Image source: 「幼女戦記」アニメ公式 on Twitter
Who knew watching someone trap themselves could be so entertaining?
Saga of Tanya the Evil is the story of a Japanese office worker who is forced to be reincarnated as a magical girl in a war-torn world to satisfy the worship-hungry whims of a cruel god. With but one life left to live, Tanya does everything within her power to ensure that she has the longest most comfortable life possible–with varying degrees of success and hilarious degrees of failure.
[Note: This article contains spoilers for Saga of Tanya the Evil.]
Tanya is a terrible person. Before being reborn as Tanya, “Pre-Tanya,” as I call him, was a low-level manager who recognized his own cruelty, but was indifferent to it. His own interest was in securing a mid-level executive position and to hopefully be set for life. He was logical and meticulous in his actions so that he could reap the rewards later on.
After his untimely death at the hands of a subordinate he had callously downsized, pre-Tanya encounters a godlike individual who is unimpressed with Pre-Tanya’s cold nature and unwillingness to be pious. As punishment, Pre-Tanya is reincarnated as Tanya, but with the caveat that she has been removed from the cycle of death and rebirth, and should she die, she will cease to exist forever.
Reborn as a young girl with magical potential, we see that while the world and Tanya’s body have been changed, fundamentally she is the same cold, calculating person as before. Her goal remains the same as before: Find a way to live a safe, uneventful life at any cost.
Unfortunately, living in a war-torn, militaristic country and born with high magic potential, she joins the military at a young age and is sent into the battlefield.
From here, we see Tanya’s plan come into formation. Where she was born and who she is is out of her control. Her only hope for a peaceful life is to rise in the ranks so that eventually she may get sent to the rear where she won’t have to see combat and can live out her life safe and secure. It’s essentially the same life-plan she had as Pre-Tanya.
For this to happen, Tanya realizes that she can’t just be a good soldier. She has to be the ideal soldier. And for that, she needs to maintain a nationalistic, hawkish mentality. Even when she is offered the chance to get closer to what she has been striving for, she knows that she can’t grab for it too eagerly, lest she give the appearance of being a coward. She has to pretend that she is accepting it against her will, so she can remain the model soldier in the eyes of her superiors. And this is what trips her up on more than one occasion.
And it’s not just her superiors. When given a battalion to command, Tanya tries to draw everything out or subject her new subordinates to extreme conditions to drive them away and have the project fall apart. Instead, her underlings see her cast-iron will and inhuman skill and, rather than being broken, they see her as a great and true commander to follow. Rather than being driven away, her subordinates are tempered and their resolve to follow her is strengthened.
Image source: 「幼女戦記」アニメ公式 on Twitter
This isn’t to say that Tanya is a bumbling fool. She remains extremely intelligent and will make the most of a situation once she knows she’s stuck in it. It’s just that making the most of a situation again digs her deeper into the hole.
Entertainment-wise, this is a perfect little game of cat and mouse. We see Tanya desperately struggling, literally risking her life for the sweet, sweet nectar of a safe post far away from the front lines. And yet, at every turn, circumstances–and a douchebag deity–continue to thwart her. We constantly see her forced to say things not in her interest in order to avoid being deemed a coward and risking death–and yet she ends up in situations that force her to risk dying anyways.
All of this would probably feel tragic if Tanya hadn’t already been established as a thoroughly horrible person. She will use anyone she can to further her purpose. She will step on anyone who might get in her way. She will gleefully kill, or send to their death, anyone who defies her. As it stands, it makes for a highly entertaining scene to see Tanya frantically scrambling in her mind to try to grasp at that brass ring, but forced to say something contrary to prove her patriotism and having it backfire in her face. It’s a delicious coincidence that the story takes place in a parallel world Germany, because few words could be more fitting here than “Schadenfreude.” (Edit: “Schadenfreude” was misspelled because Toshi doesn’t German well. Thanks to LazyCouchGamer for pointing it out!)