Warning: This review contains spoilers for the TV anime Saga of Tanya the Evil.
Major Tanya von Degurechaff is logical to a fault. Irrational sentiments like emotion aren’t even an afterthought in her pursuit of victory, and in a world of military and political strategists, she stands out as a ruthless legend. Facing her ideological opposite on the battlefield, a soldier willing to throw aside procedure for a very personal desire to see Tanya dead, should have set the stage for the series’ most thrilling battle. Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Movie however, is an example of a superb idea held back by average execution.
Our tiny terror may have won the battle at the end of 2017’s anime series, but the war rages on. A desperate attempt to divert opposing Federation forces away from the front lines takes Tanya and her division to their capital Moscow. While they reduce the city to rubble in glorious fashion, a dogfight with the allied US mage Mary Sue uncovers disturbing facts that tie the two together. Most notably, Mary is the daughter of Anson Sue, whose gun Tanya keeps as a trophy from their fatal battle in the TV series.
Her brief tease in the season finale left light novel readers hyping her debut for two years, and I can happily report that Mary Sue is easily the best thing to happen to this franchise. She’s idealistic and willing to drop everything at a heartbeat to save an ally, while Tanya is a pragmatist who sends soldiers to their deaths if they annoy her. Tanya and Mary being complete opposites in narrative roles that contrast with what their morals should imply brings the film a fascinating perspective on the duality of war, to the point where I even found myself rooting for Mary on multiple occasions! War isn’t black or white, however, and Mary’s descent into a deranged fixation is a delight that gives Tanya’s twisted sadism a run for its money! She really is the foil Tanya deserves.
Unfortunately though, Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Movie does so little to explore this genius premise, that I’m not sure Tanya even knows why Mary wants her dead! The pair exchange little more than generic war cries between the streams of magic bullets, and suspicions of Being X’s involvement are relegated to a throwaway thought and a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo. I’m not saying Tanya and Mary should have had a heart-to-heart over a few pints (get to it, fan artists!), but even some more meaningful dialogue could have gone a long way.
(Embedded trailer was created for the U.S. theatrical release).
Not capitalising on Mary Sue’s potential isn’t the film’s only issue, however, as the pacing is a bit of a mess. The story races through at least three different missions with Tanya, occasionally slamming the brakes to slower cutaways that introduce Mary’s character arc, or have the Empire’s top brass monotonously discuss how great Tanya is.
Despite being repeatedly told of the Empire’s perilous situation in the film’s ongoing war, I found it disappointing that I never felt any genuine threat to Tanya and her squad. Even the secondary characters quickly felt untouchable, which isn’t exactly the vibe you want in a war movie.
While films have become more fashionable in the anime industry, I think the story could have benefited from delving deeper into its individual story beats with the longer run-time of a TV series. At least being carted straight from one mission to another is actually addressed in the narrative, but certain elements like a perverted Federation minister being enamoured by Tanya’s prepubescent frame should have been left on the cutting room floor if the characters weren’t even going to meet.
Another reason why I might have preferred a TV anime is that Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Movie looks and feels like one. While the animation is competent and the aerial dogfights are excitingly slick, the overall animation lacks any extra polish one might expect from a theatrical outing. Scenes with vast numbers of foot soldiers also suffer from really noticeable and clunky CG. While I don’t expect a poor artist to hand draw entire regiments, the CG models really stuck out like a sore thumb.
While Shuji Katayama’s score is enjoyable when listened to in isolation, it wraps so neatly around the film that it could be mistaken as unremarkable. This could be due to some of the pivotal musical cues coming from remixes of the series’ best hits, such as “Young Girl’s War: Saga of Tanya the Evil” being reworked into the theme of a pivotal battle.
However, the film’s sound design is a major step-up, with instances like fiery explosions standing out in particular for being really, satisfyingly loud! Aoi Yuki confidently returns to her lead role as Tanya with a standout performance that clearly shows her delight in channelling Tanya’s twisted charisma. Haruka Tomatsu (Sword Art Online’s Asuna) also makes a strong entrance to the talented cast, hitting the right notes for the many emotions of Mary Sue.
A positive note I never thought I’d give to Saga of Tanya the Evil, is praising its humour. Yet here we are, with a film that can be hilarious when it chooses to be. A lot of this is down to comic timing, such as Tanya happily anticipating a well deserved break, before a sudden scene changes sees her crying out of a plane window en route to her next mission. A particular sequence in Moscow, that I’ll only describe as a gift to Visha, needs to be seen unspoiled, because the packed screening was filled with unexpected laughter.
A fun time despite significant flaws, Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Movie is an imperfect return that finally gives the franchise a worthy foil and delivers brilliant ideas that will no doubt shape the franchise’s future, even if it’s not capitalising on their full potential right now.
Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Movie was screened at MCM London Comic Con in May 2019. A wider release by Crunchyroll, the film’s distributor, has yet to be announced at time of publication.