First off, I need to rectify a mistake that I made last time by somehow forgetting to comment on the absolutely bangin’ OP that The Executioner and Her Way of Life has graced us with this season. It comes to us from the classical/pop group Mili, and if you’re anything like me, you might recognize them from their contributions to popular rhythm games like Deemo and Cytus (I didn’t know them by name, at first, but they totally have the sound of a band that would get used in a lot of Japanese phone games, y’know?). Anyway, the point is, not only is the OP chock full of some gorgeous and intriguing imagery, but the song itself, “Paper Bouquet”, is a perfect fit for the show’s tone and themes. If I’m being honest, this review might have ended up a little delayed because of how distracted I got just watching the OP on repeat.
Thankfully, Executioner isn’t the kind of anime that only has a kickass OP going for it; “The Ancient Capital Garm” is another great episode, and it doesn’t even need to rely on flashy action or big twists to make its story work. Instead, we spend the first half of the episode in an extended flashback that shows us Menou’s origin story in a lot more detail, from her initial encounter with Flare in the village of salt to her decision to “become” Flare and take on the role of an Executioner herself. There’s nothing here that I would classify as revelatory, since it’s more about filling in the blanks of a tale that we could already figure out mostly by ourselves, but it weaves in some compelling details that bode well for the series’ long-term prospects.
For one, the episode manages that rare feat of dumping a lot of lore and whatnot on us throughout the flashback without ever getting lost in the sea of proper nouns and vague world-building like so many other shows do. When Flare takes young Menou to see the Sword of Salt that laid waste to an entire continent, you get a feeling of the massive, terrible consequences brought about by the “Lost Ones” and their presence in this world. When we get a good look at the religious tapestries that Flare and the church use for educational material, you understand the scope of all this tragedy: how this setting was once as prosperous and advanced as any science-fiction utopia, until the influx of isekai protagonists literally apocalypsed the whole world down a rung or two on the societal ladder of history. Not only is it interesting and creative, it also puts Menou and Flare’s different attitudes into perspective.
It’s the characterization of the mentor and her pupil that also make this flashback so compelling to me. Flare describes young Menou as having her mind and personality “blanched”, which is a pretty great way to describe it. It’s still unclear if Menou’s amnesia and blank personality are merely the result of trauma, or if they’re clues to some twist in her backstory that we’ve yet to learn, but either way, the child is utterly lost until she finds Flare. It’s difficult to say, though, whether she is actually better off in dedicating her life to emulating the dark work of her ”Master”.
Flare is a fascinating and flawed woman, that’s for sure. The first real glimpse we get of her has her face twisted into a rictus grin of utter contempt, and we’re led to believe that the contempt may well be aimed not just at Menou, but Flare herself. She spits out the Priestess’ creed with sarcastic venom, and when she pushes her class of child recruits to become assassins for the church, she pulls no punches in telling them exactly what they are going to become: “Why do we kill? Because we are the villains, that’s why! You think it’s for justice? For our faith? For our Lord? No! There is no such vindication! We don’t get to be righteous…Until the day comes when you die…kill…and keep on killing!”
Now there’s a delicious villain monologue if I ever heard one, and I’d bet bottom dollar that we haven’t seen the last of Flare. It makes Menou’s dedication to her mentor feel not only sad, but genuinely a little scary. I still don’t believe that our anti-heroine is going to go this entire series without changing her attitude toward the church and her mission, but I think the story works so much better when you can’t help but worry that Menou still might betray Akari, after all.
Speaking of which, while the present-day story isn’t as thematically interesting, it’s still got some good character beats to work with. The stuff with Menou’s mission to investigate Garm’s disappearing girls feels mostly like setup for the future, but I was very happy when Executioner granted my wish and gave Akari and Menou a genuine conflict to work through. Sure, Akari being mad that Menou is going to stand her up on their “date” isn’t as riveting as seeing Flare shape Menou into a tiny little murder queen, but it shows that Akari is capable of expressing emotions beyond whimsy and curiosity. Plus, Akari has time to reflect on her outburst and recognize that she’s the selfish one (at least, she would be if she wasn’t two days away from getting melted in a vat of Roger Rabbit Dip, or whatever the hell it is the church plans to do to her). It’s good stuff, and not even the lazy towel-drop gag can ruin the cuteness of the moment.
In short, The Executioner and Her Way of Life continues to go strong in its fourth week. Now that we’ve hit the 1/3rd checkpoint of the season, I’d love to see the story pick up the pace a little bit, and maybe introduce a stronger external conflict outside of the nebulous threat of the Church and the rival gangs of aristocrats. The next episode is called “Goodbye”, though, and anime usually don’t pull the “sayonara” card unless they’ve got something good planned, so I say bring it on.
The Executioner and Her Way of Life is currently streaming on
James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.