This feels like one of those times where the author said, “You know what? Let’s take these tropes and make them as twisted and disturbing as absolutely possible! Let’s go the extra mile to really freak people out!” And considering how freakish anime already gets – it’s infamous for such, and rightly so! – this says something! But, I suppose it makes sense, in a way. In a world where the classic childhood tropes of superheroes, magical girls, and color-themed warriors for good have all been twisted into dark, edgy, gritty, degraded, and twisted horror stories, a’la The Boys, Invincible, Madoka Magica, and Power/Rangers, it’s really only a matter of time before almost everything gets the same sort of gruesome treatment. In this case, it’s the otherworldly isekai trope.
For those who don’t know, isekai refers to the type of story where people from our world are summoned to, reincarnated in, or otherwise fall down some sort of rabbit hole that takes them to another world, one of magic and fantasy. They have all sorts of adventures in this other world, sometimes playing a pivotal role in events, and sometimes returning home at the end of the story. Sometimes they’re a “chosen one” that must save the world, but lately the protagonists have tended to be overpowered warriors with harems. It’s largely turned into an escapist fantasy where everything is ultimately easy for the male lead.
The Executioner and Her Way of Life…
…ok, I must pause here and rant about that title, because it annoys me to no end! It does not roll off the tongue very well, and it’s not especially accurate, either, I think! I’m not saying the original Japanese title, Shokei Shoujo no Virgin Road, which translates to “The Executioner Girl’s Virgin Road,” rolls off the tongue any easier, but I can at least see the meaning behind it! The plot takes the protagonist on a famous pilgrimage for the first time, so it’s literally a virgin road for her, and she is forced to experience a number of new things that she never has before. It’s poetic, and more accurate than the English title. They could have at least tried for something more like that, such as “The Executioner’s Odyssey,” or, failing that, they could have gone with something much shorter, like just, “The Executioner,” or, “Executioner Girl.” But no. They couldn’t do something as straightforward as that.
OK, rant over.
The Executioner and Her Way of Life takes the idea of Japanese school kids being summoned to another world – a trope which has, of late, absolutely saturated anime and manga in general – and turns it into something horrifying. Mind you, there’s always been something disquieting about a story where a teenager, or even an adult, is stolen away from the world and away from their life in it, and made to walk a dangerous path filled with blood, terror, and many unnerving, unsettling sights, not to mention all the death. However, this anime aims for something much more systematic, wherein the summoned children are both victims and villains, and the world they are summoned to is rife with lies and corruption. The summoned children are driven insane by their own power while the native people around them are ruthless and treacherous.
ADD Moment: I have to wonder, with so many children being drawn from modern-day Japan, and sprinkled all over this other world throughout hundreds and even thousands of years, what must the missing persons rates look like?
The story begins with a fake-out, one of those bait-and-switch introductions where it looks like it’s going to go one way, but then suddenly shifts direction, “PSYCHE!” It figuratively murders all the usual tropes with a the literal murder of the typical isekai protagonist. You know, the bland, self-insert guy who is summoned, but then has some useless magic power that turns out to actually be super powerful and dangerous, complete with a fateful meeting with a pure maiden who guides him along the way. This time, the pretty girl is a priestess who is tasked with finding and executing every single summoned child in the world. She tells clever lies, puts her targets at ease, gains their trust, and then, the moment they turn their back, the moment they’re vulnerable, she kills them. She has some feeling for them, as they did not ask to be brought to this world, and if she does her job right, then they are not yet guilty of any crimes. But she kills them anyway, without hesitation or remorse, in order to protect her world from them.
This is Mennou, an executioner-priestess, and she is the very best at her job. She is also known as a Flarette, for being the student of a renowned executioner named Flare. They and others have killed many Japanese children. The complication arises when the latest one of these, a girl named Akari, proves impossible to kill or otherwise dispose of by any conventional sort of means. Thus, while still pretending to be Akari’s friend and protector, Mennou has to travel the world in search of a way to kill her, with the assistance of an aide, a girl named Momo, who loves Mennou so much that it’s a bit creepy, and a sometime-alliance with a warrior princess, Ashuna.
What none of them realize, at first, is that they are, in fact, going through events that they have gone through countless times before. Akari’s power is over time itself, and a future version of herself has rewound the world many, many times, to try and save Mennou’s life, so that Mennou, and no one else, can kill her.
That is absolutely a bizarre, twisted, and somehow morbidly-riveting setup. And it barely touches the surface of what needs addressing in this world.
There is a church which rules the world, at the top of society, higher than the kings, as it was in Medieval Europe, prior to the Reformation. They take on themselves the duty to safeguard the world from the summoned children of Japan, citing the devastation that such have wrought on the world in the past, including four great Human Errors, cataclysms which these children unleashed that are still present and looming in their respective prisons. Even to this day, there are terrible massacres which are credited to these children, and the Church fights to prevent even worse from occurring ever again!
…or, at least, that’s the rhetoric of their propaganda, and it smells more of shit than any sewer in history.
We see, straight up, in the first episode, that the summoned kids have influenced the world quite a bit. Japanese culture, language, and modern technology have all saturated the world, and while that does speak to a certain level of dominance, it also speaks to the fact that these summoned children have clearly had more than merely a destructive effect. We also learn that at least one of the smaller disasters was caused not by a summoned child, but because the church was conducting an inhumane experiment on them. But the church rules the world, and gets to tell the story that everyone believes, so they blamed the poor, lost girl that they, themselves, victimized and murdered. So, how much else of what is wrong with the world have they falsely cast onto innocent shoulders? Finally, it is intimated in the conclusion of the first season that the four Human Errors were dealt with by – surprise, surprise – another summoned child, all mention of whom the church has systematically erased and buried.
Now, I will readily admit, there does seem to be a kernel of truth here and there. The propaganda states that the use of their powers erases the memories of summoned children and drives them insane. While the extent of that is unknown, it may, indeed, be true. The initial would-be protagonist used his powers once, and his mind seemed damaged, as he immediately began imagining how he could hurt the people he doesn’t like with it. Akari has apparently used her power tremendously, rewinding the world so many times, and her memory of Japan is simply gone now. And the Error called Pandaemonium is a girl with an unsettling array of abilities, who is absolutely, murderously crazy.
And then there’s how, whatever has happened in previous iterations of these events, they have always culminated in Mennou being killed by her own mentor, Flare. This is what sets Akari to turning back the time of the world, apparently so many times that the prisons which hold the Four Human Errors at bay are crumbling from the effects. Oh, and Flare is apparently aware of this, aware of all the repetitions, and is knowingly, willingly helping things along by willfully murdering her apprentice over and over and over again.
I don’t know yet if this story will prove to be ambitious or just too convoluted, coming from a mind which is deliberately twisting all the tropes around like this, but it has certainly only just begun, and I would be interested in seeing where it goes, in the end. Preferably fairly soon.
As in, for several reasons, I would rather this was a shorter anime.
It has plenty of flash, and a certain amount of intellectual substance, but I’m not really feeling all that invested in the characters themselves. Mennou has her eyes opened to the reality that the church is not inherently saintly, yet she still does not question the narrative she has been fed, at least not yet, which seems to be a personal pet peeve of mine. Akari’s mad desire to be killed only by Mennou, when it would seem that Mennou will eventually come to care for and die defending her, makes very little sense. Momo has an annoying and unnerving complex towards Mennou, such that she jealously calls Akari “Boobalicious” or something like that when she’s never really interacted with the girl. And Ashuna, whose trail somehow just magically keeps crossing theirs, is little more than a proud, scantily-clad brute with big breasts and a big, flaming – of course it’s flaming! – sword.
The content often leans towards the disturbing as well. I mean, one should have expected that when the first episode featured the brutal, graphic murder of a young boy, but they really try to push the envelope here. The character of Pandaemonium exemplifies this, first seeming like a random, crazy girl locked in an Iron Maiden, and then we see what she can really do. To be blunt, it is bloody and viscerally disturbing. Kudos to the author and animators for unsettling me so effectively, but it does turn me off a bit.
All in all, The Executioner and Her Way of Life – and my brain is still twinging with how awful that title is – seems more preoccupied with making things dark and epic, instead of simply telling a good story. It has its good points, but it could be better, and it certainly could be more wholesome.
Rating: 7 stars out of 10.