Neomo reminds us that a loli anti-hero pushing an imperialist cause can entertain the heck out of us.
There are some characters that come along that, no matter what kind of evil they get up to, you can’t help but cheer them on, because secretly, you want them to succeed, and your fondness of this ‘evil’ person totally outweighs any ‘good’ and ‘righteous’ characters in the show. Well in this year’s Winter season, Saga of Tanya The Evil, made by newbie studio NUT, gave us that, in the form of Tanya Degurechaff.
Now this show turned out to be an anomaly. At first glance (reading the brief synopsis pre-season and watching the PVs), Saga of Tanya The Evil looked like it was going to be a pile of crap. The premise sounded too ridiculous: a Japanese salaryman who lives for work, has no care for the rest of humanity, and is an atheist to boot, gets murdered by a recently-fired employee. Just as he is about to die, a malevolent force stops him, questions his lack of faith, and offers him a second chance at life. Fearing death, the man accepts, and is reincarnated (memories mostly intact) as a girl into a world that is very similar to 20th-century Europe in the heat of a world war, where magic exists and fuses with existing technology to be used as a weapon. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of military-based shows with silly premises, but this seriously was up there. Which was, I guess, the reason why I got so curious about it. I suppose I wanted to see how bad it could possibly get. Oh, how wrong I was. Any logic took a backstep, as we weren’t really introduced to the salaryman (except in a prologue flashback scene); the focus is solely on Tanya, and her mission to prove this malevolent force (whom she refers to as Being X) that there is no such thing as a God. Degurechaff is not portrayed as a ‘beacon of hope’ hero, nor is she portrayed as a villain; instead she fits firmly into the ‘anti-hero/anti-villain’ role that only a handful of shows have managed to nail perfectly.
Adapted from the light novel of the same name, Saga of Tanya The Evil shows us the point-of-view of Central Powers invading this continent that greatly resembles Europe. This Empire that Tanya is born and raised in bears great similarities to both the German and the Austro-Hungarian Empires of the First World War. Using her unique mage powers as a flying scout, she embraces the Empire’s ideals and helps expand their territory, expelling any “non-believers” who have formed democracies, kingdoms and republics in neighbouring countries. It’s clear to see that this story promotes imperialism and nationalism; I chose to put my own political views aside whilst watching this, and still enjoyed it immensely. We don’t see that much of the opposing forces, and only the world how the Empire sees it; not as a world full of cretins that need to be exterminated, but as a world that can be a much better place with the Empire in charge. Of course, this is the excuse that many imperialist/nationalist movements use to justify their causes…from Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan right up to the First Order in Star Wars. But you know something, that didn’t bother me in the slightest.
This would be the part where I say that this is up there with nearly every anime with a military theme that echoes the views of a firmly right-wing Japan; from moe girls in tanks in Girls Und Panzer, to the JSDF fighting magical creatures in GATE. As for Tanya, well she doesn’t really have any grand plans to be the great military leader in this show; in fact, all she wants is a cushy job that has her set for life, with no cares in the world. It’s just that, having been born a mage and using her past memories as a horrible and merciless boss, she manages to climb up the ladder in a very short time, becoming a captain and leading a ruthless mage squadron in her teenage years.
But we see that, even with the mud she enjoys slinging at them, Tanya cares a lot about the men in her squad, and wants them to succeed after the war is won. Her second-in-command/confidant/admirer Viktoriya Ivanovna Serebryakov is someone that appears as the secondary main character in the show, and is someone we grow to cheer on alongside Tanya. Having known Viktoriya from her time on the front, she finds someone she can confide in…sort of (of course the inhabitants of this world have no idea of Tanya’s former life as a salaryman, or what Being X is), and immediately decides to promote her to Second Lieutenant despite having only just completed officer training. Viktoriya adores the Empire that welcomed her with open arms as a refugee of a neighbouring country’s revolution (that looks not dissimilar to the Russian Revolution of 1917) and raised her, and is fiercely loyal to Tanya, happy and willing to be by her side as administrative assistant and second-in-command no matter what she finds herself in. One small sideshow in Saga of Tanya The Evil is the banter the two of them have as the squad push through territories the Empire expand to. Tanya puts up with Viktoriya’s constant praising, and sometimes revels in it, however in time, she grows to accept Viktoriya as more than just another one of her grunts. Wielding great magical power and great influence in the senior ranks of the Empire leaves Tanya as someone who is rather lonely, and knowing that someone like Viktoriya is there to listen becomes a great comfort for her…although she’d never ever admit it.
Now there is something I will confess that is semi-related; watching Saga of Tanya The Evil got me into buying the game Battlefield 1. I was never one for the Battlefield franchise, but there was something about it that drew me to it (unlike the generic shooter games featuring US elite marines wiping out anything that isn’t capitalist). Even with the events and places in the show being fictitious (albeit loosely based on real countries, places and battles both before, during and after the First World War), I grew to get interested in what really happened 100 years ago, and I will say that Battlefield 1 has done a pretty okay job at that. Even though it is not new to end up being on the side of the antagonists in multiplayer shooter games, it actually gave me a refreshing look at all sides, from the British Empire to the Bolshevik army of the Russian Revolution.
Saga of Tanya The Evil was a show that surprised me so much, however the Winter 2017 season gave us another surprise in the form of Kemono Friends, which I also recommend wholeheartedly. While Tanya gave us a truly absurd plot yet at the same time providing us with a main protagonist and story we could warm to, Kemono Friends delivered on all fronts (characters, story, lore to keep us going beyond the show); nobody seemed to care that the animation itself was below par. The same principle applies here: the pro-imperial themes raised and the ridiculous premise of the teenage girl becoming a high-ranking military leader wielding magic are put at the back seat…our journey is with Tanya and her mission to destroy Being X. Her actions in helping the Empire become the most powerful nation in the world are seen as an entertaining side-show, as is her tsundere relationship with Viktoriya and her squad.
If you put logic and your own politics aside, Saga of Tanya The Evil becomes a highly entertaining watch. And if this slice-of-life watching fan raised on magical girl and high fantasy shows got hooked from the first episodes, then so can anyone. I would love to see a home video release for this, although to be honest, given the pro-imperial themes in the show, I would be surprised if it did. Although, with the release of the light novels and manga, who knows…
Saga of Tanya The Evil is available on Crunchyroll. Volume 1 of the light novel has been translated into English by Yen Press, and will be released on December. 19, with volume 2 scheduled for March. The manga adaptation is due for release in January.
12 Days of Anime is a series of posts from bloggers regarding the best, worst, or in between anime moments of 2017. Here’s the initial article from Appropriant inviting bloggers to take part.