The time has come to reveal my pick for best show of the Winter season. I’ll admit it came as a surprise and while it was one of the shows I wanted to see I did not expect to be this good. The premise alone sounded bizarre but it was worthy. Bear in mind that I have not read the source material, I’m just referring solely to the adaptation. This is not my last review of the season so expect another article soon. In the meantime let’s talk about Youjo Senki, also known as Saga of Tanya the Evil.
“The Battle of the Marne was one of the decisive battles of the world not because it determined that Germany would ultimately lose or the Allies ultimately win the war but because it determined that the war would go on. There was no looking back, Joffre told the soldiers on the eve. Afterward there was no turning back. The nations were caught in a trap, a trap made during the first thirty days out of battles that failed to be decisive, a trap from which there was, and has been, no exit.” ― Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August
Youjo Senki presents us with a story where our main character is a salaryman whose approach to life is very pragmatic and focuses solely on efficiency and promoting his own career disregarding any human interaction or empathy. Trapped in his own hubris, a deadly incident marks his encounters with Being X, an omniscient and omnipotence voice that wants the MC to bow to it before his demise, but the MC refuses. As a sort of punishment, Being X sends our MC to an alternative universe to be reborn as a girl. The setting is a world where WWI continued in a state of stalemate after 1919. Magic and technology are combined in combat, but only few people can use it (think aviation in our reality) most of the technology still remains on the state it was in our timeline. Tanya (the reborn salaryman) will try to survive in this world and take his revenge on the mysterious Being X.
I’m a big fan of alternative history and it is known that World War I is usually a subject that is not as popular as the second for this kind of divergent timelines and it’s understandable. The reasons behind WWI are more complex and difficult to create a different ramification of the events that happened. Youjo Senki does it right. Creating an alternative timeline requires not only coming up with a different universe but also setting our characters as if it were the things that did happen. The advantage of having Tanya as someone from another era/universe is the contrast between how she deals with this new world but also has prior knowledge of events that happened and she could manipulate for her own gains.
The setting of the war is pretty close to the actual memories and descriptions given by soldiers and witnesses in our timeline. The use of trenches, the strategy of the two fronts on Germany (here still an Empire), the invention and use of new technologies such as rockets and tanks, and so on. While this show adds the “magic” aspect, it is not different from comparing to the pilots that fought during WWI. To the soldiers on the ground, the aerial fights could be perceived as something out of a fantasy book. If you haven’t read any books of testimonies or recounts of the first world war, I’ll take advantage of this space and recommend you to read some of them.
But back to review, Tanya captures most of the screen time and with good reason, she is the vehicle where the audience will interact with this new world. She is the perfect soldier, at least the image she wants to portray but she does not want to get killed. We see her creating brilliant plans that will amaze her superiors but we know only knows it because that’s what happened in this timeline so she can anticipate the results. For a moment the show reminded of another series that also was set during WWI about a British Captain that was trapped in the trenches and come up with cunning plans to evade certain death by the misguided plans of their moronic superiors. And that’s the extent of the comparison with Blackadder Goes Forth. Tanya has a battalion and in them we see reflected how she grows bitter and angry towards her superiors and the attitudes towards the war, she knows it won’t be easy but her image of the perfect soldier stops any action that could lead to a certain victory.
One of the strongest scenes in this show and one that perfectly captures the essence of the direction is the first carpet bombing campaign in this world. As traumatizing as it was in this reality, the show does not solely focus in the carnage of the military action, they also show us what happened behind curtains that led to these bombings. Bear in mind we are still in a world where war is something exclusive to the armies, civilians are spared from the fight and treaties are upheld as if they were sacred documents. But war changes, and Tanya proposes an unheard plan: Bomb the cities, even if civilians are there. Shock, discomfort and uncertainty invades the minds of the higher military ranks but if they want to end the war, extreme measures have to be taken. And it’s a simple tweak to the current situation from which they can get away with the bombings: You can’t be accused of killing civilians if you labeled them as the enemy. This is the first time that as an audience we might question Tanya’s methods but her rationalization of the bombings reflect the cruelest truths of a war: Be merciless, to kill or to be killed. Those who survive will hold an irrational grudge and won’t touch their hearts if they can fight back. From now and on, we are experiencing the events that will lead to WWII in this magic world.
Youjo Senki is not without sins, the biggest culprit is that action scenes get boring. The air fights do not change on combat style and it’s difficult to differentiate one from the other. Tanya and her battalion shoot soldiers, soldiers fight back, they have magical shields, Tanya ex Machina and then she wins. Maybe it’s because we only saw the beginning of the war and the campaigns will be different in the future, but now those are the weakest parts of the show. I would like to see more, even just a bit, of the politics involved with the war. We never get to see ministers or members of the Parliament take part of the decisions of the war, History of WWI / WWII involves the public figures that shaped the hearts and minds of the population to continue the war. Just a personal issue with the alternative history side of Youjo Senki.
I recommend Youjo Senki, even if war shows are not your thing, it is a well written, directed and voiced show that captures a complex moment of time and creates a cautious story of the struggles of mankind versus itself and the forces that are outside of its reach. Or if you like military girls carpet bombing France, that’s also there for you. The light novel is still being published if you want to know more about Tanya’s adventures. The anime consists of twelve episodes and it is available where anime is.