Youjo Senki – 12 (Fin)

The Gist: Topping all but the second episode, this week’s Tanya outing owns some lengthy, thoughtful and horrifying dialog. Despite what high command may think, the war will not be over and that is strictly because humans are too animalistic — too emotional — to follow the rational path and surrender.

The Republic rises in Africa, joined by survivors from the Kingdom and Alliance. The Kingdom mobilizes at home, and we see weapons of war rolling along the rail tracks in the Russian federation and in America as well. (Even Anson’s daughter has volunteered for service, yellow magic eyes and all!)

It all threatens to swallow Tanya and her fragile battalion. But Tanya is having none of it. In a fiery speech to her recently deployed African troops, she vows that the battlefield is no place for God. That her soldiers will put him out of work and that she will slice him into pieces personally and feed him to the pigs.

Back at home, among the frustration and angst of high command, the leadership has come to believe in her. She IS a monster in the body of a little girl and, no matter what, nothing will stop her from her goals.

Dun dun duuunnnnnn!

The Verdict: I have tremendous respect for this show ending on a largely talky episode, and in a so very Tanya-talky way. From her cold, calm, and horrifying explanation to high command on why they are wrong, to her frothing mad rant to her soldiers, it’s all very off putting and terrifying.

I do wish Serebryakova got a bit more screen time, and I do wish I had a sense of where any of this was going, or that it had gotten to this point 2-3 episodes earlier, but, if a second season will come our way, I think it will deserve your watching.

At it’s lowest, Tanya is a combat procedural with an unusual aesthetic. At it’s height, it transcends nihilism and delves right into an antagonistic relationship with God, and man’s own nature. Good stuff, that.

Youjo Senki – 11

The Gist: In a lovely bit of symmetry, Colonel Anson tears through Tanya’s forces, followed by a suicide self-destruct gambit when Tanya finally over powers him. Fortunately, the ever loyal Serebryakova is there to save the day and Anson is out of God’s game for good.

It’s a genuinely exciting fight, with vibrant colors, and remarkably effective use of space considering much of it is 3D models rendered over clouds. It’s also full of lovely details, like the Kingdom Mages, who ride steampunk brooms, reinforcements arriving ‘in 600 seconds,’ and Anson’s use of outlawed weapons.

On the emotional front, the battle reasserts an ongoing question in Youjo Senki: “Despite her name and actions, is Tanya truly any more evil than anyone else?” Given Anson’s shallow thirst for revenge, his use of illegal weapons, and the Kingdom troops’ indifference to the war, the answer seems to be ‘not much?’ for the time being…

Following the battle, we get a happy ending of sorts. All 11 of Tanya’s troops have survived, the Republic surrenders, and celebration awaits. At least, until Tanya realizes the Empire is walking into a trap that will cost them the war in the longer term…

The Verdict: despite a general familiarity with World War 1, I’m actually unclear on exactly what Tanya has realized (too late). However, the narrative implication that she now sees the Empire as doomed and, therefore, herself as well, are quite clear. Her faith in the one, logical institution she believes in is shaken and only Serebryakova knows it. What this means for next week, I have no idea?

That said, I see no coherent way for Youjo Senki to resolve itself in a single half and hour. Likewise, the first season has been sluggish enough that I don’t think it warrants a second season. Will it get one anyway? I have no idea.

Will I watch it if it does? …Maybe.

Youjo Senki – 10

The Gist: Team Tanya successfully wipes out the Republic’s forward command, which allows the Empire’s plan to unfold without a hitch. A massive explosion is set off under the Republic’s southern position, Empire tanks surge through the scattered survivors, and the Republic’s main force is encircled.

From inside their submarine escape vessel, Team Tanya has every right to pre-celebrate victory. However, little do they know, Colonel Anson and a boat full of Kingdom Mages is about to run into them, putting their lives, and indeed the success of the entire plan in question.

Following the credits, we flash back to Serebryakova being an un-wakeable weirdo sleeper on the submarine for some humor. Will the improved Anson finally match Tanya’s output? Will her team of 10 stand a chance against a full regiment of broom-riding mages? Beyond this battle, what’s Youjo Senki’s end game? Only a few episodes remaining to see…

The Verdict: Like the battles it features, this week’s episode landed a string of successes, with the caveat that things may go off the rails, structurally, by the end. The flow of battle and strategy was easy to understand and visually interesting, and we got a broader emotional range from Tanya and crew while on the submarine.

However, there’s an over arching haphazardness of editing throughout Youjo Senki. On one hand, it tries to cram a lot in per-episode but what it crams in isn’t always relevant or impactful. The Empire’s board meeting between government officials and the military didn’t really add to any tension over the success of the plan for example. Anson’s scene on the Kingdom ship reduced the surprise impact of his arrival at the end of the episode for another. There are plenty of other short moments in hallways and at tables where characters repeat information we already know too.

Combined, these little delays and wheelspin shave time off of other moments, not always for the better. In some ways, the opening attack from Team Tanya didn’t even feel like a scene in it’s own right, since it was so brief and the potential failure was so brief as to add no tension (It would have been far stronger to end on that in the previous episode, and leave us guessing what Tanya will do if her target was wrong to begin with).

Youjo Senki – 09

The Empire devises a plot lure out the Republic’s main-force, crush it, and end the stalemate in the Rhine. This involves railway logistics and a lot of leg work (flying work?) on Tanya’s troops’ part to deceive the Republican troops, and it looks like there are casualties amongst her unnamed ranks.

However, the big push is that Tanya and eleven of her troops will be riding V1 rockets behind enemy lines to launch a surprise attack against the Republic’s three possible command centers. If her team takes them out, which is likely, the war with the republic will be over in an instant.

Ultimately, this episode is yet another strategy and battle presentation, with an emphasis on setting up more battle for next week. We get a cameo from Tanya’s classmate and Doctor Schugel, and Serebryakova gets a little character development via Tanya’s lieutenants (who see her as bizarrely unflappable and charming amidst what should be horrifying, and what horrifies them) and there’s even a bizarrely lengthy joke after the credits, regarding one of Tanya’s men being removed from active service because he ate a rotten potato.

Unfortunately, the result falls in with Youjo Senki’s more mediocre offerings. It’s not bad, just a straight forward war and internal workings of an army storytelling. Without a focus on Tanja’s inner workings, or giving her agency over the intrigues of the day, or without learning more about God, that makes for a purely watchable experience.

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Youjo Senki – 08

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The Gist: Colonel Sue Anson wakes up in a Kingdom hospital, months after last week’s battle. He’s seen God and has orders to kill Tanya, and his eyes glow yellow with the power to do it. Despite this scene being tucked after the ending credits, and lasting barely 30 seconds, this is the primary purpose of the episode.

The 20 minutes of content leading up to this shows Tanya’s Battalion in the Rhine valley, where they must retake a city that’s being overrun by freedom fighters. The battle is fierce, as the resistance is backed by air-dropped mages of the Republic (the robot horse guys) and the tight quarters of city fighting play against Team Tanya’s advantages in mobility and ranged firepower. Also, because civilian casualties are guaranteed, it plays against her soldiers’ emotional stability.

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This is especially rough on a gung-ho second lieutenant who’s been trying to win Tanya’s approval. Specifically, after the battle is won and after hauling wounded bodies for hours, he’s ordered to eliminate the Republican mages providing cover for evacuating Civilians, in prep for a lethal saturation of artillery fire.

It’s not entirely clear if he’s more upset with Tanya’s logical explanation that the survivors will simply take up arms against him and the Empire, or if the truth of her words is too hard to bear (he can see a young man in the crowd glowering at him, as if telegraphing a thirst for revenge) or if he isn’t upset at Tanya at all but the war itself. Whatever the reason, however broken it makes him, it is strongly implied that he opens fire at Tonya’s command.

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The Verdict: Youjo Senki captures the horrors of war and the process of dehumanizing soldiers to the point that they act more as tools than thinking humans better than previous outings. However, minus Anson waking up, this was still a ‘war is bad’ episode, it still overly reliant on the ‘ain’t it cool’ factors of the show’s technology and Tanya’s badass war fighting skills. Again, without God or a greater view of the conflict from inside Tanya’s head, the tragedy of carnage isn’t especially compelling.

As for Anson waking up, it finally sets a narrative destination in motion, which is good. However, Anson was never developed enough to be a compelling opponent for Tanya in the first place. Sure, losing his country and being a dad give him the basis for conflict in dealing with Tanya, but we don’t see how his mind works, let alone have there been scenes dedicated to emotional conflict for him fighting Tanya.

This leads me to suspect a fairly straightforward combat focus to their conflict in the future. While that may be visually stimulating, it would be a letdown. Youjo Senki, at its best, can do better than that.

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Youjo Senki – 07

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The Gist: Tanya’s Battalion is the leading edge of a surprise naval invasion against the Alliance (alt-Finland). They paradrop on top of what was thought to be the perfect fortress and quickly obliterate all the coastal guns, paving the way for a quick defeat. They engage Colonel Sue Anson along the way and quickly kill him and all his men.

Outside of that event, we learn that Anson has sent his family away to the United States, that his daughter gave him a submachine gun that has his initials on it, and that’s about it.

Roll Credits?

tanyabAnson finally gets the POINT (but I don’t?)

The Verdict: If he’s dead, and that seems like a safe assumption, I’m not sure why Youjo Senki spent so much time with Anson? After all the build up, he presents no challenge for Tanya to defeat, and beyond having a daughter who is now in America, his only lasting impact on the narrative seems to be that Tanya kept his gun? (And his initials appear to be used heavily in the Youjo Senki branding)

There was a glimmer of possibility, when Anson began to pray, that something unexpected would happen, but there was no payoff. Worse, we haven’t see the rest of the world react to Tanya enough to get a sense that Anson is praying because Tanya prays before she slaughters. We certainly haven’t seen enough of Anson to know if this was a change brought on by an outside factor, or if he prayed normally anyway.

What I’m getting at is, battle aside, what was the point of all of this? So the Empire has de facto won against the Alliance, which moves the war along, but who cares? We know the Republic will fall in the Spring, followed by the Kingdom, but that’s just alt-history fantasy stuff that doesn’t carry any tension because no characters or sympathetic evidence has been presented to give us a reason to care. (In fact, from the Empire POV it appears these other powers were the aggressor in the first place)

For a show that’s halfway over, setting up long-game goals seems in order (developing characters, revealing another layer of mystery, or establishing a worthy opponent). Instead, mostly action sequences. Shrug?

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Youjo Senki – 06.5

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It’s recap week and there were no clever mechanisms or twists added to the material. At least it was presented in linear (non-eposidic) order, which makes more sense as a way to bring the audience in.

Less good, the way it was clipped and mashed into a single episode strips the Tanya/God conflict down in favor of maximum action and story-per-frame. Tanya’s inner motivations and emotional conflict with God is, really, the only reason to watch this show.

Curiously, I found ‘episode zero,’ which is a super deformed websclusive superior. There’s basically no animation at all, and 99% of it’s 120 seconds of bobbing along is empty chatter about not liking German food, but the end really nails Tanya’s character. God is with her every moment, keeping her alive and pushing her forward and she loves it. She loves it so much she will kill him for it.

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Youjo Senki – 06

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The Gist: Tanya’s Battalion is deployed to break the Alliance (alt-Finnland) and they arrive just in time to route a large multi-national mage force backed by Bombers. While it is more challenging than their first battle, Team Tanya cleans house without a single casualty.

Meanwhile, while searching for POWs to interrogate, Tanya gets another taste of God. This time she gets a shot in — a brutally quick one into the corpse of a pilot — but it’s barely enough to pause God’s presentation. God’s message is pretty simple: Tanya has a target painted on her back and the whole world is out for her heretical blood.

tanya6_4Soldier Dad is totally screwed… but not till next week

Elsewhere, the Alliance senior council tells each other they are on the brink of collapse, a Republic General hears a report, a Kingdom Colonel tries to get intel on Tanya but gets his observation post blown up in the process, and Anson (the guy with the scar who lead the failed attack on Tanya in episode 2) gets promoted and sent to defend the rear lines… which is where Tanya is being sent next.

Serebryakov and the rest of Team Tanya get screen time, and they all feel a little more believable as soldiers, leaders, and individual people for it. However, God’s visit is the most interesting aspect of the episode. My take on it is that God is not only trying to force Tanya to repent and/or spread God’s word but also share God’s own feeling of being ‘against the whole world.’

I could be reading too much into it, but I get the feeling God’s goal is less to do with Tanya’s humanity and humility, and more to do with shaping a counterpart. Perhaps making a literal devil to co-administer the world with…

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The Verdict: As with last week, your enjoyment of this week’s episode hinges on how much you care about Tanya kicking ass on the battle field verses how much unnecessary, content repeating, conversations amongst the various central and high commands of 5 nations you are willing to sit through.

Also like last week, we get one good visit from God that really highlights how much more interesting that concept is than loli-murder-machine and logistical conversations amongst military commanders…

While I’m looking forward to Tanya’s reunion with Alliance Colonel Sue Anson next week, and I’m digging the weirdly vindictive plot God is throwing at her, this episode can not escape the fact that those two points were it’s only two interesting points, and Anson’s 60 second scene only sets up potential for the next episode.

tanya6_2The scale, depth of field, and bomb dropping action was the best of any war machine we’ve seen rendered so far…

We’ve seen Tanya blow stuff up before. (though seeing Tanya take a bomber down with a hand grenade was pretty bad ass) We’ve seen that the Empire would already have crumbled without her participation.

We didn’t really need to see the Alliance senior council to confirm that they are also holding on by a thread — that they are relying on the Kingdom and Republic for support — because we see that on the battlefield, as evident by the uniforms and tech of those other nations.

We certainly don’t need to a Republican General all the way back in alt-Paris getting a report about the battle and the Alliance’s senior council’s status right after seeing those things. Unfortunately, that’s what we got.

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Youjo Senki – 05

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The Gist: After only 20 recruits pass Tanya’s initial test (a test to see through the illusion of a fake officer telling them they’ve failed) HQ gives Tanya a free month to train her soldiers anyway she wants. Training is brutal, starting with being shelled with live munitions for 36 hours, followed by a 48 hour march across the wastes.

All her men can do is shout in frustration… which causes an avalanche. But the tortures backfire on Tanya, who’s impossible odds were set to break men’s wills and prevent her forces from being deployed into battle. Seeing her ‘bring a man back to life’ and calmly take all hardship with purpose only hardens her men’s resolve and fear of failure.

As the episode neared the credits, Tanya’s first regiment finds itself in the south eastern edge of the empire, facing 600,000 soldiers invading from a new threat, the Dakian empire…

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-12-20-43-pmTanya’s team lands in the enemy’s HQ camp, bewildered that communications are not encrypted and no air defense is in place…

Suffice it to say, the Dakians are completely out of their league. No air defense. No contemporary tactics. Just countless corpses and burning factories — in their capitol city no less. Tanya’s force will certainly fight harder foes in the future, and may risk over confidence, but, for now, they can breath a sigh of relief.

The Verdict: This week brought us a few moments of levity but was mostly focused on the fighting of war, and the prowess of Tanya at war, which is not all that interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it when Lieutenant Serebryakov she grabs a shovel at the first sign of ‘training’, reinforces it with magic, and digs a fox hole to hide in. Her quote “I’ve been thinking your idea of what constitutes a threat is a little…” was a nice touch too.

But really, the only meat to the episode was watching soldiers normalize around the world view of their ruthless leader. They agree with Tanya’s assessment that Dakian’s efforts aren’t really war, they buy into the death and glory of graduating boot camp, they celebrate above the burning wreck of Dakian’s capitol. I could see this story moving ahead, to the next world war, with Tanya holding Furer-like power, and the likely horrifying consequences to follow…

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Youjo Senki – 04

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The Gist: Salaryman spends the week reading each situation not-quite-right. Following 6 months of academy, he lands an interview with General Zettour, but his proposal to out position the enemies of the Empire could be read as ‘not trying to win’ the war, which traps him in a quick alternative proposal: build a Battalion strength Mage force for rapid deployment and precision strikes. The mages would not ever hold ground, but simply destroy high value targets, which will undermine the enemy’s will (and manpower) to fight.

This is not so much a miss-read of the situation, as it leads to a result he was not intending. Rather than join the planning staff, s/he is promoted to lead the proposed Battalion, which will likely be even more dangerous than working the front lines…

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-2-12-17-pmnice kid’s chair brah!

Tanya Degrechaff makes a few other incorrect reads of the situation, including her belief that painting her Battalion as a one way ticket to hell, where only the few survivors will receive glory, would dissuade people from joining. Quite the opposite, as she lives in a death or glory society, where those who can join, will. She can barely fault them as, in her own way, she follows the same principle.

The Verdict: the play between smart and very logical planning from sallaryman, and his/her total surprise and frustration when plans don’t go the way they are expected to is one of the gems here. Similarly, watching his/her opponents in high command equally terrified by Tanya’s promotion and growth in command, gives the entire show a great degree of humorous irony.

And god damn, I love that Tanya has to sit in a high-chair to join the command officers for dinner!

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Youjo Senki – 03

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The Gist: After ten years of silence, God intervenes. Following her recovery and receipt of ace-status, Tanya finds herself blessed with even more power but at the price of obeying God’s command. Each time she uses the Elenium Type 95, she must pray, and in doing so spread his word. (also, not be blown to pieces by the Type 95, which would explode without divine providence.)

Flashing back to the present, Tanya receives a promotion following her victory in the Rhine. More important to Salaryman, she is given the chance to attend the military academy, where he feels a safe life track will finally emerge.

Little does he know, many around him are also under God’s will. And God apparently has a plan…

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-11-08-19-pmIntroducing Imperial Military Technology Development Chief Engineer Adelheid von Schugel or ‘Doc’ as I will call him.

Doc and Tanya’s banter brought levity to this episode, which would otherwise be overly heavy OR too reliant on Tanya’s antagonistic relationship with God (and befuddled facial expressions) to remain fresh or engaging. Importantly, it was tongue-in-cheek humor, but not ‘idiot’ humor. So the lightening of the tone did not undermine the tone, world, or grim reality of Tanya’s situation.

However the emerging God Conspiracy really stole the show. It is hard to predict what Youjo Senki can do with that thread, but spreading God’s message—Deus Lo Vult—among the various side stories really salvaged them from feeling like disposable ‘people talk in a room somewhere else’ scenes.

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-11-11-37-pmIt must be satisfying to break a talking nutcracker while God is chastising your lack of metaphysical growth…

The Verdict: Youjo Senki stood on three pillars for narrative strength this week and, I would expect, for the duration of the season. Tanya and God’s conversations, which includes a great visual effect as well as evocative imagery, provides academic interest. Tanya’s interaction with other humans, which reveal her internal motives via monologue, provide the audience an emotional satisfaction from knowing more than the rest of the cast. Tanya’s response to being trapped by God and/or circumstances gives the audience an action or humor release.

Sprinkling in magic explosions and military stuff is just spice on top. Good stuff and well worth a watch!

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Youjo Senki – 02

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The Gist: A Salaryman hangs suspended in the air, locked in conversation with God, spanning the eternal instant before his death. Before this moment, he was s successful rules follower without faith nor compassion. Shortly afterward, he is a newborn girl in an alternate world, where God hopes hardship will reignite the man’s faith or kill him, never to be reincarnated again.

Thus, Tanya Degrechaff begins her journey in a world she recognizes as being similar to pre-World War I era Germany, but with enough differences (like Magic) that she considers it possible for the War to turn out differently. With her adult mind intact, she quickly enlists in the military upon being identified as a magic user, as this will give her better training (chances of survival) than being drafted at the regular age.

screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-1-57-22-pmthis show is not without a sense of humor…

The remainder of the episode reveals Tanya’s training, time as a training instructor, and first deployment to the north, which she alluded to last week. The combat towards the end is crisp, tense, and the military world around it more coherent than last week. However, the most important improvement is using Tanya as the point of view character, complete with thick internal monolog that lends context to her deceptively generic evil exterior.

Tanya’s battle with enemy anti-observer mages sums this up. Alone and told to delay an entire company for 600 seconds (more than enough time to cook and eat an instant ramen), Tanya can only laugh hysterically at the absurdity of her situation. Even still, she reveals a simple logic to her choice to attack in the aftermath.

Where every other ‘crazy evil face‘ anime villain is ‘just so crazy it shows on his or her face,’ Tanya’s logic, awareness of irony, and dismay when events play out unexpectedly succeed in making her relatable — maybe even likable.

screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-1-56-48-pm“…making it seem you fought hard, while leaving the battlefield in a natural way. That is the best way to protect yourself and survive…” – Tanya

The Verdict: Well that was surprising. To a degree, I understand the choice to show us Tanya how everyone else sees her (evil) first, and then upend our expectations on the second pass. However, changing the narrator and tone — and point — of the narrative makes these first two episodes feel like they are from two different shows. More importantly, it risked losing viewers before the reveal because Tanya and the setting aren’t that interesting without context.

There was a lot to like here. The greater variety of settings elevated this week’s visuals far above last week. The conversation with god, which featured a tension with static figures with moving eyes and mouths and a depth of field blurring was downright beautiful.

Ultimately, the real treasure is Tanya herself. S/he isn’t a nice person, nor is she above ruthless violence, but her plan is just a career track and her plan is to do well enough in that career to get out of harm’s way and live comfortably. It’s a great satire on the littleness of evil — that thinking of life in terms of a career path to pleasure may, in and of itself, be one of God’s grievances with man.

Regardless, Tanya may have performed too well for her initial plan to work. As we saw last week, after her recovery, it was right back to the front lines…

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Youjo Senki – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: in an alternate World War I, where a certain Empire has been surrounded, Mages are deployed to hold the enemy back in an infinite delay game of mobilized defense.

Second Lieutenant Tanya Degrechaff is one such mage…except she isn’t. She’s a walking death dealer, easily able to rip apart enemies of the Empire with her magic bolt action rifle and…flying boot? She demonstrates this by defeating an entire company of enemy mages on her own (with a sort of nuke-bullet) after they easily kill off an Imperial mage company.

However, her platoon of mages is not so powerful, nor subordinate to follow her instructions and, during this week’s missions, either they are killed or accomplish nothing. Likewise, central command (and enemy central command, which we see during the closing credits) are also inept and terrified of this child murder-machine.

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Youjo Senki is a mixed bag, visually. When it wants to, it animates explosions and gesture reasonably well, and the moody clouds are top notch. It even risks drawing characters from quirky low or high angles. Unfortunately, all the characters look a bit weird, style wise, with exaggerate lip and eye shapes and positions.

The plot is problematic too, where individual battles are coherent but the flow between them, or the over all purpose is not clearly defined. Rather, there’s no build up for the characters, nor mystery about them, and everyone’s motivations seemed to be limited to ‘war.’ (edit: I’ve seen learned that Degrechaff has a mystery behind her but that’s not indicated in this episode at all)

Combined with the mostly mud-color pallete and a eye-rollingly juvenile ‘evil chant’ sound track, Youjo Senki feels like it’s trying harder for a mood than a coherent story or resonant characters.

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The Verdict: Youjo Senki doesn’t feel like it’s making a statement by using a child-soldier, which is something that has no real World War I context. It also doesn’t feel like it’s making a statement about World War I style combat either, nor about people, nor does it show any real relationships in the first episode.

If you are into loli murder-machines who are spelled out evil incarnate, or into alternate World War I aesthetics mixed with magic, you may like this.

If you find the anime tendency to misconstrue World War I and World War II Germany annoying, don’t ‘get anything’ out of evil little magic girls, or are looking for a cohesive plot with interesting characters, probably not?

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