What it’s about: A sociopathic Japanese HR executive is murdered by one of the people he callously fired. He is reborn as a girl in an alternate version of 20th Century Europe in which magic is used in concert with machines to fight wars. Memories of her past life intact, she channels her innate aggressiveness into distinguishing herself as an effective commander on the field.
- This is one example of an anime series that somehow works despite its odd, extremely circuitous premise, which essentially is just exposition to give us the story hook – that of having the protagonist be a cute but evil girl that somehow commands a squad of airborne death angels. Japanese anime/manga has a tendency to force-fit the cute girl that subverts expectations trope into all its intellectual properties, and this is just another manifestation of that tendency.
- But putting aside all that, and the strange meta-plot involving Tanya’s face-off with Being X, the God that puts her in this predicament to begin with, Tanya is actually a very competently told story of an alternate World War I in which the Germanic Empire utilises superior military strategy and tactics to crush its neighbors and emerge victorious.
- The worldbuilding, while simple in its analogousness to the European theater in WWI, is deep and effective in setting the stage for a conflict between factions that have both the benefit of mechanisation on the ground and magic aerial support in the air. The series is the brainchild of someone who clearly is a military buff and knows their basic history, drawing on famous battles of the past to fashion scenarios and stratagems that have the air of verisimilitude to them.
- Anime theatrics and grandiloquence, while present, is kept to a tolerable level, and it is quite refreshing to see the series eschew the usual pandering audience exposition so endemic in anime, instead having their characters explain things to each other as if not actually trying to accommodate the attention spans of an invisible, layman audience. Tanya herself is a refreshing main character, ruthlessly practical to a fault and not at all constrained by the bounds of morality, an extremely lawful neutral-to-evil executor of the military will, but with a very human desire to just survive, and a competent commander to her men.
- The series balances on the fine line when it comes to the question of where its sympathies lie. Tanya fights for an Empire that is clearly a stand-in for the Germans in WWI, and the series portrays them as ravenous imperialists operating under an absolute monarchy. The characters never question the rightness of Imperial supremacy and don’t blink an eye at the horrors of mechanised, total warfare – yet the characters come to realise that the Empire has bitten off more than it can chew – it can conquer, but it has no resources or gumption to govern a populace seething in resentment.
- While I don’t think the series celebrates imperialism, it does put us in the odd headspace of rooting for those that serve the country at the whims of its political masters, who are imperialists through and through. But that’s just realistic of them to do so, given the social climate of the time, and really the only character who I feel deserves some moral reprobation of supporting imperialism (apart from the politicos themselves) is Tanya, whose memories of her past life give her a historical perspective and appreciation of the effects of imperialism that she nevertheless casts aside to serve.
- There are some who criticise this anime for being sympathetic to fascism and Nazism, just because it tells the story from the side of the Germans. I don’t think that’s at all true – this is a stand in for the Kaiser’s, not Hitler’s Germany, and people who think otherwise need a crash course in the difference between the two. In World War I, no one really had the moral high ground.
Verdict: A surprisingly effective alt-history of World War I that is not overly saddled by its borderline ridiculous premise.
I give this: 4 out of 5 Elinium Orbs