The Performance of Power: The Saga of Tanya the Evil

Power is one of those topics that pops up over and over in writing and in life. For instance, power underlies a lot of the relationship stuff I’ve been babbling about for almost two years in this blog.

Take for instance Samurai Champloo. Mugen and Jin are fearsome swordsmen. Why in the name of bog do they do what Fuu tells them to? I don’t what she’s got on them, but whatever it is, she’s clearly got it.

One of the best anime to look at power and its operation is The Saga of Tanya the Evil. Tanya’s in the army, and in the army power, authority, and responsibility are explicit and based on rank.*

If you know about The Saga of Tanya the Evil, you can skip this paragraph, right? Once upon a time there’s this Japanese salaryman in our world who dies in an accident. A Supreme Being sends him to an alternative universe in a country we recognizes as a non-Hitlerian Germany during the 1930’s and plops him into the tiny body of a nine-year-old girl who is also, conveniently, a powerful magician. Since he has access to Tanya’s magic and his own knowledge, he rises rapidly in the army.

Okay, power. Depending on who you talk to, power can generally come from five sources:

Legitimate power. Your job/position gives it to you.
Attraction power. You possess personal characteristics (charisma’s a big one) that people respond to
Coercion power. You can do bad things to people who don’t do as you say. “Pay the money or we break your kneecaps”
Reward power. You can do good things for people who do as you say.
Expert power. I has the skillz you need, so you should do what I sayz

The cool thing about Tanya the Evil is that she has access to all of them. First, she’s an officer in the army, a Lieutenant Colonel as of Light Novel #7, so she has the Legitimate power to give orders to lower-ranking individuals: Majors, Captains, Lieutenants, all the way down to Privates. It comes from her rank, not from any of her achievements. (In her case the rank does flow from the achievements, but in Saga, and in a lot of armies, there are a lot of people giving orders who ain’t achieved nothin’ yet, honey.)

Tanya with coffee

Tanya powers up on a hot cuppa coffee

Attraction power: This is probably Tanya’s weakest source of power, but it’s there as well. Remember, outwardly she’s a pretty little girl, literally a child as cute as a bug’s ear. It’s clear that at times the adults around her, especially the adult men around her, feel protective of her and indulge her because they think of her as being a cute little girl.

Coercion power: Because of her legitimate power she possesses all sorts of coercion power as well. She’s entitled to tell people what to do, and if they don’t do it the way she likes, she can and sometimes does punish them, oftentimes by giving them assignments they don’t like or by transferring them out of her unit. (Since her unit is regarded as elite, being thrown out of it leads to a social stigma.)

Reward power: Same as above, right? On numerous occasions, for instance, she uses her unit’s funds to throw parties for her troops, parties she can’t attend herself since she is underage.

Expert power: This is the most interesting because Tanya Degurechaff, the child commander, has information that no one knows she has, because while she is a little girl on the outside, inside she is that middle-aged man. Moreover, since Tanya inhabits an alternative Earth roughly equivalent to our world in the 1930’s, the man inside her knows the world of the 1930’s as history.

That history includes military, political, and social history. The others in Tanya’s world are making it up as they go along, but she – or, rather, the man inside her – knows how those things work. It is routine for her to make predictions or propose solutions that turn out correctly, to formulate strategies that prove successful and tactics that win battles. Her superiors, many of them middle-aged men, wonder how such a young girl can understand war so well.

It’s why she is sent to the Staff College, and why she is already a relatively high-ranking officer. And you see what happens here? Her expert power translates into increased legitimate power.

Attractive power is really common in anime, but you can see all of the types if you look for them. And if you’re interested in how stories are put together, like I am, you need to look for power, because power creates dominance, and dominance is involved with both plot and conflict. It’s a big building block of storytelling.

After all, what makes Hansel and Gretel (no, not the killer kiddies of Black Lagoon) such a cool story is that the little kids defeat the powerful witch, right? And what makes Tanya the Evil so cool is how much power – social power, not just magical – gets packed into that tiny body.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.
* There’s a story I want to tell you here. My dad fought in World War II. He was an aircraft crew chief in 525 Squadron, 86th Fighter-Bomber Group, and served in Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, Corsica, France, and Germany.

As a crew chief – the guy in charge of maintaining and repairing one airplane – he was a sergeant, but if you look back at that list some of them countries were pretty damned hot. It was against regulations, but sometimes it was so hot he stripped off his uniform top with his sergeant’s stripes on it.

While he was working one day a couple newly-arrived corporals found him. Since he wasn’t wearing his uniform blouse a) they couldn’t see his stripes and b) he was out of uniform, so the corporals decided they would give him a little shit. “Hey, you,” says one of them. “This plane looks a little dirty. Maybe you should wash it off.”

Dad’s a sergeant and no corporals can tell him what to do, so he says, “No,” and gets back to work.

One of the dumbasses says, “Well, let’s see what the Captain thinks about that,” so they grab Dad and drag him off to see the Captain.

The Captain knows who Dad is, of course. He’s the best crew chief in the squadron. “What’s the problem here?” he says.

The Corporals say, “We found this joker out of uniform and he refused a direct order to wash off that airplane.”

The Captain turns to Dad. “Sergeant D’Alessio, who do you think should wash off that aircraft?”

Dad doesn’t say anything. He just points. He’s the sergeant, and sergeants tell corporals what to do. BOOM. Legitimate power.

3 thoughts on “The Performance of Power: The Saga of Tanya the Evil

  1. Heheh, that is an awesome story about your grandfather. 🙂

    I remember, in one of my college classes, we talked about the five types of authority. I have forgotten a couple of the details, though I could probably still find my notes on them, but I remember they’re very similar to what you mention here. Going in order of least effective (and most used) to most effective (and least used), there was coercive, reward, expert… and I forget the names of the last two, but the last one was based on personal respect, the sort where one *wanted* to listen to the speaker.

    Until reading this, it hadn’t occurred to me that Tanya actually possesses and uses all five in some way. Interesting.


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