Youjo Senki and Free Will

A journey begins with a shove off of a train platform.

The series I started the most on a whim this season was Youjo Senki (or The Saga of Tanya the Evil for those who like clumsy official names). The chatter I was hearing about this show early on was that it was about a guy who became a fascist magician who upheld the ideals of the Nazis in an alternate universe. I was understandably a bit hesitant to subject myself to something that I would consider so socially abhorrent, but boredom and curiosity have a way of combining to make these things happen. 

I think Youjo Senki is a rather high-concept series and I can sum it up in this sentence: It’s a show about a contented salaryman who finds himself sent to another world as a little girl all while being subjected to the whims of the mysterious being that sent him there. The longer version of this is our unnamed salaryman sacks a fellow employee and is then pushed in front of a train by the same guy. However, moments before he dies someone he refers to as Being X demands he acknowledges the existence of God, but his imminent death isn’t enough to push him toward that, so he has to be pushed further. He’s reborn as Tanya Degurechaff, an orphan in something like early 20th century Europe, but with magic that is used in battles.

This is the default mood for Tanya

In the tradition of Yang Wen-li of Legend of the Galactic Heroes fame, all Tanya wants is to ease through this new life that they’ve been subjected to. That means joining the military as opposed to being in an orphanage, then trying to get the easiest combat roles, and trying to impress superiors to get further from the front lines. Unfortunately, every step seems to backfire. Tanya ends up in the front lines doing combat work killing lots of people, they can’t seem to escape to the back because of those heroic exploits, and Being X just keeps making things worse until Tanya willingly acknowledges him.

And thus we have the major conflict in this series.

The question that kept popping into my head was “why is messing around with Tanya going to make them not rebel against him?” This is probably one of the most unique depictions of God or a God-like figure in fiction. I would say this is the depiction of a God who doesn’t care about normal people but does care about the result of a sporting event. A God that is so petty that even one person doubting his existence is enough to upset him is rare these days, though I will admit to lacking in the whole history of religions department.

From a philosophical standpoint, however, I do find this series to be a good examination of the old argument between determinism and free will. The former says that one set of actions is possible and nothing can change that, while the latter says all results are the sum of the choices made by individuals. The dynamic this show has set up is that no matter what decisions Tanya makes, they are going to lead to being forced to praying to Being X until they truly believe in his power.

Things are about to pick up in this show’s universe.

This struggle does make the show fun to watch in my opinion. On the downside, though, one can’t help but think the other characters in this show exist merely as roadblocks to our protagonist. Viktoriya, as nice a girl as she is in helping out Tanya, is merely making their goal of a peaceful life harder. Anyway, I think I’m fully on board with seeing Tanya and this asshole version of God engage in theological battle.

One thought on “Youjo Senki and Free Will”

  1. One funny thing about having Nazis put upon the pedestal of the absolute evil is that the modern national-socialist thought cannot acknowledge its intellectual origins. You know, before WWII Nazis had the best social safety net in the world, and were readily acknowledged for their global leadership. However, an American national socialist these days has no choice but to pretend to be some kind of Marxist. Bernie Sanders is the best example.

    Youjo Senki brings us other interesting insights into the history of Europe, which Euorpeans cannot acknowledge anymore, but a few Japanese still retain. For example, even the horrors of WWI were not enough to make many intellectuals to realize the changed nature of war (this point is explicitly the one Tanya preaches repeatedly). You know, in 1939, Germans congratulated each other in the streets about the victory over Poland and expressed hopes for a lasting peace at last (yes, they were wrong). Or, we do not like to remember that Vischy government was a legitimate government, albeit on a losing side, and De Gall was a renegade and traitor. The allied victory is what changed these historical perceptions.

    As for Victoria, she actually provided a decisive help to Tanya at least at one point in combat. Overall, I really liked how her character went beyond a stereotypical tryhard sidekick.

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