Friday, November 8, 2019

Green Phoenix - The Saga of Tanya the Evil Review

Image result for saga of tanya the evilAs many of you might be aware, I am a man of many varied passions. I tremendously enjoy alternate history and the exploration and analysis of history in general. I also am a fan of, if a little picky about, anime and the fantasy and science fiction genres.

So imagine my surprise when I am introduced to a series like Youjo Senkai, more commonly known by its English title The Saga of Tanya the Evil. A series based on the light novels by Carlo Zen and adapted by some former Madhouse animators, directors, and producers, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is available for viewing on Crunchyroll.

While I have watched and do enjoy the English sub, I will using the English dub for the review of the series (as I feel it is of comparable quality). I will also be taking a look at the recently released film in my analysis of the series, as it effectively plays the role of the second season.

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  • Directed by Yutaka Uemura
  • Produced by NUT
  • Based on the novels by Carlo Zen.
  • 12 Episodes + 1 film

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SUMMARY

In the early 1900s in an alternate Europe where magic exists, the Empire (alternate Germany) is struggling to survive against all of its neighbors and a war that seems to be growing in scale with every passing day. In the middle of this war, a young girl named Tanya Degurechaff is developing a reputation and legend on the front lines as a brilliant and dedicated, if cold and calculating, officer and battle mage.

In secret, however, Tanya is actually a reincarnation of a sociopathic atheist Japanese businessman who got into a feud with a being calling itself God (whom Tanya called Being X). Being X states that he will attempt to convert Tanya through a trial by fire. Tanya, who refuses to submit to Being X at all, must survive a growing world war as she desperately uses her intellect, magic, stubborn will, and tactical skill to survive and spite Being X's assault.

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REVIEW

Looking at several peoples impressions and "reviews" of The Saga of Tanya the Evil online, I feel like so many of them have a misunderstanding of the series and its objectives. I feel that The Saga of Tanya the Evil is an incredible exploration of the philosophical notion of the banality of evil and is fundamentally anti-war by exploring the horrors and stupidity of war through the perspective of an individual with difficulties feeling empathy and struggling in a war with an uncaring god, whilst at the same time providing a fascinatingly realistic approach to military stratagem and battlefield tactics.

I highly recommend this series to those with an interest in military history and strategy, as well as those who enjoy philosophical explorations into difficult periods in history and the dark aspect of humanity during war.

VISUALS - 9/10

The production company behind The Saga of Tanya the Evil, NUT, is a relatively new one compared to many of its contemporaries with, as of writing this article, three anime and a single anime movie under its belt. While relatively new, a little research showed that NUT is actually comprised of directors, writers, adn animators from among the greatest production companies in the world, granting The Saga of Tanya the Evil a powerful pedigree from a production standpoint.

And it really shows.

From a technical standpoint, this show is incredible to watch. While the animation is incredibly clean and smooth, which we should come to expect from computerized coloring and the like, it really is the nearly seamless combination of CG and hand drawn elements that particularly caught my attention. In that the CG elements were so cleanly added that I had to be reminded that their were CG elements in the first place.

In a lot of anime, the CG usually ends up looking incredibly out of place or ugly compared to the hand-drawn elements, but in The Saga of Tanya the Evil the few elements of CG are used for minor parts or used low-key enough that they can handle their moments much more seamlessly and are less likely to distract from the overall product.

Image result for battle scene tanya
The magical effects are a sight to behold.
Beyond the sheer technical wizardry at play, the visuals are absolutely incredible in terms of visual storytelling and world-building. The animators and writers clearly did a ton of research into the military weaponry and cultural aspects of each world when crafting an alternate WW1 world, with magic. Everything feels grounded and lived in, which the best fantasy stories ought to do.

It really helps to make the world of The Saga of Tanya the Evil feel alive, which ultimately helps motivate us to care for all of the characters as they live through and suffer through the horrors of war alongside us.

SOUNDTRACK - 9/10

The musical pieces which pervade The Saga of Tanya the Evil reveal the intense emotional complexity and philosophical debates which dominate the character's struggles. The OP "Jingo Jungle" counterparts both paranoia, terror, and frustration in a conflict with patriotic fervor and a desire to destroy ones enemy. It perfectly captures the conflict within a soldier forced into war with a desire to both be a good and loyal soldier and safe.

This terror and thirst for destruction is perfectly paired with both of the ending pieces that The Saga of Tanya the Evil, the manic sounding "Los! Los! Los!", which ends every episode except for one, and "Sensen no Realism", a sombre reflection of the horrors of war both internal and external which concludes the Arene storyline.

On the whole, the soundtrack, which wonderfully balances the manic horrors of war with electronic music with the grand emotion of classical and operatic pieces, matches the scale and tone of The Saga of Tanya the Evil which brings the audience into the world and be consumed in the struggle of the same.

CHARACTERS - 8/10

I feel like it is the characters at the heart of The Saga of Tanya the Evil that create the greatest issue, conflict, and misunderstanding for those who watch the series; especially when coupled with the general audiences usual lack of knowledge regarding the First World War.

Well...that and the English name of the series.

You see The Saga of Tanya the Evil is actually not an entirely accurate translation of the Japanese title and, I believe, gives a wrong impression of Tanya Degurechaff as a villainous character. The original title more accurately translate to "The Military Chronicles of a Young Girl", which is far more accurate to the tone of the series overall.

Image result for tanya degurechaff
Tanya Degurechaff: The Ultimate Reluctant Soldier
Tanya Degurechaff is certainly a sociopathic and generally unsympathetic individual in isolation, but the accusation of her being an evil character I think misses the underlying theme of the story and the minutia of the series. In a war like WW1, the villainous actions that Tanya performs are no more evil than anything done by her allies and enemies. In fact, it is sort of the point that in such a war, evil is expectant and necessary for survival. Tanya's brilliance doesn't take away from the horrors but it shows how easy and necessary that villany is to perform in war.

Even Anton and Mary Sue, Tanya's primary human rivals, engage in behaviors and actions which ultimately lead to harm and danger for those around them, arguably even more than Tanya. As much as Tanya gives the appearance of the perfect soldier, at the heart of her character is a desperate survivor. Her enemies and allies think of her as a bloodthirsty monster that seeks death, when she is simply single-minded on survival.

But the character who helps bring the greatest focus on the characters comes from Being X. For an individual who claims to be the in-universe God, Being X engages in actions which harm his devout followers and arguably adds even more evil into the world than Tanya does. In fact, I even believe the English title The Saga of Tanya the Evil is the way it is because it is Being X effectively telling the story.

Beyond the main characters, the side cast is extraordinary. In a lot of isekai anime (which this definitely qualifies as), the protagonist is super-powered and treated like an unparalleled savior. And while Tanya is certainly a gifted and talented strategist and mage, most of that power and skill is earned through hard work and luck, and she is constantly surrounded by individuals with strong personalities and competency that almost parallels or surpasses Tanya's, a rare treat in many isekai.

Everyone, from Tanya's mage battalion, to her kind-hearted assistant, to her superiors show tactical brilliance and narrative strength throughout the story, oftentimes being several moves ahead of Tanya, even when manipulated by Being X. I really feel that every character is a treat to watch and really helps you to empathize with their struggle and the will to survive and protect their home.

STORY - 8/10

Why is world history so difficult for people to understand? As much of a fan of alternate history as I am, it seems like my efforts to spread the alt-history bug is entirely dependent upon the general knowledge of the time period in question to the average viewer. And the average viewer (at least the average American) seems to have a relatively abysmal grasp of world history; at least when it comes to the First World War.

This is the only reason I can see for why so many American viewers of this anime were quick to label The Saga of Tanya the Evil as a show about little magic Nazi girl fighting in a war. As someone fascinated by history and with a deep love and understanding, Tanya's obsession with order, orders, and personal achievement are less fascist and more Prussian in their mindset, which was the dominant cultural attitude in the Imperial-era of Germany (which the Empire is nominally based on).
Image result for battle scene tanya
The Arene Massacre is a difficult episode to watch, for its historical similarities.
 The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a story about the nature of evil in the face of war. As such, we the audience are shown the "glories" and tragedies of war from the perspective of both those who commit them and those  who suffer under it. And a key element of the story relies on the audience being aware of the inherently anti-war nature of the entire piece. Tanya is routinely called bloodthirsty and a warmonger, whilst at the same time consistently assures the audience that she actually hates war.

The conflict and interest of the story lies in piecing together the nature of this dichotomy and apparent hypocrisy. The beauty of the story lies in the fact that, through Tanya, we are allowed to see a struggle play out which all of the characters are undergoing. From the lowliest soldier to the highest levels of the Empire's military command, and even to the volunteer American forces which feature in the movie's climax; The Saga of Tanya the Evil paints a picture of people bound by orders, duty, jingoism, vengeance, and desperation as all of them are unknowingly playing out a vast struggle against an uncaring deity. And through Tanya, we are witness to the one individual in the universe who can apparently stand and oppose that deity in its inherent cruelties.

All this makes The Saga of Tanya the Evil a fascinating watch and you will find yourself floored by the interplay between the characters and transfixed by the horrors of war in the face of desperation, duty, and survival.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As you can no doubt tell, I love The Saga of Tanya the Evil for its complex narrative and character interactions, its philosophical undertones regarding the nature of war and evil and their effects upon the people in the presence, and the deeply detailed world-building. I highly recommend everyone check out this series, with can be watched on Crunchyroll for both its movie and TV series.
VISUALS
  • 9/10
SOUNDTRACK
  • 9/10
CHARACTERS
  • 8/10
STORY
  • 8/10

 FINAL SCORE - 8.5/10

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