「ラインの悪魔」 (Rain no akuma)
“The Devil of the Rhine”
Germany, girls, and magic. You can be sure at least two of these things will pop up in any given military anime, especially those attempting to emphasize the gritty, realistic side of war. Just this past season we saw Shuumatsu no Izetta and Drifters which even featured all three, and it is in this vein that Youjo Senki continues along the well-trodden path. Previewing this series left me little doubt Youjo Senki would be all fantasy-war, and indeed this adaptation wasted little time in giving it to us. Trench warfare and all its dressings—mass charges, artillery barrages, senseless industrial slaughter—are quickly laid out among the trappings of yet another fictionalized Europe. We have the Germany insert at war with damn near everyone, a not-France (and a British wannabe) at war on this story’s Western Front, and the ever ominous Russian bear bearing down from the east. At least Youjo Senki is breaking from Japan’s traditional fascination with Nazi Germany by using the earlier Second Reich as its model. If anyone is still in doubt, this guy is all but Paul von Hindenburg, we have pike helmets, and Plan 315 is a cute imitation of Germany’s revolving East-West offensives post-1914.
Beyond all this First World War eye candy, however, there is a noticeable bit of confusion. This episode—for better or worse—has largely skipped over the entire series introduction. Tanya’s (Yuuki Aoi) origins are unexplained, her personality left void and the reasoning for her actions largely ignored. The reincarnation, gender swapping premise hyped up? Seemingly passed over in favour of blowing things up. While the basics are certainly established—Tanya is harsh, absolute, and possessing a sinister sense of humour—without the backstory Tanya could easily be interpreted as a nationalist thoroughly enamoured of her country when the truth is, well, a slightly different. I’d imagine this episode was designed to lure in attention before laying out the backstory next week, but it’s hard denying for anime-only viewers that Youjo Senki so far has a gaping hole where the central premise should reside.
The one thing I must hand to this show so far though is the aesthetics. Not many military series feature such a dreary, melancholy colour palette of browns and greys, which in this fantasy WWI setting does wonders for highlighting such harsh, devastated battlefields. Particularly on point is the music, which easily performs the task of emphasizing just how crazy our preteen blondie can be—if those eyes weren’t a signal already. Too bad character design leaves something to be said, especially poor Viktoriya (Hamayi Saori) who currently walks a fine line between cute and monstrosity. It’s a strange artistic change from the source, as those familiar will attest to, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t start growing on me by episode’s end.
With much of Youjo Senki’s premise still unknown, it’s hard forming an opinion on this one yet. While it certainly hits all the right buttons for anyone with an interest in war (*blush*), until Tanya’s origins are fleshed out and we see just where this story decides to go, Youjo Senki is little more than a pretty bit of wartime fantasy. Grab your tickets and step in line, just going to have to wait and see what next week brings.
You don’t know love until you’ve witnessed some fantastically modelled French 75s.
Tanya is probably the first demonic character I’ve seen proudly featuring an ahoge.
The prototype Strike Witches devices strapped to our mages’ legs are funny because they’re an anime-original. Magic actually is channelled through a pocket watch of sorts (hanging just below the necks of Viktoriya and Tanya here), which is an important bit for explaining why our little loli is so magically powerful.