic, even a 9 year old girl can rise to the top. It’s actually interesting that with mages in the army, the normal humans still use science based weapons to kill each other.

  • Timothy Li

    I agree on the voice acting part. Aoi Yuuki tends to put out stronger performances

    • WayWardNerd

      Seriously? Her kiddy voice is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

  • Snap Wilson

    Would be curious to read a follow-up on this, given that we have some clue into Tanya’s origins now.

    My only quibble is this:

    “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”

    Oh, but we know what country “the Empire” is an analogue for, and really, the iconography couldn’t be more poorly timed. Granted, this is a stand-in for WW1 and not WW2, so we’re talking about The Kaiser, not The Fuhrer, but nevertheless, the iron crosses and jackboots are on full display and the effect is uncomfortable given recent events. The show has steered away from any political ideology and has yet to provide a reason behind the conflict. The countries are simply fighting because they are, apparently. But I imagine Tanya showing up as the avatar for a number of unsavory characters. Just remember: she’s cowardly, self-serving and evil (it’s right there in the title.)