Heil Tanya the Evil: A Masterclass in Film Sequels

youjo senki movie

Word of warning this review will totally spoil the shit out of Youjo Senki aka Tanya the Evil, both the tv season and the recent film sequel.  If you wish to avoid spoilers don’t read it.  Also if you want to get an idea of where I’m coming from this post summarizes my thoughts on the tv season pretty well.

Man it’s good to be back.  In the off chance you read the review linked above, know that my love for this show has only increased in the time between its initial airing and the film.  It’s the perfect blend of goofiness, edge, historical accuracy and historical fiction, and it always puts a giant dumb grin on my face.

To quickly sum up my thoughts on the tv season, it was great.  The setting, an alt-universe early 20th century world with limited magic and a world war brewing was a great backdrop, especially with our main character basically walking into this by successfully arguing with God that faith is much more prevalent in hardship.  And if for some reason you’re reading this without having seen any of Youjo Senki, yes I know the premise sounds stupid beyond belief.  But as something of an expert on stupid, this show is definitely the best kind of stupid, it does not take itself seriously, at least not in how it’s presented to the audience and just runs with it’s crazy ideas.  Which makes it all the more surprising that the narrative is also able to portray how gripping and intense this war is to the characters.

Make no mistake this show, despite how OP the main character appears throughout most of the tv season, Youjo Senki presents one of the most tightrope tense war scenarios I’ve ever seen.  Because the tech is a weird blend of real world WWI & WWII, in addition to magic troops, the war plays out much more dynamically than most of our WWI that it technically is representing.  WWI was a slow war where the defense was utterly dominant because most of the generals had not adjusted their tactics to the capability of modern tech.  Hence why some WWI armies still had honest to God cavalry units, and one Russian general in particular even believed large cavalry units could not be surpassed even by tanks… let’s just say he’s still blushing from embarrassment in his grave.  WWI was a serious paradigm shift and the tv season did a really solid of job of portraying that.  Dakia was the most blatant example with the imbecilic military of this fictional Romania fighting in unit squares, not using any air power or encrypting communications.  However it proved true as well in the attack on the Orse Fjord, where the Empire used a combination of newer troop types to create tactical breakthroughs that saw the Empire crush a vital naval defense that was considered unassailable.

The tv season is peppered throughout with accurate historical details, like the horror of trench warfare, the incompetence of certain militaries and the growing pains of armies going through major new technological developments.  This holds true in the film sequel as well, in particular regarding it’s portrayal of Communist Russia.  In the film, there’s blatant party corruption, messages passed on to leadership are often falsified to appear more positive, poor or lacking equipment plagues the army, troops who run are shot by their officers and the signature “quantity has a quality all of it’s own” approach that has been a staple modern Russian armies all make an appearance.  Perhaps the most interesting detail though was that all of native Russian mage units were gulaged because of communist ideology.  This at a time when mages were proving to be vital units in the conflict as shown primarily through Tanya’s strike force and the huge impact her small, but elite, highly mobile and well armed troops have proven to be.

This leads to arguably the best part of the film, Tanya’s attack on Moska (alt-universe Moscow).  After spotting Federation (Russian) troop movements at the eastern border of the Empire, followed swiftly by a large scale attack across the eastern front, Tanya decides the best way to aid the defenders is by attacking Moska.  This would cause a panic internally, be a huge blow to morale and all but necessitate withdrawing some forces back – thus easing the pressure on the front lines.  The attack is much like the one in Dakia during the tv season, but where the raid on Dakia was a brief bombardment with some hilarity on the side, the raid on Moska is the same thing taken to the next level.  The raid is punishingly successful, because Moska has limited air defenses and no mages to counterattack Tanya’s wing (50ish man unit).  This leads to long minutes of satisfying scenes of explosions and one-sided dominance, as Tanya and Co. not only attack strategic targets but make a complete mockery of the Federation, knocking down a giant statue of Stalin, planting Empire flags all of the city, and singing patriotic music while filming their exploits.  That’s winning so hard you can’t help but laugh.

However the Federation’s incompetence and lack of mages leads to the other big draw of this film, Mary Sioux.  Mary was hinted at the very end of the tv season and boy does she make her mark in this film.  The daughter of one of Tanya’s toughest opponents from the tv season, Mary has the right blend of youthful idealism and justifiable grudges against Tanya and the Empire to be a character you can totally sympathize with.  In a relatively short span, she’s lost her country, her home and her father – and Tanya played a decisive role in this, though Mary does not know that.  What she does know however is that the Empire has to opposed for what they’ve done – which is mildly ironic considering all of the nations it subdued during the tv season attacked the Empire first but never mind – and that Tanya killed her dad and stole his machine gun, her parting gift to him; which she finds out when Tanya slams the fucker butt first into Mary’s gut.  This understandably upsets Mary and triggers an influx of divine power so massive Tanya is visibly shaken and starts firing full auto at a girl she had dead to rights in the hope of immediately destroying the threat.

In a very real sense Mary is the heart of this film and the creators knew it.  Tanya is still much the same as she was during the tv season, a twisted but intelligent person who uses her knowledge of our WWI & WWII to her and the Empire’s advantage.  She gleefully mocks her opponents, makes edgy faces and wrecks shit – at least early on.  What the second half of the film captured was something almost entirely absent from the tv season, save for the final duel with Mary’s father, Tanya and Co. being pushed to their limits or even overwhelmed.  Part of what the tv season fairly goofy, in meta sense, was just how dominant Tanya and her men were.  In the film they start off much the same way, crushing their foes, destroying important targets and laughing it up as the pwn all enemy noobs.  But Mary flips the table.  In a personal sense she far outshines any other mage, even Tanya, who is only able to beat Mary by taking advantage of Mary’s rage and lack of experience, but also in a macro-sense.  Mary’s awakening for lack of a better word is followed by a major offensive from the Federation on Tiegenhoff, an isolated but superb defensive position, that was cut off during the Federation’s large scale advance.  The local soldiers and Tanya, who reinforces the locals, have to face off against enemies who outnumber them between 4-9 to 1 and that’s just the ground troops.

The sheer size of the offensive means that Tanya and the locals have to face a full on assault for more than 24 hrs straight, culminating in a final infantry push, accompanied by a mage wing attack aiming to crush the local General Staff and a some bombers with a large escort of fighters.  Mary is of course a major factor as well, as she has recovered from her wounds in Moska and is now the single most powerful mage on the battlefield.  And while Tanya and the Empire do win, it’s not like the wins from before, either in Moska or in the tv season.  This is not a decisive victory with lots of celebration afterwards.  This is a win by the skin of their teeth, managed only by the heroic resistance of the local troops, the quality and experience of Tanya’s men and Tanya being able to effectively tie up Mary, significantly reducing her value as a military asset.  Mary’s great weakness is that she’s still raw and emotional, she doesn’t have the maturity or experience to set her emotions aside and fight tactically.  If she had then Tanya and the Empire would have lost.  Instead consumed by her righteous rage, she engages in a tense and frenetic duel with Tanya, with both girls pulling out all the stops and in the end both take significant wounds but are unable to kill the other.

The bits where Tanya’s troops split their forces is desperate bid to destroy the bombers was also fantastic.  The major members of her wing have been made memorable during the tv season because of how vital and competent they are but this is their crowning achievement.  For once they are bereft of their commander’s dominant strength as a mage, and they have to fight their way throw a horde of fighters to bring down the few but far more important bombers.  Honestly watching the guys struggle so hard, while doing their best to show their bravado and tactical acumen was really fun and it was punctuated by some really satisfying moments, like when one of the captains charges a plane with a his ensorcelled bayonet and chops the the wing off, or when a ragged squad just barely makes it high enough to shoot down the bombers in the nick of time.  The action in this film was top tier, the best of what Youjo Senki has to offer.  It’s mastery of the fun violence early on and the tooth and nail struggle in the latter half made the film a total blast.

Just about the only thing the film lacks in comparison to the tv season are the longer tense strategy meetings, because it just doesn’t have the time to develop giant game changing strategies like the attack on Orse Fjord or the encirclement of the entire Republican army.  Instead it shows and discusses great tactics but it their just isn’t enough to time to really go all in at the strategic level (for those not all that into military history, tactical level and strategic level are totally different, tactics are the means by which you win battles while strategies are the means by which you win wars – that’s a very crude way to put it but it should get the difference in scale across).  One other mark against the film is that is one of the worst looking films I have ever seen.  It looks about the same as the tv season, maybe a little better considering the amount of detailed city environments, but considering that films are generally supposed to look way better than tv anime, it has to be said that the Youjo Senki film sets the bar pretty damn low.  Personally I didn’t mind because I like the show enough to get past the lacking visuals but I can see how it could be a major point of contention to some people.

In conclusion this film is fucking great.  It fully delivers on the best of the Youjo Senki experience from the tv season, in a short, concise package.  It has moments of levity and even comedy contrasted with long, tense battle scenes.  Mary made a phenomenal debut, bringing an largely unseen emotional intensity to the series.  Seriously I think they did great job with Mary, especially balancing the parts of her character that easy to sympathize with the contrast to her almost bestial rage and boundless hatred towards Tanya.  She was someone it was easy to get behind on the one side but easy to root against because of just how consumed by anger she was in combination with her clear advantage in power.  Plus finally having Tanya face someone who wasn’t just a challenge but an implacable and almost totally overwhelming foe really added a new dimension to Youjo Senki, and it was welcome break from the big, mostly one-sided winning streak that preceded Mary’s arrival.  If you’re a fan of Youjo Senki, this film is a must watch.  If you’ve not seen any Youjo Senki and still made it through this review, go watch it.  The show is easily a 9 in my book, not that I’m fond of numeric ratings but whatever it gives some perspective to those who like scores, and the film is at least a 9 as well.  I highly recommend them both.  See you in the next one.