So Crunchyroll do movies now? That’s a nice surprise. The Saga of Tanya the Evil was one of my guilty pleasures of 2017. I didn’t expect I’d ever get a chance to watch the movie as although I kind of liked the TV series, I’m not about to stump up cold hard cash for a Blu-ray of the theatrical sequel. Crunchyroll’s unexpected release of the subtitled movie onto its premium service last week gave me the opportunity to catch up with my second-favourite murderloli.
DETAILED SPOILERS INEVITABLY FOLLOW
Unusually, there’s no sub-title other than “The Movie”, so that earns extra points from me for lack of pretension. Although to call this a movie may be somewhat disingenuous. Apart from some spectacular battle animation towards the end that would have incinerated a TV budget, this could easily have been split into several episodes of the TV series and we’d have been none the wiser.
Tanya - the Movie kicks off where we left at the end of the series, with pint-sized Major Tanya Degurechaff alongside her compatriots facing off against the enemies of the Germanic Empire in North Africa. Apart from a brief prologue set 40 years hence that outlines Tanya’s world’s alternate history in broad strokes, we’re given little context or information about the characters. Any potential viewers who have not seen the TV series - you won’t get any explanations here about who Tanya actually is nor why she keeps referring to something called “Mysterious Being X”. Unlike the series, Being X plays no direct role in the movie’s action.
Should you be insane enough to jump in without watching the series first, I’ll provide the context here. Tanya appears to be a 12-year-old little blonde girl with a lisp, but in reality she has the mind of an unnamed atheist middle-aged Japanese middle-management salary-man who died and was forcibly reincarnated (by a god-like figure whose power and existence “Tanya” refused to acknowledge) into an orphaned female child in an alternate history Europe. World War 1 continues to rage well into 1926 in this timeline and each side employs mages with the power of flight and projectile magic. Tanya is granted phenomenal magical destructive power by this apparent god, who makes Tanya a bet that she will eventually bend the knee in worship (or suffer eternal damnation). Yes, it’s yet another Light Novel Isekai adaptation.
Tanya has a brilliant, analytical, logical but cold mind. She is motivated only by the thought of her own personal safety and everything she does is calculated to keep her away from the front lines of the war. Unfortunately she is too competent and her seniors in the Germanic Empire’s army keep promoting her to positions that put her directly in harm’s way. In order to save herself, she then distinguishes herself further in battle and is rewarded with yet more risky assignments... Part of the fun of the series is the feeling of schadenfreude evoked when Tanya’s brilliant plans are executed perfectly but with the opposite of the desired effect upon her situation.
I have conflicted thoughts about Tanya as a protagonist and I’m unsure what the original author’s intentions are regarding her. She is an amoral antihero, a heartless killer who uses people, political institutions and the army hierarchy itself as pawns. She states in this film that she hates war, and that the period she lives through is the worst in the history of mankind... but her actions do nothing but cause suffering and misery to thousands, if not millions.
The prologue claims that the Germanic Empire will meet a future reckoning when a coalition of disparate countries across the globe unite to beat their common antagonist. It seems likely that the responsibility for triggering these events will lie with Tanya herself - because of her imaginative and brutal strategies, plus the way she implements them with seeming gusto - her military acumen strikes terror into her enemies and allies alike. To provoke such fear in one’s enemies invites desperate retaliation, and despite Tanya’s desire for a quiet life, it seems certain that the people she has sacrificed to achieve her goal will have their revenge. What we are watching is the story of an unwitting military dictator who hammers each nail into her own coffin, one by one. It is hard not to have a little sympathy with Tanya’s desires - after all, who doesn’t want a life free of danger? But cheering her on makes one complicit in the horrors she perpetrates. I have to ask myself - do I enjoy watching this? And why?
Tanya’s poorest decision in the film involves her conduct during her attack on Moscow. She proposes, then spearheads this operation literally moments after the Russian Federation enters the war with their invasion of the Empire’s Eastern Border. She uses her mage company’s advantage in speed and maneuverability to stage a surprise aerial assault. Not only does she destroy every major ideological landmark - including a massive bronze statue of Lenin - but she plants Germanic Empire flags all over the city, encourages her company to sing their national anthem - loudly - and films the whole lot herself.
Not only does she embarrass her country’s newest - and most powerful enemy - she utterly humiliates them. The world will have taken notice. Her colleague at Strategic Headquarters - Peter Chung-esque hair-styled Lieutenant Colonel Erich von Rerugen - clutches his stomach multiple times during the film, usually in response to whatever new insanity Tanya has inflicted upon the world. He recognises Tanya for what she is - a monster - so has the power to stop her, but doesn’t. It seems like the army has become so reliant on her expertise that they cannot reel her in. His stomach ulcer will probably burst before he does the right thing.
People die horribly in this movie. War is shown to be brutal, bloody and exhausting. Some scenes in the trenches where soldiers are stabbed and shot from above seem to be censored on this streaming version, with standard black censor fog blocking out anything too explicit. I’m unsure if this existed in the theatrical version. There’s no censorship during the prolonged, kinetic and spite-filled battle between Tanya and her new nemesis the (surely deliberately-named) American volunteer Mary Sioux (Mary Sue in this overly literal translation). During the series, Tanya killed American mage Lieutenant Colonel Anson Sioux and took his rifle - which she still uses. Mary is his daughter and when she discovers Tanya is her father’s killer, this seemingly normal girl flips her lid and comes after Tanya spewing enough magical energy to rout a city. It’s not made clear in the movie that Mary was granted extra magical power by Mysterious Being X (like Tanya was, making her a deliberately manufactured mirror of our protagonist) - this happened in the final episode of the series.
Tanya and Mary’s clash forms the centrepiece of the movie’s intense main battle scene, the siege of Tiegenhoff. A conflict waged on several fronts, Tanya’s company struggles to hold the strategically important city from multiple infantry battalions, tanks, aeroplanes and enemy mages. The cause of the battle is not that the Russians have deduced the strategic importance of this particular base - no - it’s that one of the Communist Russian generals is a stereotypical drooling lip-smacking anime paedophile who desires Tanya. In one early scene, after remarking that a slightly older teenage girl was unsuitable for him, he states he prefers those younger girls whom he can “pluck” before they mature, or some other cliched anime bullshit like that. When he sees Tanya aloft in the skies above Moscow, singing out her heart in victory, he practically orgasms with perverse desire. The presence and actions of this character really detract from the otherwise fairly serious military strategy employed by both sides.
In many ways, Tanya - the Movie is an exercise in calculated tonal dissonance. We witness the deployment of superbly detailed military technology like railway cannons, howitzers, aircraft, tanks etcetera, plus we are shown aerial battle maps that communicate strategy with moving fronts and mobile units. In other scenes this is counterpointed by the sheer cartoony nonsense of Tanya’s girlish appearance, her exaggerated facial expressions and her adjutant Second Lieutenant Viktoriya Ivanovna Serebryakov’s disturbingly huge moe eyes. At times this seems to be a serious war film fronted by a psychotic toddler and her starey-eyed pal. None of the other soldiers are as oddly caricatured, except for the aforementioned Commie Paedo Dude. This leads me to my main issue with Tanya - what is it trying to be? Realistic alternate history war story? Bonkers anime-tropey Isekai? Loli-bait for dribbling paedophiles? Or all three? What is it trying to say? War is bad, mmmkay? And the people who wage it are insane? Many other films have explored these concepts without the use of incongruent lolis.
I’m also unsure if the use of religious concepts has any deeper meaning other than the superficial idea of “wouldn’t it be funny if an atheist douchebag was turned into a girl and made to pray to a god he denies to wield the power he needs to survive?” Yeah, that’s a fairly intriguing concept, but it would be nice if it were explored further. Tanya expresses no deep existential crisis about the existence of this god, other than treating it as an inconvenience to her plans for a quiet life. I do like that in order for Tanya to use her powers at full blast, she must invoke them using a prayer of worship - through gritted teeth. That she has to be humiliated in such a way in order to achieve her desires is quite amusing to me, especially when it inevitably blows up in her face. Does the god of her world really not care about the violence and suffering she causes with her powers, or is it all a game to him?
Perhaps the existence of Mary-Sioux gives a clue to this - she seems deliberately calculated as a direct counterpoint to Tanya - and in this case she desires to serve her god, and joyfully prays to and praises him. She proves herself to be just as driven as Tanya, but her prime motivations are revenge, then justice, probably in that order. She throws herself into harm’s way to meet her objectives. Their final struggle is a prolonged, desperate orgy of bright pink magic lasers, exploding buildings, gunshot wounds, cathartic face-punching, backstabbing and awkwardly mashed together 3DCG cityscapes with 2D character animation.
Mary’s ultimate fate is unresolved, leaving her open for a return in future stories, despite the heavy injuries Tanya inflicts upon her in the final moments of their epic fight. I hope the author uses her to explore the ramifications of the story’s setting and theology, rather than making her a simple revenge-driven deuteragonist.
Tanya, of course, is left at the end as ever triumphant that her latest schemes have succeeded, only for Being X (indirectly) to get the last laugh in the essential mid-credits segment. I hope this isn’t the end of Tanya’s animated adventures. I hold out hope that eventually the author will have something worthwhile to say eventually, whether it is about the nature of selfishness, of war, or religion. This movie isn’t it, though. What it is is an enjoyable, exciting way to spend a couple of hours in a familiar (if deranged) setting, with characters that are engaging to watch, but I would never want to meet.
Heil Tanya! May your ambitions forever remain frustrated and may you eventually suffer the overwhelming retribution for your sins that you truly deserve.
The Saga of Tanya the Evil - the Movie
Crunchyroll Streaming release: September 12th 2019
Directed by: Yutaka Uemura (Studio NUT)
Written by: Kenta Ihara
Based on the Light Novels by: Carlo Zen
Duration: 115 minutes
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
Original Japanese Cinematic Release: February 8th, 2019