Sunday, May 28, 2017

Saga of Tanya the Evil


Tanya follows the wartime exploits of a nine-year-old military savant, rising through the ranks of a German-analogue Imperial army. Using her knowledge of our world history (Tanya is a salaryman, reincarnated as a girl in this alternate reality by a "god" when (s)he questioned this "Being X"'s divinity), our anti-heroine maneuvers her way to the rank of Major, commanding her own elite battalion of combat mages (yeah…).

But for all its window-dressing of trench warfare, there's little actual engagement with the grim reality of war. Tanya's sociopathy is a central part of her character, but it's rarely given a real-world display. She and her mages sit literally above the regular infantry, invulnerable to regular arms and detached from much of the day-to-day hardship. It could be a side-effect of the 12-episode run time, but there's very little down-time in which to show off just how detached Tanya is from the average soldier.

Her entire battalion, in fact, quickly adopts her gung-ho attitude and they offer slim opportunities to highlight how "evil" Tanya supposedly is. Second Lieutenant Serebryakov has a sunny, positive disposition that remains unchanged by Tanya's brutal training regime and psychopathic dedication to the extermination of her enemies. If there was ever the intent to make a point about how war changes people, the opportunity appears to have sailed past the writers, unnoticed. And her battalion makes it through every fight largely unscathed, when the occasional sudden fatality could drive a wedge between the indifferent commander and her troops.

Another recurring theme is Tanya's atheism - in the face of an entity which has proven itself to be omnipotent - versus her magic's reliance on prayer to a higher power. There's potential here for deeper character work, but it's never delivered. Every few episodes it comes up, in many cases unremarked upon, but is quickly forgotten until the next reminder.

Which is all a bit disappointing - Tanya is a great character. Self-reliant, unnaturally clever and utterly devious, with the dangerous addition of a short temper and unreasonably high standards. Her quick-wittedness is a hindrance as much as it's a benefit - her need to demonstrate her high intellect to a superior officer leads directly to her appointment at the head of a front-line battalion, in direct opposition to her goal of remaining as far from the war as possible. She's a lethal fighter and superior tactician, with a confidence bordering on recklessness in battle.

If it wasn't for the dub, I doubt I'd have finished this show. I've always found it easier to watch a show without also having to read it, so the various shortcomings of a given series are less of a hurdle in English. It's a solid if largely by-the-numbers effort, as is the series as a whole, but Monica Rial's performance as the eponymous lead is about as fun as an alternate-reality First World War could ever reasonably expect.

It's just such a shame the rest of the show never really does her justice.

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