Saga of Tanya the Evil Movie Review: A Villain Worth Cheering For
Who’s up for an alternate history / military-themed anime movie centering on a young girl leading a squadron of airborne mages into battle during the Great War? I know I am!
Crunchyroll and Fathom Events’ upcoming Crunchyroll Movie Night brings the U.S. theatrical premiere of Saga of Tanya the Evil – the Movie to viewers across the country. This 90-minute anime feature should be on your watchlist, especially if you’re a fan of the 12 episodes of the 2017 anime series or the light novel source material written by Carlo Zen and illustrated by Shinobu Shinotsuki. I’d highly recommend checking out the relatively short but action-packed 12 episodes of the anime, or at least take a look at my review here.
I absolutely loved the anime, so I was thrilled to get the chance to check out the movie before its U.S. theatrical debut this Thursday, May 16th. (Local showtimes will be at 7:30pm; buy tickets here!) However, fans who see the movie in theaters will get to see an exclusive interview with the film’s director, Yutaka Uemura, giving a behind-the-scenes look at the drama and inspiration for this brand new story arc. And I’m a little jealous that you’ll get to see it on the big screen because this all-out action anime delivers the goods when it comes to military strategy, increasingly impressive battles on the front lines, and a knock-down, drag-out final fight that’s a thrill to experience.
The epic film, which picks up after the events of the anime, follows the life of Tanya Degurechaff as she continues her misadventures, avoiding death and being sent to hell, while battling the forces of the Republic Army. If that sounds a little insane, it is! Tanya may have the appearance of a little girl, but she has the mind and memory (and presumably the soul) of a murdered, atheistic Japanese salaryman from another world. This bizarro entry point into the series explains why young Tanya has such an in-depth knowledge of world military history and appears to be almost prophetic when it comes to strategy and tactics. Her new magical abilities, which are rather common in the alternate world she’s reincarnated into, were a gift/curse from an all-powerful “Being X” who set the whole thing in motion, as you do.
But all of that is just backstory, not the reason why Saga of Tanya the Evil is such a joy to watch. It’s exceedingly rare that we get to follow a villain as a protagonist, but that’s exactly what we’ve got here. Tanya fights for the Imperial Army, akin to our World War I-era Imperial Germany. Having defeated the Republic, the Great War now pits the Empire against the Russy Federation, their tentative allies in the Allied Kingdom, and the isolationist and distant threat of the Unified States. (If you need to know what those nations are paired with in our world, you need to revisit your history textbooks.) Is Tanya up to the challenge?
You’re damn right! What transpires over the course of roughly 90 minutes of this movie is a crazy escalation of military conflicts that sees Tanya maneuvering her air-mage squadron into tactical positions to take out enemy targets with ease, often smiling or laughing maniacally as she boisterously shouts out orders to her adoring soldiers. These go from easy-breezy conflicts, to opportunities to show off her strategic genius (all while keeping her ulterior motive of staying off of the front lines to avoid being killed), to real trials of her skills and leadership abilities, culminating in an absolutely insane battle at the border.
But Tanya’s true test in this movie is embodied in a young and powerful mage named Mary Sue (I’ve also seen it spelled Mary Sioux in the anime series); you can guess a lot about this character from her name alone. While Mary Sue’s arc in joining the multinational peacekeeping force isn’t as well fleshed out as Tanya’s was in the series itself, we know all we need to know about her and her grudge against Tanya through the telling of this particular story. The war acts as a backdrop for these two incredibly powerful mages who wind up on a destined collision course with each other, and it’s a fight you won’t want to miss.
The only thing holding Saga of Tanya the Evil – The Movie back (other than that less-than-inspired title) is that it’s unwilling to kill off its darlings. Unlike fellow anime series Attack on Titan or live-action hit Game of Thrones in its heyday, Saga of Tanya the Evil loves its main and supporting characters so much that none of them are ever really in danger of dying, on either side of the battle line. That’s a shame because adding an element of meaningful danger would raise the stakes and make this title into something even more special than it already is.