The English name might be a bit odd, but the Japanese title, “Yōjo Senki,” literally translates as “The Military Chronicles of a Little Girl,” or even more literally as “Little-Girl War-Record.” Even if you played with that to say, “The Little Girl’s War Chronicles,” it’s still a mouthful and still very odd.
So, Saga of Tanya the Evil it is.
The story begins with the titular Tanya von Degurechaff (I have no idea how to pronounce that), a girl who is only nine or ten years old yet already enlisted and leading a small military unit, in settings that clearly draw on World War I for inspiration, with an additional mixture of magic and technology thrown in.
In this alternate world, which has paper-thin references for which fictitious countries represent which real-world countries, we have the Empire, obviously the equivalent of Germany, currently threatened by nations on all sides, but possessing several advantages which combine to create a superior prowess in warfare. Not the least of these advantages is Tanya herself, a prodigy of destructive power and military expertise, absolutely ruthless, calculating, even unfeeling, terrifying to friend and foe alike. Well does she earn her title, “The Devil of the Rhine,” named so for the terror she unleashes on the front lines in that region.
Needless to say, Tanya is not your typical little girl. Indeed, she possesses insight which far exceeds that of most adults… as well she should, considering this is not her first life.
It turns out, quite early in the series, that Tanya is the reincarnation of a 21st century Japanese salaryman from our world. She remembers her previous life, every cutthroat action she took in the name of logic and reason and putting herself in a position above the inferior people all around her. She remembers all of it, right up to when a man, enraged at how apathetically his employment was terminated, pushed her previous incarnation in front of a train.
And then an entity calling itself God spoke to her.
She refers to it as Being X, and refuses to acknowledge it. Angry, spiteful, and perhaps possessing a sadistic sense of humor, Being X takes an unusual interest in this soul, setting the terms of challenge which Tanya is powerless to refuse. Now reincarnated in the middle of a most violent and dangerous time and place, if Tanya wishes to continue existing after she dies again, instead of being sent to Hell or simply winking out of existence or whatever, then she has to die not of violence, but of natural causes, preferably old age. Oh, and Being X is absolutely influencing the situation to mount the odds ever more against her.
In this extreme situation she finds herself in, Tanya quickly resorts to joining the military, her overall plan being to use the military to protect herself, while she sits in a safe rear-echelon position.
All of this is revealed within two episodes, so I’m not spoiling much. 😉
Let’s just say, things do not go according to plan!
On the one hand, Tanya is absolutely fighting an uphill battle against a supreme being of some sort. On the other hand, her amoral attitude makes it pretty hilarious, in a way, as her plans consistently backfire on her. Every single time she thinks she’s won, that she’s about to achieve her coveted rear-echelon safety, it turns around on her and she’s thrown into even greater danger than she was before. Her every victory turns against her, her very strength and power itself becoming an instrument of her undoing. It’s a lesson she is slow to learn.
Now, if that were all there was to this anime, it could get pretty stale after awhile. However, this is rectified with the introduction of a battalion under her command. Without noticing or realizing, Tanya’s position as their leader begins to change her, just a little. At the start, she simply does not care about other people, only puts up a facade of such when it’s useful. In time, however, she begins to behave differently towards her comrades, and even begins to see her foes in different light.
The story turned out to be surprisingly complex and realistic, and I felt invested in people on both sides of the war. It became a discussion of human nature, and how humans will undoubtedly react. Logic and reason are powerful forces when properly applied, and this gives Tanya and the Empire their greatest victories. However, they forget that humans are also creatures of passion, of illogical emotion, and this is their great weakness, one which invites their absolute destruction.
I really enjoyed this anime, much more than I thought I would. It was gripping and tense, occasionally tragically hilarious, the characters are great, the story is intricate, the themes are powerful, the animation is stellar and amazing, the world-building is interesting and relevant… really, Saga of Tanya the Evil is just very well done, and very unique.
Of course, with the note they leave off on, I am really wanting there to be a second season, to finish the story and show us who wins in the contest between Tanya and Being X.
Rating: 9 stars out of 10.
Grade: Solid A.