A look a Tanya, a scheming fanatic with big enemies and surprisingly simple goals
If nothing else, Saga of Tanya the Evil turned out to have quite a twist, taking what appeared to be an indulgently violent war story with a simple premise and revealing something quite a bit more complex. There’s a lot to enjoy about this madcap series, even if you’re just in it for the magic-fueled warfare, although your tastes may lean more toward its theological meditations or its creative cuts. The true standout of Saga of Tanya the Evil, however, is its eponymous protagonist, a scheming capitalist turned unscrupulous fascist. Her bizarre backstory and the ludicrous juxtaposition of a tiny girl gleefully committing atrocities on the battlefield alone are notable, but the appeal of such a character shouldn’t come as a surprise. From Light Yagami to Lelouch, there is something fascinating about someone with a big ego, a ruthless disposition, and a flair for the dramatic. Where most would expect grand personal designs or an insatiable bloodlust, however, Tanya wants just the opposite.
It’s fair label Tanya as unprincipled, deceitful, and malicious, but she does live by a sort of code which separates her from your average antihero. Although she schemes, she has an unshakeable faith in the integrity of the administrative structures designed by mankind. Her complaints are never with the organization, only those who hold power within it. She’s meritocratic to a fault, but implicit in this belief is that no strategies are off limits so long as they do not break the word of law. All else is irrelevant. No deed is too distasteful so long as it leads to personal success, as that is the only measure of value. Her eagerness to layoff her coworkers and kill her enemies reflects this belief. If others too squeamish to commit an act, that only makes her willingness makes her even more valuable. She happily takes part in these activities, every body she steps over representing another obstacle overcome and further validation her personal worth. Even praying to a deity she holds no belief in is performed with gusto if it puts her ahead.
The irony of Tanya’s relentless pursuit of success is that her ambition couldn’t be more mundane. She simply wants to climb the ladder to a comfortable position in upper management. From her original goals in the corporate world, this new and dangerous setting has done nothing to shift her priorities except to seek a cushy position as a rear officer away from any threats to her life. Her decision to join the military to ultimately achieve safety in a wartorn world is questionable, but the ruthlessness with which she strives for the mediocre is oddly admirable. Just as Yoshikage Kira’s eagerness to murder rather than allow his tranquil lifestyle to be threatened was strangely admirable, so is Tanya's relentless training, studying, manipulating, and killing in the pursuit of safety and security. Her last private thought before the events which sent her to this world were “There is nothing easier than following the rules.” Tanya believes all of the trouble she goes through is the easiest thing for her to do, because the simplest way to live is working within the system. It’s just what comes naturally to her.
Of course Tanya’s heartless tactics drew the ire of an omniscient deity Being X and now her quest to simply live a comfortable life is complicated by its influence pushing her toward mortal peril. Since her faith lies completely within the system and its promotion of individuals by merit, the concept of prayer or belief is inimical to her. In fact the very existence of a God implies that her belief in social darwinism may be fundamentally flawed. Characters of Tanya’s archetype typically stand out because they challenge society, demanding it bend to accommodate them rather than conforming themselves. Light faced off against genius investigators and Lelouch a dictatorial state, both seeking to change the world itself. Tanya has somehow found herself in a position where she may be forced to kill God itself before she can enjoy an unremarkable existence, secure in her understanding of the world.
Typically it’s the fate of schemers to be brought low by their own plans and, in Tanya’s case, this has essentially already happened. The tragic flaw in her monomaniacal beliefs may have rendered her blind to any lessons she may have learned, however. Answering a question regarding military law, she spoke without irony stating that a commander is neglecting their duty in failing to anticipate and stop any deviation among their subordinates, where she herself was killed because she failed to anticipate a disgruntled ex-employee might decide to shove her in front of a train. Despite her tremendous proficiency as a cog in a bureaucratic machine, Tanya may not have much talent as a schemer. Although many of her plans seem clever at face value, many of them result her being pushed deeper into the battle lines, even without the aid of Being X. Her latest manipulation to prove her value as a strategist having placed her at the head of a military unit of her own creation and destined for constant battle.
There is a great deal of commentary which can be drawn from Tanya’s unique idiosyncrasies and even more unique predicament but, at the end of the day, she is undeniably fun to watch. Maybe it’s because there is something admirable about someone who is passionate about their work, even if it could be described as evil. The sadistic glee Tanya takes in metting out carnage and her self-congratulatory inner monologue make her slow descent all the more satisfying to experience. While she claims no particular pleasure in killing, she’ll eagerly undergo any action which will progress her plans. The defeat of her enemies represents a triumph of the the system to which she has dedicated her life. Her crazed fanaticism is just impossible to ignore, aided by some truly inspired animation and facial expressions courtesy of Studio NUT. Whether you want Tanya to succeed or simply suffer, it’s fun to watch her work.