Story Pile: The Executioner And Her Way Of Life

Really? That’s what this is titled? That’s awful.

Originally, this anime was going to get released under the title of Virgin Road, which at the very least is a little less cumbersome. Long titles are common amongst light novel stories, but I think in this case it’s especially egregious because the entire secondary clause on the title is a long-form reading of the phrase ‘and such and such.’ This title, for this anime yada-yadas its way through its pitch, which is kinda frustrating. As far as first impressions go, when you bottle it on the title, you’re really not inspiring confidence to start with. First impressions are important! It’s like if the series is full of characters wearing outfits that look extremely silly.

Oh no.

First impressions aside, this is a series that caused a fairly inconsequential-seeming stir when it was new because of its use of a first-episode twist that got to live at the level of ‘your shoe’s untied’ for unfair surprises on the viewer. The narrative opens introducing a fairly generic Isekai protagonist boy, who introduces us to the world of this isekai through details like ‘this culture knows what Isekai is’ and ‘he’s not inherently special in the context,’ all while he explains himself to a cute priest who has taken pity on his pathetic state. Where, he wonders, are his superpowers for being an isekai protagonist? Oh there they are. And as soon as he finds them, the cute priest stabs him in the head, and the story kicks its actual premise into gear.

The protagonist we follow in this story is Menou, a skilled executioner working almost directly under the Archbishop Orwell, and remember what I said about the first episode twist not being that shocking once it happens? Yeah, well, just keep that one in mind. Menou is a seasoned assassin, very good at her job, and immediately after dispatching Decoy Protagonist One, in the first of this series’ solidly handled twist-of-the-expectations, the story pivots to her going after the second isekai protagonist summoned on the same day, a helpful adventure bimbo named Akari.

Akari is her next mark, and Menou kills her, only to find that Akari’s power means she can’t be killed. What follows then is a quest, where Menou tries to lead Akari to different things that she hopes will kill her, only to find it not work, and as they adventure together, Menou gets less and less certain of her wants to murderlate the sweetheart and more and more entangled in things like church politics and the exploitation of otherworldly power as a metaphor for society-scope problems.

It’s a good time and you can spend the twelve episodes going ‘wait, are they gunna kiss?’ and the answer is no, but also, the anime is unambiguously gay. Menou and Akari are on a track towards one another, and while it’s a little more complicated than ‘do they bang y/N,’ and the story does end before any real dokis get doki’d, it’s still a series where women being interested in women – multiple! – is fundamentally a part of the world and there’s nobody around going ‘whaaat? but girls can kiss?’

I say it’s a good time, but I guess that’s very specific to my interests. I think it’s a good time. I found it a good time. But I like the ways this series gets weird. The first-episode twist isn’t the only surprise the series has going for it, and I’d say you mostly only have two episodes at a time between major revelations that change the texture of the world or the relationships you can perceive between characters.

In a world where isekai protagonists can show up with superpowers, each of those individuals would represent a potential out-of-context problem that would require, nay, demand, lethal retaliatory force to keep contained. The scope of the world opens up, introducing you to a world with dreadful monsters and Person Of Mass Destruction Aftermath Events, and a pair of ruling classes at war with one another to try and contain and weaponise the ongoing slow-drip transformation that happens when an isekai protagonist shows up.

It’s if the SCP Foundation had only one thing to deal with, and didn’t have to operate in strict secrecy. The church is a church and it behaves like a church and whether or not the church’s stories are true or not are not important to the social stability they offer, which means the church can have elite executioners whose only role in life is to get close to people the church deems worthy of death and kill them. The church’s power is even currently on the rise, because of structural failings of the state (the nobility) to address recent problems, too.

Assassin would be the normal term for this kind of killing (since it’s to achieve a political end without judicial oversight), but the characters insist on ‘executioner’ as it’s a type of morally agnostic act. They don’t care about outcomes or aftermath. Their job is to kill, and that’s that.

The series is very pretty and the world looks very nice. It’s a vision of a fantasy kingdom that’s going through an industrial revolution by copying notes from modern day Japanese high school students. Architecture and vehicles all have that thoughtful kind of design, familiar in ways that are a little bit wrong, and I like that. I also like the ways that magic’s presence in the story lets more modern story tension conventions show up, like instant communication through phones and not having those phones, without making it omnipresent the way it is now.

Chances are you’re not going to be against a anime about hot girls in stupid outfits being steadily more dangerously gay for one another getting fanservicey. It’s worth mention though because unlike in Summertime Rendering, an anime so fantastic I forgive its egregious fanservice in the first episode, I feel that the fanservice here is kind of the point. You’re not watching the series about the stacked isekai girl squirming nakedly against the girl she has a very specific crush on because you want to avoid sentences like that one, right?

I might be being a little vague about what happens in this series, but it’s not because it’s somehow sublime or intriguing, but I think it’s because, in part, this series deliberately kept messing with my expectations. At first it was going to be a mid 5/10 anime about a isekai dickhead, then he dies and things look more interesting and weird. Then I think I’ve got my expectations dialled in, and it surprises me. Once more, there’s expectations, and then those expectations are confused and the whole time, I keep thinking ‘oh, this is a little bit cleverer than I thought.’

And it kept doing it.