The pandemic-like explosion of isekai anime is one of the most unfortunate yet understandable trends of the last decade. Who wouldn’t want their escapism to reassure them that there’s life after death? Who wouldn’t want to believe that there’s somewhere better than this hellscape we’re currently living in?
The result, though, is often ridiculous and derivative; an ordinary person dies in an unfortunate way but gets reincarnated in a fantasy world where they have all the powers and magic they need to get through whatever quests are thrown at them.
The Saga of Tanya the Evil is sold as an isekai. And this may have put off some more discerning anime fans, sick of the light-hearted, low-peril fare typical of the genre. But if The Saga of Tanya the Evil is an isekai - and it resembles the genre in only the most superficial way - then it is a perfect example of how to do isekai right.
The show begins with a salaryman, ruthless in his pragmatism, doing whatever needs to be done to climb the corporate ladder. Unfortunately, this leads to his death at the hands of a subordinate he’s just fired. Just before the moment of his demise, the salaryman is contacted by a messenger of God who is angered by the man’s lack of faith, and chooses to rebirth him in a world where he will need faith to survive.
Reborn as Tanya Degurechaff, an orphan with aptitude for magic in a world where mages are used as soldiers in a World War I-like warscape, the salaryman trieS to use the knowledge of his previous life to survive without getting too drawn into the throes of conflict...
The Saga of Tanya the Evil treats war and death in an appropriately dark manner. There is no room for light-hearted banter, or even mercy for one’s enemies, and its recreation of the horrors of that most unpleasant of wars survive the transfer into a paranormal world. Yes, Tanya is slightly over-powered but, just like the best Superman stories, this story is about what she can’t do rather than what she can.
Beautifully animated by NUT, a studio formed to adapt the light novel and manga this story grew from, the series makes good use of a mix of traditional and CGI animation, seamlessly blended for the most part, and some outstanding voice acting by veteran seiyū Aoi Yūki in the title role (appropriately dubbed by her American counterpart Monica Rial on the English soundtrack).
The Saga of Tanya the Evil was one of the hits of the Winter 2017 season, and a feature film continuing the story was released in February 2019. Tanya herself also stars in the non-canon Isekai Quartet anime.