The Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Finest Hour

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

As has been noted before, Tanya the Evil’s world is essentially an odd mashup of World War I Europe, with appropriate touchstones. That said, it’s perfectly content to mess with the timeline in order to move things along, and the third volume does this incredibly quickly, moving from World War I to World War II in the space of about three months. The victor may have changed, but the players are much the same, though we do get a few new – and more obviously inspired by real life history – characters. The “Duke of Marlborough” is Winston Churchill, complete with color illustration in case we didn’t get it (not to mention the subtitle of the book), and Tanya’s new commander in the African – sorry, Southern Colonies is “von Romel”, which is almost TOO on the nose. And of course there’s Tanya and her crew, who manage to almost single-handedly win the war only to see peace remain elusive. In fact, Tanya’s desperate plea to let her unit stop the Republic from getting away is probably the highlight of the entire book.

We begin with a giant slaughter, as is usually the case in these novels that make no bones about war being hell – at least for Tanya’s opponents. She and the 203rd are literally shot at the enemy on giant rockets, and they proceed to lay waste to most of the republic’s main forces as well as their HQ. It is amusing to see Tanya’s constant cynical, worried POV as the group essentially walks in and walks right back out almost unharmed. There are times when she is unaware of how good she is. So all that remains is to sign a peace treaty and negotiate the end of the war… something not done by the military, alas. The cease fire allows the Republic to regroup and the Commonwealth to stop pretending they don’t care, and thus everything is for naught. As for Tanya, she regards being sent south as a punishment for her freak out at the generals, but when we see them scheming it, it’s more that they just don’t have any real resources, so need to use the 203rd to have any chance of doing anything. The Empire is running out of money and resources.

And we may be getting a new player into the game. The Unified States have been mostly neutral here, but they also have Mary Sue, the daughter of Anson Sue, who Tanya fought and killed back in the previous book. Mary is unaware of this, but she is extremely patriotic and also has a buttload of magical talent, so is ready to fight and die for her country. In terms of the series, she promises to be something of a rival to Tanya, which is good as lately there has been the sense that nothing can stop Tanya once she gets going. It will be nice to see her have a bit of a challenge. Mary Sue seems sweet, but given that we already have the ‘sweet girl’ card in this deck with Visha, I suspect that won’t last long. The illustrations also make her look a bit possessed, to be honest.

Tanya the Evil is still wordy as all get out, and I’d honestly only recommend it if you’ve read military biographies and histories before. But if you want to know what happens after the anime ended, this is the volume to start with, as the anime wraps up about 3/4 through this book. I’m still waiting to see how all this turns out.

The Saga of Tanya the Evil: Plus Ultra

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

So in the afterword to the second volume of Tanya the Evil, the author talks about how much his editors and readers want to see more of the guys in the cast rather than Tanya herself, and how he is adamant about keeping Tanya front and center. And I get that, he’s correct as far as it goes. But I also understand the feelings of the others, because too much Tanya, particularly when we’re smiling and nodding along with her point of view, is not only overpowering but actively harmful to a degree. The Saga of Tanya the Evil works best when it shows us the disconnect between what Tanya is thinking and what the rest of the cast thinks she is thinking, and there are several very amusing moments here where we see that. But it’s not nearly as many as the first book, and pure, unfiltered Tanya, which we get here for long stretches at a time, risks the reader coming over to her point of view. Which is not, I suspect, what the author is going for.

The title is, as are all the titles in this series, Latin, and means “further beyond”. It’s also the national motto of Spain, one of the few countries in Europe that doesn’t have an equivalent here. The “plot” of the second volume reads almost like a book of short stories, and those who expect to see more of Tanya vs. Being X beyond her constant grousing are going to be disappointed. Instead, Tanya and her unit perform like the A-Team, dropping into war zones and magically coming out successful even when they’re unaware of it. We hit the Tanya equivalents of Romania, Norway, and France here, and also take a little bit of time to perform a few wartime atrocities. There are occasional flashforwards to reporters discussing these events as history, and it’s made pretty clear that history is not going to be happy with Tanya’s actions. It’s also made pretty clear the Empire is not going to be on the winning side when the war eventually ends. Now that we’re getting England… sorry, The Commonwealth into it, who knows where the books will take us next?

But again, as I said, there’s a whole lot of Tanya point of view in this book’s 7,963 pages. (That’s a slight exaggeration, but is is punishingly long. Readers may feel better knowing that, although all Tanya volumes are long, none in the future are QUITE as long as this one.) There are a few exceptions – we’re introduced to a new recruit whose job is to boggle in horror at war and Tanya (possibly not in that order), and we also meet a man who looks like he’s being set up as a major antagonist, Anson Sue (whose daughter, god help us, is named Mary Sue)… except he’s promptly killed off without Tanya even knowing who he is, so the whole thing ends up being anticlimactic. We occasionally see some of the Empire higher-ups, or a brief POV of the other side. Even Visha gets very little to do in this book besides be Tanya’s adjutant. The readers want more of the other characters because it provides some balance and different coloring. All Tanya is like eating potatoes every day.

I’m still not ready to drop this series, which is odd given “this is too dark” is the main reason I tend to drop light novels these days. I think Tanya’s odd historical and military tone works in its favor – the book may be filled with ludicrous amounts of discussion of ammo, shells, and the rules of war, but its dry tone sets it at a remove from the actions it describes. And I can’t deny that I find Tanya fascinating, and I’m still not sure how much the author wants us to like her. If you enjoyed the anime (which I admittedly haven’t seen), I can only imagine this is a must buy, as there’s lots of stuff that must have been cut to ribbons in adaptation. As for me, I will read on, but I can’t deny that at the end of the day one word comes to mind reading The Saga of Tanya the Evil: Exhausting.

The Saga of Tanya the Evil: Deus lo Vult

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

The first thing I noticed when I saw the first volume of Tanya the Evil on my phone is that it is long. Really very long indeed. You could fit four volumes of Kagerou Daze into one volume of Tanya the Evil. I noticed that this volume has two translators, and I wonder if the main reason for it is that each volume is so long. (I double checked – the second volume is actually longer.) The second thing that I noticed about Tanya the Evil is that it is, at heart, a military novel with a dash of magic and “reincarnated into another world” as its gimmick. If you’re reading it for the reincarnation or the magic, you may be disappointed – if you’re reading it for the military maneuvers, you’re in luck, this is absolutely the book for you. This is the story of not-Germany, its new war hero who has the appearance of a small girl but the mind of a cynical, calculating HR director, and the evil God who sets things in motion.

OK, “evil God” may be stretching the point, as it’s more petulant hissy fit God, but once again we have a book I’d ask the hardcore religious to stay away from. Our hero is a ruthless HR director who is pushed in front of a train after laying off someone with a grudge. He meets God, who is upset at the lack of faith in him these days, which our hero can’t help but snark back at him for. In response, God reincarnates him in a world that is on the brink of war, as a young orphan girl. He keeps all his memories, though, and apparently in addition to being an HR director he was a bit of a military nut. As now we have Tanya von Degurechaff, a 9-year-old child prodigy sent to the front line to battle as a mage because, well, the Empire is mostly OK with this. The problem is that Tanya is just a bit too brilliant, and also somewhat disturbing…

One of the more interesting aspects of this book is also one of its most aggravating: the narration, which is mostly first person from Tanya’s perspective with a few exceptions, alternates between “I” and “Tanya” constantly, as the HR director still tends to think of himself as being slightly separate from the little girl’s body he now inhabits. This really shows off the disconnect that should normally be there for most people who go through the standard reincarnation schtick, but it’s also very disorienting, and by the end of the volume I was wishing the author had chosen a different way to achieve this. The gimmick that works much better in the book is Tanya constantly doing things as a way to ither a) stay alive or b) get herself assigned away from combat, and having her actions misinterpreted as insane gung-ho soldiering by the generals and powers that be. It doesn’t help that her main weapon that makes her even more powerful literally runs on the power of prayer, much to her bitter chagrin.

The author says at the end of the book that those who like happy endings should stay away from this series, and indeed I’m not sure I can read this on a regular basis. For this one volume, though, it was fascinating, even with all the military jargon. Yes, we have yet another Japanese author fascinated with World War I/II Europe, and our heroes are yet again essentially Germany with the fascism toned down (you’ll likely think of Legend of Galactic Heroes as you read it). But I just liked the back and forth between Tanya and the rest of the cast, and also liked the occasional glimpses we saw of her judging humans as something other than meat shields. Well, OK, one human. Pretty much just Visha. But you have to start somewhere. The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a rich and rewarding read, provided you spend the time to plough through it, and don’t mind Tanya’s constant first/third person perspective switches.