“We flip the chess board and change the rules of the game!”
Saga of Tanya the Evil is a creative stew of an anime series that mixes a serious tactical war drama about world domination with fantastical elements like magic powers and God-like entities that hold a grudge. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that the main character, a young girl military leader, actually has the spirit of a grown man from a future alternate reality housed inside of her as some kind of cosmic punishment.
This anime was one of the most unique series to come out in 2017 and it’s because Saga of Tanya the Evil is such an unusual mix of eclectic sensibilities that it warranted a sequel film in the first place. Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Movie is a strong follow-up to the 12-episode series that successfully explores what made the original anime so interesting and is able to push all of that to its extreme in the kind of way that you hope a movie sequel will. The movie feels like an important addition to the canon as opposed to some cheap attempt to cash in on the series’ success.
It’s 1926 U.C., hot on the heels of Major Tanya Degurechaff and the Imperial Army’s 203rd Air Mage Battalion’s victory over the Empire’s enemies in the finale of the anime series. This film gives Major Degurechaff and company no downtime to celebrate and immediately throws them into more dangerous waters against reinforced threats. Tanya and the Empire struggle to stay on top of the new Republic enemies and their aided help from the Allied Kingdom and Russy Federation, but what’s just as big of a danger is the driven Mary Sue, another remnant from the end of the anime series.
The final few episodes saw Tanya eliminate Colonel Anson Sue, the then-current host for Being X, the omnipotent persistent thorn in Tanya’s side. Being X transferred over to the Colonel’s daughter, Mary Sue, who’s hungry to get revenge on Tanya for killing her father. The anime’s final episode shows Mary Sue get in the game and the movie shows how formidable of a foe she is for Tanya. These many disparate threats all dovetail together in glorious, impassioned combat and it makes for a very strong, emotional backdrop.
It’s interesting to see how the film plays Mary Sue’s story parallel to Tanya’s and almost treats Mary like the protagonist and hero of Tanya’s movie. In the series, Colonel Sue tells Tanya that Being X’s instructions were to kill the Devil, that “Devil” being Tanya. Being X’s manipulation of her is a raw deal, but she’s completely justified in wanting to get revenge against Tanya and everything that she and her forces represent. However, even without the death of her father, Mary Sue still believes that she’s on a divine mission to eliminate the Devil. And honestly, Tanya is fun to root for, but her behavior doesn’t really paint her as the most sympathetic characters. War warps both of these women in complex ways and it’s compelling how the film show’s the fluid nature of their growth and regression.
It seems like Being X’s new ally could actually defeat Tanya. This feeling would perhaps be less strong in the anime series, but the finite nature of this movie does give the resourceful Tanya a certain level of vulnerability. The evenly matched conflict between these two feels big enough for this movie and Mary Sue is a perfect foil.
It doesn’t help that Tanya is losing her grip on her own men. There’s a complicated, shifting dynamic between the Empire’s forces and this movie doesn’t shy away from the deceptive, unsure nature of war. Tanya’s ultra-expressive face gets a lot to react to throughout these battles.
One of the most enjoyable things about this film is its relentless pacing. Tanya seems to end up in one disaster after another, and even though the film clocks in at a little over an hour and a half, it flies by due to how Tanya is never given a moment of rest. There are quieter moments of espionage and international diplomacy that complement the more bombastic action sequences, but even they are laced with a sense of dread. Not only does the story progress at an exciting, healthy pace, but also the payoffs all beautifully land. This is easily the most danger that Tanya has experienced, and in spite of how heightened the film’s climax is, it’s also completely earned and feels like the natural progression of all of this supernatural alt-history warfare.
While the film’s “hero” remains in flux, it’s very clear that war itself is the ultimate enemy. Tanya delivers what’s meant to be an inspiring speech to her troops early in the movie’s first act. She preaches, “Honestly, I hate war. I think humans killing others is the worst part of human history. It’s nothing but a waste of materials and human resources,” yet by the end of Tanya’s speech, she’s justifying reasons to bring death to the Russian enemy. It’s a startling example of Tanya’s staunch ability to rationalize whatever she does.
The action sequences are really the film’s major selling point. Bewildering battles transpire between mage soldiers that interweave sorcery and artillery and are set thousands of feet in the air. The film has the advantage of revolving around a major conflict that involves multiple forces with plenty of cannon fodder, so it can basically throw whatever it wants onto the battlefield.
It’s seriously impressive just how many soldiers the film fits onto the screen at one time. You could watch these sprawling scenes of war five times and still not even catch half of what’s going on in them. The havoc never pauses and the attacks come from an overwhelming 360 degrees. The magical effects all pop in rainbow-colored glory, but even without them, this movie knows how to bring to life the busy, detailed scope of war. Saga of Tanya the Evil already stood out for the fact that there aren’t a lot of war drama anime to begin with, but the fact that this one mixes it with fantasy in ambitious ways makes it feel even more special. NUT Studio seriously knocks it out of the park with the presentation.
The score also delivers, perfectly complementing the mayhem on screen. The always reliable Myth & Roid return to do the film’s theme song, “Remembrance,” which is fantastic and arguably just as good as the series’ opening theme. Another evocative sequence sees Tanya and her troops proudly sing the national anthem, which accompanies the footage of their conquests. The sound design in general is exceptional and really taps into the layered, surrounded feeling of all-out warfare.
This film gets a lot right, but elements of it do feel like a retread of what’s been covered in the anime, but this isn’t that frustrating when the movie also pushes the story forward. The movie does kind of feel like what episodes 13 through 15 would have looked like, albeit with a bigger budget.
It feels like Tanya was also supposed to represent an abandonment of one’s “fate” and that rebellion can breed independence, but it’s a theme that’s often murky throughout the series and takes a backseat to Tanya’s sadistic nature. That doesn’t exactly change in this film and so, while this companion piece doesn’t strengthen the text in that regard, it does help illustrate why Tanya’s an interesting anti-hero. On that note, both Tanya and Mary Sue receive moments that humanize them but they are far outnumbered by the characters’ brutal nature. Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Movie likely assumes that the audience is already on board with these characters, but that doesn’t make the territory that they occupy any less depressing.
In spite of some missteps, director Yutaka Uemura’s Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Movie is an undeniably entertaining and bonkers experience. If you liked the series, you’ll love the movie. If you’re coming into this film blind, it’s not too overwhelming that you won’t be able to make sense of this ridiculous subversion of war stories. The movie expands on its source material in the right ways and will hopefully drum up enough interest for either a second season of the anime or a running slate movie.
Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Movie is playing in select theaters throughout North America, for one night only, on May 16th courtesy of Fathom Events. Tickets are available here and the anime series is available to stream via Crunchyroll.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.