As I said in the first of these essays, the English title of this anime pre-judges the character, and primes the viewer to interpret her actions as evil. The Japanese title is better: Yojo Senki (幼女戦記), Young Girl’s War Record.
In the first episode, we drop into the hell of a WWI-style Western Front battle, and meet Tanya Degurechaff, a hard-charging, hard-ass 2d lieutenant who was drafted as a flying mage two years earlier (at the age of nine). The opening incident has her disciplining two officer candidates who disobeyed her orders (because they wanted to be heroes), by reassigning them to bunker duty. In another incident, she leaves her platoon, and an exhausted Corporal Viktoriya Serebryakov, in a support position, and then attacks (and wipes out) an enemy mage company on her own. This establishes her basic personality: by-the-book disciplinarian, superb flyer, heroic officer. Serebryakov idolizes her as the fairy of the battlefield.
Members of the high command who have met her say she’s an evil demon. That’s probably because a combat attitude that would be laudable in a middle-aged officer sounds creepy when it’s an 11-year old girl.
At this point, I am going to change the gendered pronoun to “him”, because in the second episode, we see that she isn’t really an 11-year old girl at all. “She” is a middle-aged Japanese salaryman who was reincarnated as the orphaned infant Tanya. Why did this happen? Our un-named salaryman is an atheistic, cold-hearted, by-the-book bureaucrat, interested only in furthering his own career. At the start of the episode, a man he’s just fired (for cause) pushes him in front of a train. In the frozen final instant of his life, he gets into an argument with God (who he calls Being X) over whether he exists . As punishment for his lack of faith he is reincarnated as Tanya, and must find faith in God in this new life, or go to Hell forever. Think of Tanya as a male midget doing loli cosplay.
Tanya decides to fight Being X, refusing to have faith, and seeking his own solutions to all the many predicaments that X inflicts on him. His approach is to apply his knowledge of modern business practice to allow him to live a life of ease in the rear echelons . This doesn’t always work, either because of the way the military bureaucracy works, or because Being X keeps interfering. The rest of the series captures Tanya’s efforts to make it work, and how they keep running afoul of X and the world.
The question that keeps coming up through all this is, is Tanya really a cruel and evil person? Let’s look at a series of events, ones where his actions are usually interpreted as evil, to see if they really are.
To start with, the first episode. Ultimately, the two insubordinate soldiers are killed when their bunker is blown up, the strong implication being that the assignment was a death sentence. The real point is, no combat commander will keep a soldier in their unit who wants to be a hero. That kind of person usually gets others killed, before being killed themselves, and to no good end. Tanya recognized this, and shuffled them off to a place where that kind of heroism won’t hurt people. Since we are talking about a WWI Western Front style of war, bunkers are as risky a place to be as any other, but somebody has to man them. And when he tells his platoon to provide backup, and then defeats the enemy company on his own, it’s not because he cares that they are exhausted, it’s because it would look bad on his record if he got a lot of his troops killed.
One reason Tanya is seen as evil is his seeming disregard for civilian casualties. The anime producer’s attitude toward this stems from the modern media attention to the topic, which disregards military reality. My guess is that more civilians than soldiers have been killed since the start of the modern era in WWI. The fact is that if civilians are in the way, then they are legitimate targets. A standard question on Rules of War exams in military school goes something like: “A civilian telephone exchange in the middle of a city is used for passing military commands. Is it OK to attack it?” The answer is, yes, of course.
In the raid on the Dakian capital munitions factory, Tanya indulges in an acceptable ruse du guerre — presenting a required warning of an attack in a form that sounds like a childish prank. The result is the death of civilians who were working in the factory — persons who are legitimate targets anyway. Of course, his triumphant cry after the factory blows up indicates a certain lack of empathy.
Later, Tanya exploits loopholes in the rules about shelling occupied cities to bombard Arene City, where enemy troops are using the civilians as shields and partisan groups are hiding in the vacant buildings, despite the presence of large numbers of civilians. In our world, the mere presence of enemy troops would be reason enough. What makes this attack seem doubly devilish is the fact that it’s based on a paper that he wrote while a student at the Military Academy.
Throughout the series, Tanya does laudable things more or less in passing, for personal motives. He nominates Viktoriya Serebryakov for officer’s school because he wants to be known as someone who takes care of his troops. He hangs around the Military Academy library in hopes of making an impression on senior officers. Also while at the Academy he kindly tells Captain Uger, a classmate (and possible competitor), that as an intelligent person with a conscience (and a new daughter), he should be at the rear, helping to end the war (and removing himself from the promotion track). One should always use persuasion when the other person is mentally defenseless.
On the other hand, Tanya expresses a dislike for war and killing, on several occasions. At the very beginning, he says he objects to war as inefficient. In the episode on the bombardment of Arene City, he warns that war can warp a soldier’s personality. Towards the end, when he is contemplating victory, and just before Being X springs an expanded war on him, he looks forward to the joys of peacetime.
Our conclusion has to be that Tanya is not an evil monster, despite the fact that the last words of the anime call him that. He is cold, unfeeling, incapable of empathy, totally self-centered, and proud of his work ethic. But he plays strictly within the rules, even though he may play so close to the edge that he gets chalk dust on his socks. His goal is a quiet, comfortable life, un-bothered by Being X. If that means ending the war, then he will do everything within his power to make that happen. If Being X continues to oppose him, then Tanya will do everything he can to defeat Being X.
- Since Being X admits that administering to 7 billion people is beyond its capability, it presumably is god-like, but not a true, Western-style omnipotent God.
- That’s why this program has been called the Moshidora of reincarnation anime.
- Doubly effective, because, as some have said, the first part of her warning was taken directly from the Japanese school sports pledge.
- Tamaya is the name of a major Japanese fireworks family, and is a favorite crowd cry after a particularly good display.