The Saga of Tanya the Evil: Ut Sementem Feceris, ita Metes

By Carlo Zen and Shinobu Shinotsuki. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Emily Balistrieri.

This book came out just before the anime began in Japan, and right about the time the manga started. As such, it’s the first one to be possibly influenced by both of those sources. I’ve talked before about how I don’t think Tanya’s pragmatism is usually as evil as the author wants us to believe, but sometimes he digs deep and shows us that there really is a difference in the way she (and her soldiers) think and everyone else. This book has an Ildoan Colonel observe her unit during a Federation attack, and is horrified that the soldiers not only plan to attack a town but also to bomb a church. Tanya’s cheerful explanation of how this is all perfectly fine due to the rules of war (and the fact that the Federation hasn’t signed any agreements) can be chilling as you realize how she’s not thinking of morality in a general sense at all. And then you remember that this is meant to be an anti-war series, and it all makes sense.

Tanya is all smiles on the cover, partly as she’s entertaining the observer and tries to be on her best behavior, but also has there’s a very real chance that we may be achieving peace again. Lergen spends most of the book in Ildoa, negotiating a peace with excellent terms for the Empire. And the generals (and Tanya) make sure that those terms are acceptable by absolutely trouncing the Federation, who have stronger weapons, better shields and well-trained men now but still lack aerial mages, and that’s making all the difference. Unfortunately, peace is not decided by the generals. We get another look at the ruling government of the Empire, and it’s chilling. By the end of this book, you realize that there’s no way the series can possibly end with anything but total, 100% defeat for the Empire. That’s a ways down the road, but… get used to war is what I’m saying.

The last volume was mostly talk and little fight, and this one goes in the other direction, being mostly filled with battle after battle. Our core team stays alive, and wins each battle, but there’s no mistake – things are getting harder. The enemy is starting to prepare for Tanya’s pyrotechnics, and she’s stunned when, for the first time, one of her “blow everything to hell” attacks does not blow everything to hell. Even when they do win due to clever tactics and overwhelming mage superiority, the Federation are able to make their retreat to fight another day. Even worse, they do so in an orderly fashion – discipline is winning. These are not the enemies Tanya wants to fight, as they’ll only lead to bad things for her and her fellow soldiers. That’s why she’s so happy at the end of the volume, not knowing what’s been happening with her government. I expect a big freak out from her at the start of the eighth book.

So a good, strong Tanya volume, better than the last, and reminding you again that when war is being fought, no one wins. The title’s translation, “As you sow, so shall you reap” could not be more appropriate.

The Saga of Tanya the Evil: Nil Admirari

By Carlo Zen and Shinobu Shinotsuki. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Emily Balistrieri.

Sometimes war can be filled with pitched battles, back and forth action and excitement, and sometimes war can be filled with not a heck of a lot happening except people talking about tactics. The same holds true for Tanya the Evil, especially in this sixth volume, where action scenes are kept to an absolute minimum in favor of dialogue, inner monologue, and a lot of grumbling about the futility of war. Which, it has to be said, makes for a book that’s a bit of a struggle to get through at times. Most of the time Carlo Zen balances his dry military tactics prose with other scenes that pick up the pace, but we don’t have that here, so some of this book is simply boring. But not all of it. There is, once again, the threat of peace on the horizon, and Tanya is all for it, though she’s not the one in charge, and you get the sense that von Zettour is not simply going to agree to anything that isn’t “we win, and then discuss terms”. Winning, of course, is not happening right now.

The title is Latin once more, and means “Nothing Will Surprise Me”. That’s put to the test in this book, which sees the nation of Ildoa getting involved – seemingly to be a neutral broker for peace, but in reality looking to get the best deal for themselves by playing both sides. As the Empire is not-Germany, Ildoa is not-Italy, though their political leader seems to be nothing like Mussolini so far – Carlo Zen is avoiding the main Axis villains in this series. The Empire is understandably rather wary of Ildoa, who put on a show of strength that actually shows off that they don’t have much strength to back it up. Still, an overture for peace is a start. Certainly it’s what Tanya wants, to the surprise of everyone – possibly the funniest scene in the book is when she talks with Visha, Weiss and the others in her unit and realizes how they’re all warmongers, not realizing who trained this into them.

On the other side, we have the Commonwealth and the Federation still making very awkward allies, as they come to the realization that the Empire is far stronger than they had expected. (The Empire, of course, is coming to the same realization about their enemy.) Colonel Drake appears to be the Lergen of the Allied side, and he has his own Tanya analogue in Lieutenant Mary Sue, still bright and idealistic and shiny and driven by sweet, sweet revenge. “The Saga of Tanya the Evil” is a Western title, albeit one approved by the author, I believe – the Japanese title, Youjo Senki, translates as “The Military Chronicles of a Little Girl”. Tanya is evil in the sense that she’s working for the Empire, and she can be morally reprehensible at times, but she knows about war and why things happen. Mary Sue, though, can’t believe everyone doesn’t think the way that she does, and she’s a headache to everyone around her. I really want to see her and Tanya fight again – perhaps I should watch the movie.

So there’s a lot of talking but little forward movement in a book which sees Tanya’s unit going from the Federation to the Empire Homeland and then up towards the Entente Alliance in an effort to win the war. Which Tanya knows isn’t happening, but she can’t convince anyone else. A necessary read for fans of the series, but it’s really dry and dull at times, I admit.

The Saga of Tanya the Evil: Abyssus Abyssum Invocat

By Carlo Zen and Shinobu Shinotsuki. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Emily Balistrieri.

The subtitle of this volume is translated as “Hell Follows Hell”, or more colloquially, one mistake leads to more. Tanya learns that here in a book that shows off how imperfect all the sides are. Tanya herself, due to her rabid anti-communist mindset (and the salaryman inside her, who I honestly tend to forget about most of the time) is slow to realize that the not-Russians fighting them are actually fighting for their homes and native land… not for communism. This is huge because it changes the entire way they have to fight the enemy. She also runs into Mary Sue for the first time, and while there’s clearly a much larger fight still to come, it’s a difficult battle that depletes her elite unit of a quarter of its entire force. (That said, rest assured all the characters whose names we can remember survive.) And of course Britain and Russia are having their own issues with lack of manpower, lack of supplies, lack of materials… we’ve reached the attrition stage of the war.

The cover art has Tanya standing at the gravesite of the soldiers who fell in that battle, and it reminds us that just because the title is “Tanya the Evil”, and Tanya frequently does morally reprehensible things, does not means she is 100% black of heart. She cares about her subordinates, mourns them, and has long passed the Tanya of the first book who was merely looking for “meat shields”. Likewise, General Zettour, at the end of the book, as he attempts to coerce/cajole the separatist parts of the Federation to join them, thinks that as a good person, he’s appalled, but as a soldier fighting for the Empire, he’s willing to be evil. A person who commits mass murders but feels really bad about the whole thing is still a mass murderer. And, on the other side of the coin, we have Mary, who is bright and shiny and filled with thoughts of revenge and I suspect is so naive that she will be led by the nose whenever she runs into someone manipulative.

Other things to note: as I feared, Loriya is still around, and still a pedophile. It’s not played for laughs as much, but still disturbing. Speaking of which, the soldiers joke at one point about Tanya marrying Visha for her coffee-making skills, and Tanya briefly ponders whether, as a male mind inside the body of a young girl, he would qualify as gay or not, but then promptly decides to not think about it. Which is fine, I won’t either. Tanya is twelve. In fact, the fact that Tanya is twelve comes up an awful lot here: after four volumes of mostly having everyone ignore the fact that she’s so young, we get a bunch of scenes to reinforce it: she can’t interrogate the Federation prisoners as they won’t take her seriously, she can’t get into the celebratory party at the Officer’s Mess as she can’t drink, etc. It’s a nice reminder that the basic premise of this entire series is meant to be, deliberately, very screwed up. War makes people send a child to battle.

I’ve heard that Tanya light novel fans and Tanya anime fans disagree quite a bit, and I suspect this book definitely falls on the reader side, being interesting more for the discussion of warfare than for the short, yet well-written battles. There’s also a lot of great wartime sarcastic banter between the soldiers here, which I enjoyed. For those who don’t mind long, lecturing tomes, this is still very good.