Pink-haired Yuri Isekai Assassins, Oh My: The Executioner and Her Way of Life First Impressions
This article is a part of AniTAY’s Spring 2022 Early Impressions series, where our authors offer their initial thoughts on the new, prominent, and exciting anime from this season!
It will be impossible to discuss the premise of this isekai (transported to another world) series without spoiling the massive twist in its first episode. Why don’t you go and watch it on HIDIVE now, and come back afterwards? It’s worth your time, I guarantee it. On you go, off you pop!
Oh good. That was one hell of a first episode, wasn’t it? You know, I often find that when I’m forced to watch series after series of bottom-barrel-scraping low-effort idendikit JRPG-game-mechanic-infected power fantasy isekai anime bilge, I harbour a secret desire to see each smug, self-justified, personality-bereft protagonist murdered horribly, painfully, slowly, and bloodily. I know, I know, it’s a problem. I should just watch more true crime reenactments like my wife does constantly and learn to satiate my inner psychopath with real-life misery and horror, rather than agitating it with episode after episode of offensively derivative isekai dreck.
Anyway, it looks like the author of The Executioner and Her Way of Life harbours the same unhinged hatred of the isekai genre, as they wrote essentially the Talentless Nana of isekai fantasy. Talentless Nana was one of the best shows of the Autumn 2020 season, a more murdery version of My Hero Academia. It demonstrated that almost any genre can be elevated by the simple addition of extreme murderiness. Just imagine what such a mashup could do for Fruits Basket? Terminally nice Tohru decides she’s finally had enough of the Sohma family’s fucked-up drama, so she and Best Character Edgy Horse Girl embark on a blood-soaked, entrail-drenched rampage through the rich, disgustingly privileged Sohma family’s extended compound, leaving an ultra-cathartic trail of destruction and mangled bodies behind them, bringing brutal class-based revolution and sacrifice-won freedom to the proles. Suck that, Akito! Oh man, I’d be so up for that spinoff.
Executioner lulls the viewer into a false sense of security with a standard isekai opening — a random Japanese schoolboy schmuck is summoned into a fantasy world. Because he’s clearly familiar with anime, manga and light novels, he’s fully aware of what’s going on and is disappointed to be rejected by his summoners, as apparently he doesn’t meet their strict criteria. So far, so The Saint’s Magic Power Is Omnipotent. Dejected and hungry, he mopes under a bridge for a bit until — surprise — a young, pretty, pink-haired priestess girl finds him, knows exactly what his deal is, and invites him to come back to her church. Along the way she explains that this world has experienced many incursions from Japanese people similarly summoned across the boundaries between worlds, and their influence has been such that the indigenous peoples have adopted Japanese as their language, plus progressed past the industrial revolution stage with magic-powered technology based on our world’s steam and electricity-powered machines.
Our wide-eyed and smiling priestess girl Menou explains that every isekai protagonist (“Lost One”) character summoned to her world across the ages harbours an awesome power (“Pure Concept”) and so she helps this dude to discover it. His power turns out to be an utterly broken and dangerous ability to null the existence of anything he wishes, leaving only void in its place. As he begins to cackle about how “anything in my way, anyone I hate, I can just get rid of them,” she does the most sensible thing and stabs the Proto-Dark-Lord in the head, prematurely ending his reign of terror and insufferable smugness. For Pretty Pink-haired Priestess Girl Menou is an Executioner for the Faust, an elite religious order who protects this world by hunting down and murdering overpowered and dangerous isekai protagonists. I cheered!
The Faust have good reason for their ruthlessness, as broken Pure Conceptual powers wielded by hapless Lost Ones have wrought destructive havoc upon the world in the past, including such interesting sounding disasters as “The Sword of Salt that melted the western continent into the sea”, “The Pandemonium that devoured the southernmost archipelago”, “The Material Room that took over the wild frontier in the east” and “The Starhusk that carved out the centre of the northern continent and set it afloat.” It’s a wonder anything’s left of the world following such apocalyptic events. Apparently no matter the personality of the Pure Concept’s recipient, it will eat away at their minds until they are unable to control it and disaster ensues.
Unfortunately for Menou, a second Japanese teenager was summoned by the corrupt nobles who rejected the guy she’d stabbed in the head, and so is introduced the show’s true deuteragonist — Akari, a sweet and dippy girl with a similarly broken power who seems oddly familiar to Menou. Despite her apparent harmlessness, Menou still attempts the whole stabby-stabby thing only to find out she can’t be killed. Oopsie. So Menou must continue to maintain Akari’s innocent trust in her, while luring her to the place where she can be executed efficiently and safely. Thus begins a road trip that promises to introduce multiple complications and wrinkles to their developing relationship.
I’ve not read the source material (surprise, surprise — a light novel), but the show already sends out strong Yuri vibes, which I’m conflicted about. Is it just baiting or will the story do something interesting with this? My defences are already up because of my irritation with stereotypical jealous/possessive lesbian supporting character Momo. Momo’s design is cool — kind of like Madoka Kaname (Madoka Magica) crossed with Yotsugi Ononogi (Monogatari) and Nana (Talentless Nana). However, her groping, sexual harrassment and taking unsolicited photographs of Menou really bugs me. I most vociferously dislike the trope her character represents.
Momo’s jealousy of Akari does signpost where the show seems likely headed though — Menou is seriously conflicted about her role as an executioner, and despite her efficiency and motivation to fulfil her obligations, she empathises with, and even pities her targets. On more than one occasion she mourns the fact that each target is a normal, decent person, summoned to her world against their will, and lumbered with dangerous powers they don’t want. That she shares some kind of deep connection with Akari doesn’t help — we can easily predict her resolution wavering as their friendship progresses.
Akari herself is coded as being interested in Menou as more than a friend. She jokes about romance and “special feelings” in the context of their shared journey, she expresses gratitude that she was summoned to this world, and feels that meeting Menou was “fate”. You can tell beneath Menou’s hardened facade that each of these statements stabs her heart and twists the blade. That Akari is so sweet, caring and self-sacrificing makes Menou’s job even harder — at one point Akari even attempts to save Menou from sexual abuse at the hands of a terrorist by offering her body as a replacement. Thankfully nothing creepy comes of this scene, as Menou is very adequately able to defend her own (and Akari’s) modesty.
Menou and Akari’s developing relationship is the absolute emotional centrepoint of the show. Akari is desperate to be helpful to her new friend, whereas Menou’s deceit becomes ever more difficult for her to maintain. She clearly likes Akari, and in the act of faking friendship seems likely to solidify it. One later scene in episode three adds an extra (potentially troublingly salacious) concept in regards to mana sharing. (Not mana transfer, you creepy, horny Fate fanboys out there.)
In this world, sharing of mana in order to power up a caster’s spell is a painful, difficult procedure. Menou is able to do it because she “lost most of who she was a long time ago”, but when she uses Akari’s mana, instead of causing pain, it almost looks like it causes… sexual… pleasure. I mean, she says “it tickles”, blushes, and kind of looks spent afterwards… Again, I’m a little concerned about where the show might go with this. It’s early days yet though, and so far it’s been fairly light on fanservice or exploitation, so I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Outwith the complicated emotional interactions, Executioner does a fine line in spectacular violence, especially with Momo. Her fight with the sword-wielding warrior princess Ashuna (who reminds me a lot of Mordred from Fate/Apocrypha) is a highlight, and I like all the little shiny animation touches added when characters use magecraft. Studio JC Staff can be a little hit and miss at times with their productions, but so far this show looks beautiful. Because each episode is so packed with events and information, of course the characters continue to talk and explain the plot as they fight rather than panting breathlessly, but this is fine. I do think this is a good show to watch a second time over, because there’s a great deal of well-integrated lore dumping going on that seems likely to be important later.
So far, this is one of my top hype shows of the season, along with Spy x Family, Kaguya-sama season 3 and Summer Time Rendering (seriously, Disney+, when the hell are we getting that show?). It’s a densely-packed, exciting, intriguing and beautiful production that, despite some of my potential concerns about the content, comes very highly recommended.
The Executioner and Her Way of Life
Directed by: Yoshiki Kawasaki
Produced by: Egg Firm, SB Creative
Written by: Shogo Yasukawa
Music by: Michiru
Licensed by: Sentai Filmworks
Streaming on: HIDIVE (on Fridays)
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
Episodes watched: 1–3