Monday, March 19, 2018

Reading versus Watching Saga of Tanya the Evil

I started reading The Saga of Tanya the Evil by Carlo Zen this month, and this is one of the more unusual light novels I've dug into. Usually light novels are pretty fast-paced reads. But The Saga of Tanya the Evil is pretty dense.

Most English speakers who've heard of it probably did so because of the anime that aired in winter of last year. That was my introduction as well. We have a salaryman from modern day Japan who is pushed into the path of an oncoming train by a disgruntled employee, and in the moment before death the man is saved by a higher power of dubious intent, who decides to have our unnamed protagonist reborn in another world as a little girl.

But from there, reading the book is a much different experience from the anime.

There are some personality changes, such as Being X doesn't seem to be pissed off at our protagonist so much as it wants to run an experiment (if anything, Being X actually comes off as a bit whiny during their first meeting), but the most important change is that our protagonist has a voice.

When watching Saga of Tanya the evil, it's easy to forget that the protagonist is mentally a thirty-something-year-old man in the body of a nine-year-old girl. Most people when discussing the show refer to Tanya as a "she" relying on the character's visual gender, but mentally the book makes it clear that the person inside Tanya still considers himself a man.

We also get to know this man and what he was like prior to his rebirth. For instance, we know he played first person shooter games, that he's well educated, and that he's something of a history/psychology enthusiast. We also know that he's incredibly cynical and that he lives the life that he does to get ahead, because he believes that is what a person should do to be successful in life.

A lot of this is implied in the anime, but the book calls it out, and there are quite a few segments where the book intentionally has a disconnect between the protagonist and his identity as Tanya. He will refer to his little girl self in the third person while saving the "I" part of the first person narration for his own thoughts.

It's a little confusing sometimes, especially when the first person disappears for a stretch, but it's an interesting consideration that never comes out in the anime. Who Tanya was hovers over the protagonist in the anime, but that same disconnect, where the protagonist recognizes that Tanya isn't really him, isn't there.

It might be fun if the anime had brought in more of that, particularly for Tanya's inner thoughts, much like the Detective Conan series uses one voice actor for Conan's physical child voice and a different one for the mental inner thoughts of his teenage self, to reflect that the body and the mind are not the same.

Also of note is that the opening to the anime is a lot different, though I'm not surprised they changed it. Being a visual medium, the anime needed some spectacle to launch the series, so they drop Tanya in the middle of trench warfare in a scene I haven't gotten to yet (assuming it wasn't made up). The book itself runs in chronological order so our beginning is actually episode 2 of the anime.

As I mentioned, the book is also unbelievably dense for a light novel. Carlo Zen is quite happy to drop infodumps and comparisons to real world history since Saga of Tanya the Evil is largely modeled off of World War I-era Europe. This makes the book pretty tough to read, even for someone who likes this particular period of military history.

Normally I could breeze through a light novel in a few hours, but I think I needed a few hours just for the first chapter. The anime removes a lot of the grand strategy from the equation, so it's friendlier to casual fans of history, but the book will probably bore people who don't care about the details as much as wanting to watch Tanya wreck havoc.

I'm still pushing through it, but it's a book I'm digesting in slow doses, which isn't what I expected going in.