The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 01 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)
Back Cover Blurb
At the very edge of the front lines stands a young girl. She has golden hair, blue eyes, and pale, almost translucent skin. This girl soars through the skies, mercilessly cutting down her enemies. She barks crisp orders with the unmistakable voice of a child. Her name is Tanya Degruechaff.
But her true identity is that of a 40-year-old Japanese elite salary-man who was forced by god to be reborn in the vessel of a little girl who must live in a tumultuous world racked by war. Concerned with being ultra-efficient and desiring self-promotion above all else, Degurechaff will join the ranks of the Imperial Army’s Military Mages and become one of the most feared existences in this new world…
The Saga of Tanya the Evil is categorized as a light novel, but it actually makes pretty heavy reading. Anyone who’s familiar with the anime or manga knows the story has a complicated set-up. On top of that complex plot, the novel delves deep into the sci-fi and military aspects, which means readers won’t be breezing through this one.
Our main character is a highly intellectual human resources manager from our modern Japan. However, we meet him just as he suffers an untimely death at the hands of a freshly terminated employee. Upon his demise, he comes face to face with God, who, frustrated by the faithlessness of our main character and humanity as a whole, decides to inspire faith by reincarnating the man—memories intact—as a female in a parallel version of World War I Germany.
The novel’s opening is somewhat difficult to follow. It introduces our main character as his consciousness is transitioning into his reincarnated form Tanya, and then it delves into an overview of the Stanford Prison Experiment before transitioning into social commentary. If I wasn’t already familiar with the Tanya anime and manga, I’m certain I’d have gotten utterly confused.
Compounding the problem of conveying the main character’s complicated circumstances is the writing itself. Dialogue is annoyingly short on tags, so I was often guessing at who said what. Combat scenes rely heavily on dialogue to paint the action, but unless you’re well versed in military jargon, you may have trouble understanding what’s happening. Verb tense constantly shifts between past and present, sometimes within the same scene. There are a lot of POV shifts, which can be disorienting, and our main character simultaneously uses “I” and “Tanya”/ “she” to refer to self. I’m not sure how much of these issues stem from the original Japanese manuscript and how much from the translation process. Either way, it makes for a difficult English text.
However, things are much less problematic if you’re acquainted with the anime or manga and understand from the start that Tanya is a modern salaryman trapped in a child’s body whose ultimate aim is a safe, cushy job. In that case, the value provided by the novel is detailed explanations of key points of the story. For instance, all the Tanya works portray the Type 95 computation orb as an impractical contraption that only works with divine intervention. However, the novel describes at length the scientific/magical theory behind computation orbs, why the Type 95 is both revolutionary and unstable, and its functional value to a mage. Regarding the military aspect, the novel includes maps and diagrams of the unfolding war. We also get a prolonged look at the war room conferences that decide army movements and the discussions among higher-ups that determine Tanya’s military career path. Unlike the manga and anime, there’s less comedy derived by juxtaposing Tanya’s conniving thoughts against those of the people she’s trying to manipulate; what we get instead is a better picture of the personalities within the cast.
One of those personalities is Major von Lergen, seeming the only person in the Imperial Army to question Tanya’s suitability as a soldier (and a human being). At every step of her career, he raises objections, and the novel spells out the reasons he’s so concerned about her rise in the ranks. I’d hoped for a better rationale from this supposed unbiased Personnel Officer than his gut feeling, and his main criticism of Tanya (the way she objectifies people as resources) is rather hypocritical. After all, the Imperial Army does that all the time as evidenced by the way Tanya gets shoved into her first combat situation at age nine. However, double-standards are certainly common among humans, and the novel seems to be setting von Lergen as an eternal obstacle to Tanya’s goals.
Another aspect detailed in the novel is the impact of the Type 95 computation orb on Tanya’s psyche. As in the anime and manga, it forces her to utter praise to God when in use. However, there’s more to it than just embarrassing instances of worship. In the novel, its side effects include memory lapses and a sense of brainwashing, which makes Tanya doubly resentful of the divine.
Extras include map and fold-out illustration in color; appendixes explaining military strategy and history timeline; author afterword; and six black-and-white illustrations.
For a light novel, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a pretty hefty book. If you have no familiarity with the Tanya the Evil anime or manga, there’s a high chance you’ll get confused if you read the novel first. However, if you’re already a fan of the series and want to understand more about that world’s geopolitics or mage technology, this book will provide you with an abundance of background information as well as a range of character viewpoints.
First published at the Fandom Post.