Since I’ve started watching anime, I’ve come to know and accept one thing about myself: I am isekai trash. There’s something about the genre that strikes a chord with me. I don’t care if the show carries the most basic of plots (at least so far; don’t hold me accountable for this later. I’m living in the moment!). Granted, the isekai I’ve seen is pretty vanilla compared to some of the others that I’ve heard or read about (looking at you, Conception), so I haven’t had to deal with stuff that is too extreme yet, but what I have seen I usually seem to like. Luckily, The Saga of Tanya the Evil (Youjo Senki; 幼女戦記) isn’t vanilla or generic. It is so much better. Spoilers ahead.
Before being reborn as the orphan Tanya, our protagonist (who’s name I cannot remember and I could not quickly locate in the 30 seconds that I scrolled through MAL) was a salary-man in modern day Japan. Specifically, his job was to fire people who weren’t fulfilling their duties. He was a stickler for the rules; rules create and maintain order while giving life a purpose and a direction, after all. Unfortunately, the last man he fires carries a grudge and pushes him in front of a train, killing our protagonist.
As he’s falling from the platform, time freezes and he encounters God, who he later refers to as “Being X.” X doesn’t like the fact that the protagonist is an atheist, and the two of them hold a conversation about it as he is floating mid air waiting to be struck by the train. Why should I believe in god when I achieved everything on my own? What need is there to pray to a higher power when all of my needs and desires are fulfilled? X takes this as a challenge, and decides to reincarnate the man into a world where he will need to greatly depend on the charity of others (and God, presumably) to survive. And thusly, Tanya the Evil is born as an orphan, while still retaining her memories from a past life. The only catch is, if she dies again, she will not be reincarnated another time.
The world that Tanya comes into can be best described as an alternate universe during World War I, and Tanya was born into the equivalent of Germany. One major difference in this world is that magic exists and can be controlled by certain adept individuals (called mages), and Tanya happens to be one of those individuals. Because of this, at a young age, Tanya is drafted into the army and sent to training.
Tanya uses her knowledge of the past as her guide to live in this new world. Quickly, she rises through the ranks of the military. In the academy, she publishes papers using that knowledge predicting the coming of a World War, strategy papers harnessing modern fighting techniques (that always follow the rules of war, even if you have to bend them a little), as well as recommendations for a specialized task force.
She remains at odds with Being X, having several conversations with him as he laments that, once again, Tanya has no faith or belief in him as the higher power. Each conversation results in a handicap for Tanya as X slowly manipulates the world around her in such a manner that forces her to depend on him or die. It’s an unfair game that isn’t played by normal rules and Tanya’s resentment towards X continually grows and festers as a result. Each of her actions are driven by the sole purpose of outwitting X without having to depend on X.
This bitterness and ruthlessness overflows into all of Tanya’s actions. As in her previous life, rule breakers are swiftly dealt with in accordance with military standards, including death if necessary. Enemy combatants are shown no lenience for their ignorance or mercy when they fall. Tanya and her special mage force are seen as the hidden hand of Central Command, an off books task force that is sent to deal with more complicated maneuvers.
There is no mistaking Tanya for the “good guy” if the title didn’t already make it obvious. She may be the protagonist, but she’s far from what society would consider normal or even sane. And that makes for an incredibly entertaining anime. Every once in a while it’s fun to cheer for the bad guys, and Tanya makes it look fun (coincidentally, Overlord is another isekai where you follow entertaining bad guys).
If I’m being honest, I did find the plot a little hard to follow early on while they were building the world, but by the end of the first three or four episodes that feeling was gone and I was able to follow everything afterwards. On the second watch, I was able to grasp a lot more since I already knew the premise.
The show does end on a cliffhanger, but they released a movie that closes the story earlier this year in Japan; it’s also getting a one night showing in the United States on May 16th (that’s actually what inspired my rewatch). If you enjoy evil isekai protagonists that are a little on the psychotic side, I highly recommend Saga of Tanya the Evil.