Monday, February 6, 2017

The Risk of "Tanya the Evil" ~ Episode Limits and Early-Game Twists

I am doing my gosh-darndest to keep up with the new season of anime since I'm at Crunchyroll now, because it makes writing easier. One that I've seen people hugely divided on is The Saga of Tanya the Evil (released in Japan as Youko Senki), based on the light novel series of the same name by Carlo Zen. It's popular enough that Akihabara Gamers is giving away hardtack for Valentine's Day, but some (read: many) light novel aficionados point out that its basic concept is annoyingly close to other big-name light novels.

So, to do this piece, I have to spoil the story for you. Hope that's okay. Anyway.

We start off our first episode with Tanya Degurechaff, a nine-year-old lieutenant in what appears to be WWI Germany Except There's Magic, being generally an absolute bastard. She's intelligent and cutthroat beyond her years, but other than an anachronistic comment about a salaryman, nothing in this series shows that it's going to be anything beyond another Historical War Except There's Magic story.

Perhaps they thought the "salaryman" comment would be enough to make people sit up and listen. Perhaps the only demographic they're particularly bothered with is existing fans of the light novels. Or perhaps Evil Magical WWI Girls really are popular enough in Japan that this is enough to hold the viewing audience.

I went ahead to the second episode. And that's where the narrative hook was hiding.

So, unsurprisingly, how we consume entertainment has changed. We can get any anime we want (except PreCure and Macross) beamed to our home from a choice of about six or seven streaming sites -- many of which we don't even have to pay for. We can get any TV we want that way, almost. I know plenty of cord-cutters, all of whom are still up on the "important" shows. But because there's so much readily available, life's suddenly too short.

That's not sarcasm. Life really is too short for bad shows. I have episodes limits for myself: five for anime, three for American TV, two for British TV. That's based on how different markets tend to pace their work, and if I'm still kind of on the fence after my limit I'll go another one or two to be sure. But there are a lot of people out there, understandably, who are "one and done." If you can't get them in the first episode, they're out.

Complain about this all you like. Complain about how they're going to miss shows with "slow build" or an awkward pilot. That's their choice. Because, yeah, life's too short.

But here's the thing about Tanya, for those who don't know the books: she's actually an asshole salaryman from 2013 who was pushed in front of a train and who's been reincarnated into an alternate universe as punishment.

And this is the very beginning of the second episode.

Now, putting aside the fact that "asshole reborn into alternate world" is apparently such a tropey trope that light novel competitions aren't allowing any more entries with that plot... this timing tho.

I do very much applaud the attempt at a slow reveal -- at setting us up to thing this show was "Evil girl is evil in Germany" but it's actually "evil salaryman is being coerced into worshiping God in some weird German AU." I like discovering that I wasn't watching what I thought I was watching. Good.

But... this was a risk. This was a big risk. Art isn't made without risks, sure, but even a lunatic like me who loves having my head messed with thought the tonal shift from episode 1 to episode 2 was a bit alienating -- and not in the "good, that means it affected you" way. Sunk a little deeper into the story, and not having been overexposed to the aforementioned "evil dudes reincarnated elsewhere" trope, I'm finding it's fitting a happy medium for me, at least for now.

I can see what the writers were going for. They thought Tanya's comment about salarymen would be enough cliffhanger for the crowd, cause enough speculation. It seems to have caused some, but I shuffled it away into the back of my head as "oh, clearly this Germany AU has salarymen" as opposed to "oh boy, reincarnation and time travel!"... which could be a comment on me.

I'm interested. I'll admit. I'm enjoying Tanya's rivalry with Being X, how she is adapting to being forced to worship a deity, and wondering how this is going to go forward. But I'm really curious about that pacing -- which was a fairly wild decision -- and what that could mean for the pacing of the rest of the series.

All things considered, if I had a twist that nice, I'd want to make sure people cruising by stuck around for it. Then again, I'm not an anime producer.

Watch Saga of Tanya the Evil on Crunchyroll.
Visit the official website. (Japanese only)
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