There are so many animes hyped by so many fans, that discernment can be a challenge. In actual fact, I likely have not actually “got to see this”, and should I forever pass on a given series, however resonating, pleasant, or uniquely stylish, will never learn that just that was what I had to watch, but didn’t. That our website has chosen to feature the 2019 Youjo Senki (Saga of Tanya the Evil) movie seems a compelling if local reason; I will review both the original 2017 series and the later movie, both based on a light novel. But truth be said, I do love seeing anime in theaters, so when I learned the movie was coming to big screens stateside, I watched all 12 episodes (plus one recap) in one day, then saw the sequel movie that night. Wow, good choice. I only lament I hadn’t the chance to write this review sooner, so to encourage readers to support a screening of the highly atypical film at their local ailing multiplex as well as growing Meganime.
Up until now, concerning economics, Spice and Wolf was the big anime, but following an action-packed flash-forward intro episode, Youjo Senki marks its grounds. A cerebral, bottom line-minded salaryman in management at a corporation fires an incompetent solely based on performance, no heed paid to home circumstances. While waiting for a train, the dismissed vengefully pushes him into the train‘s path. Looking back on it—yes—he coolly laments his murder as irrational behavior (“l guess the kind of person who gets laid off will prioritize an immediate, emotional impulse over reason”), and even mentions the Chicago School of economic thought. Then everything stops, and a supernatural being affirming itself as what humans call God, condemns him as one forgetting the Creator, and will give him one more chance: a reincarnation in a life of such adversity as to make him turn to God. The skeptical salaryman rejects this explanation, labelling the interlocutor Being X. This is reminiscent of an early stage of thought in Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, and intended or not launches an intense, intriguing struggle of man versus God.
Reborn as Tanya Degurechaff in the Empire, a country she recognizes as much like Germany before the first World War, she is quickly recognized for magical abilities which exist in this new world, but maintains her old rationalist bent. As war breaks out with the Republic (a dead ringer for France), the show‘s running gag begins: a principled individualist, Tanya has no use for vainglory, and hopes to use her abilities to land a sinecure in the bureaucracy, but as the high-flying, explosive battles intensify, the General Staff (themselves acting rationally) give her a larger and larger command tasked with more and more dangerous missions. What’s more, she can’t use the full extent of her abilities without prayer! Respected by many but personally cold, one of the few to grow closer to Tanya is her adjutant Viktoriya. By body type, Tanya is a loli and Viktoriya a ditsy moe girl, but they almost never act so to appeal to fetishism; Youjo Senki is all action and intrigue.
As Tanya’s leadership tells on the course of the war, she gathers a coterie of embittered enemies just like in her past life, among them an idealistic, God-fearing American girl named Mary Sue (or Sioux). Yes, I read the resemblance to the slang for a too-perfect female is intentional. Their rivalry becomes central in the movie, which features a campaign inspired by Operation Barbarossa in World War II, but reversed. In this case the Federation (Soviet Union) attacks the Empire (somewhat like historian Viktor Suvorov’s theory that the USSR was planning to invade Europe when surprised by Germany). The movie has a gripping military campaign, and some of the best camaraderie in the series as harsh mistress Tanya grows, perhaps genuinely now, a little closer to her troops. She even gets personally invested in this war, as a principled anti-Communist (in this, she embodies a certain type of classical liberal who ends up in the nationalist camp; for those from a certain part of the Internet certain offers for “free helicopter rides” will come to mind). As if a TV series filled with grandiose Imperial Germany-based imagery were not #AnimeRight fan-service enough, the movie is the most informed and honest appraisal of Soviet Communism I have ever seen in entertainment. Besides Tanya’s trash talk, the movie actually refers to the Federation’s internment camps (instead of old engineers and other professionals as in the USSR, the Federation sends mages to its gulags). The streets are gray, lifeless, and dreary. The oppressive atmosphere, as in the real-life era of purges, even reaches to the Politburo, where obvious knock-offs of not just Stalin, but his heinous, less-remembered goons like Beria, tensely discuss the war with the “Imperialists”, no bad news allowed, and guilt founded on suspicion can get you carried away on the spot. Tanya and her battalion utterly humiliate the Federation—you’ll just have to see. Meanwhile, Mary Sue/Sioux, part of an (also historically accurate) international volunteer force, allows the “Commies” (Tanya’s term) to use her to their own ends, just so long as she can have a shot at vengeance against the Empire.
Is Tanya really evil? Youjo Senki more literally means just, “The Military Chronicles of a Little Girl”. Ruthless, yes. Her use of international law is, let’s say, non-humanitarian. But ever the rational individual, I think her an adept at rationalizing her own motives, and think her but fooling herself when she judges her reincarnated life merely a foiled attempt at following the path of most safety and least resistance. But I will be very interested in hearing what others think when we get the anime streaming, right here.