Saga of Tanya the Evil - The Movie is a bit of an outlier when it comes to anime films, as most that are based off of an existing series either exist within an unimportant narrative vacuum, or are condensed recaps of plots that already played out on the small screen. This is not the case for Saga of Tanya the Evil - The Movie, as it is a direct continuation to the anime's first season. This works in the movie's favor, as the assumption that viewers know what's going on allows the film to focus on telling a brand-new story. And though the movie feels a bit bloated with secondary characters, the main cast deliver a satisfying follow-up to Saga of Tanya the Evil Season 1.
In Saga of Tanya the Evil, after being killed, a random salaryman encounters a mysterious voice that demands the man refer to it as God. The man refuses to put his faith into someone he's never met and decides to call the voice Being X instead. Believing the man would turn to God if he were to lead a life filled with suffering first, Being X reincarnates the salary worker as a girl named Tanya Degurechaff in a world that closely resembles Earth in the early 1900s. Born in the world's version of Germany, and noticing world events are closely following the history of Earth, Tanya joins the military when she turns nine years old and sets her sights on ending the conflicts that are beginning to pop up before they escalate into what she knows will be World War I. Being X warns Tanya that the only way she'll be spared eternity in hell is if she dies by natural causes or accepts Being X as God.
Following a rather cryptic opening--that the film could have really done without, as it adds nothing to the overall plot--Saga of Tanya the Evil - The Movie picks up seconds after the anime series' rather abrupt cliffhanger ending. The movie feels like the missing piece to Season 1, as it neatly wraps up the final plot point of the season before hinting at the next big arc. The film delivers the showdown between Tanya and Mary Sue--the daughter of a man who Tanya killed--that Season 1 heavily implied was imminent, and also sees Tanya's goals change as a result. Realizing her home country's government is flawed and that World War I is inevitable, she begins influencing her country's leaders in hopes of preventing anything like what transpired in Earth's Germany during the 1900s. It's a satisfying conclusion to the first decade of Tanya's life in this fantasy world she finds herself trapped in, while also setting the scene for her new role in the military.
Saga of Tanya the Evil - The Movie contains no recap, so newcomers might be lost--especially since there is no explanation as to who Being X is. That doesn't matter too much, though. Chances are, if you're watching this movie, you've seen the original series. And the movie uses that fact to its advantage, playing off those expectations that something terrible will befall Tanya at any moment. Tanya's greatest ambition is to free herself from Being X, so it's unnerving to not feel its god-like presence in the first half of the film. There's a palpable tension in that first half, as things are going almost too well for Tanya.
But that all changes with the introduction of Mary Sue, and her and Tanya's new rivalry becomes the focus of the movie's second half. Tanya meets her match in her newfound adversary, especially after Mary's love of God and desire to always see justice fulfilled is twisted into vengeful hatred upon realizing Tanya is the one who killed her father. Mary's descent into animalistic fury is the first time Saga of Tanya the Evil has introduced a character who's more monstrous than Tanya, and Mary wields Being X's power against the nine-year-old with violent force. Tanya gets to witness, for the first time, how her own influence can bring out the deranged madness of those around her.
Being X may have given Mary the power to take her revenge, but he hasn't affected her mind like those who've stood against Tanya before. Mary is an enemy that Tanya created through her actions alone, and she realizes--in one of the few moments of humility for the character--that she must grow as a person if she hopes to avoid her own destruction and spare being sent to hell by Being X. The country she protects will have to change too. It's a startling moment of maturity for her character, and it influences her actions in the movie's final moments--setting up what could be an intriguing next arc.
Admittedly, it isn't much growth, and that's thanks in large part to the movie's insistence on devoting screentime to the minor characters that make up Tanya's battalion, Mary's squad, the headquarters of their respective armies, and one-and-done villains. There are way too many secondary characters, and the movie spends too much of its time justifying the inclusion of each one, referring back during important narrative moments to names and faces that have seconds of screen time and little introduction.
When the movie stops worrying about the side characters and focuses on Tanya or Mary instead, the best parts of the story come through. The two characters act as foils for each other, and watching their conflicting ideologies and personalities escalate their initially modest back-and-forths into a magic-fueled aerial dogfight is one of the best parts of the movie.
But even before the two come to blows, both women sell the movie with smaller, quiet moments. Tanya's predicament--being an arrogant and cruel adult trapped in a little girl's body--leads to several humorous moments. She'll mock her subordinates in one scene and ask them for a step stool so she can see the battle plans on a table in the next. Mary has some pretty good moments too, especially the ones where hints of the growing darkness inside her leak out, breaking the facade that she's the perfect girl everyone believes her to be.
The movie has plenty of action scenes. Tanya's story is clearly more of the focus, but several battles play out across the film's hour and a half runtime. Most aren't great, with static figures shooting at the enemy while goofing off and talking to their teammates. Tanya and Mary's final fight, however, is the best Saga of Tanya the Evil has ever looked. Both women are carefully animated to showcase the speed of their aerial ballet, and their faces twist in both fury and exhaustion as they each become more frantic in their desire to kill each other. And as gruesome as it is, the movie does a good job of showing the violent details that comes with a rifle splintering a rib or breaking an arm. There's so much movement to their duel, conveying how both women are on a completely different level of skill in comparison to those around them.
Ultimately, Saga of Tanya the Evil - The Movie is a good time. Provided you've watched Season 1 of the anime, the movie is a satisfying continuation to one person's desperate struggle to one-up a god by ending a worldwide war, only for her to learn the price for her hubris. It introduces far too many characters to keep track of, though, opens on a scene that definitely didn't need to be included, and squanders most of its battles with incessant chit-chat from all those involved. But watching Tanya outsmart her opponents with sadistic glee is enjoyable fun, and her final fight with Mary is the best the anime has ever looked.