The Executioner and Her Way of Life: Lost

By Mato Sato and nilitsu. Released in Japan as “Shokei Shoujo no Virgin Road” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jenny McKeon.

I urge the author to do something for the next book. After writing the novel, throw the first half of it out, and replace it with a summary. Then publish the second half. This way we get all the good bits, and we avoid the crushing first half that this series always has, because the prose works best when it’s in fast action sequences and compelling character dramas, and not “moving people from place to place”. It doesn’t help that my three favorite characters in the series are Akari, Momo and Ashuna, and Akari is AWOL for plot reasons, Ashuna simply never appears, and Momo shows up on the final page. This leaves us with Menou, who I like well enough but who is essentially “the serious one”. And we also get someone who is so obviously a replacement for Akari that the text has to call it out. Fortunately, the book also has Sahara. I love Sahara. Even more so here, as she has character development, 100% against her will.

We pick up six months after the end of Book 6. Ashuna has gone back home to essentially announce that the ryals are joining the revolutionaries. Momo is in charge of watching over Akari’s body. And Menou is busy being the world’s most wanted terrorist. She’s assisted by Abbie, a conjured soldier who regards Menou (and most everyone else) as her “little sister”, and also Maya, once Pandaemonium, who has her memories of a thousand years ago back but that’s led to all sorts of issues. Chasing them is the Church, led by her old instructor priestess (unclear if Teach is her name or her job, but she’s only called that), and Michele, the new Priestess in Charge, who works for, and honestly worships a bit, Hakua. Things start to go south when Maya gets separated from Menou and Abbie. But it’s OK! Sahara will help her!… maybe?

I grumped a lot on Twitter about this, so I will admit: I really enjoyed the second half. Specifically, I enjoyed everything involving Maya and Sahara. Maya’s subplot, as she tries to reconcile her Pandaemonium memories (she’s still very bitter about Manon’s death, even though, as Sahara points out, Manon was actively seeking her own death) with her memories as a Japanese girl who was being tortured over and over for her Concept. No wonder she tries to reach out to Hakua even though she knows it’s a trap. But Sahara, oh my God. She has all the best lines in the book, and as you’d expect is lazy, jaded, and quick to avoid work and shift responsibility onto others… until she isn’t. It’s a surprise to Maya, but it’s an even bigger surprise to Sahara, who is startled to find herself trying hard to protect Maya even at the cost of her own life. It made me smile.

That said, events towards the end promises the fun times are still not happening. Menou has lost a very important connection… and that connection seems to know it. Expect fireworks next time. Probably in the 2nd half of the book.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life: A Casket of Salt

By Mato Sato and nilitsu. Released in Japan as “Shokei Shoujo no Virgin Road” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jenny McKeon.

You will pardon me if I am just a bit exhausted after reading this volume of the series. It consists entirely of payoff, which makes the plot more interesting, but also means that we don’t really get to relax and take in anything. And, frankly, we’re still inhibited by the actual writing. The anime was quite successful when it was released, and I think it showed off that the ideas and concepts in this series work best when they’re taken away from the author’s control. This book is a slog, no mistaking it, and while I realize some of that is simply because the events in it are unrelentingly grim that’s not the only reason. It doesn’t help that I get the feeling this series was supposed to end with this book (and Flare’s plan), but the upcoming anime had the publisher tell the author “we need to extend the series, can you make everything worse instead?”.

This book is about the battle between Menou/Akari and Flare, and it does not need supporting characters getting in the way, so Ashuna quickly departs (after confirming what we all knew already, that it’s Momo she’s really into). As for Momo herself, she falls for a fairly obvious trap and spends most of the book in a literal cage. This is not to say that Menou and Akari are getting all the cool and awesome things to do, though Menou does pretty well. Unfortunately, the new character from last volume has shown up, and she is absolutely the new antagonist and wants to let you know it by removing Akari from the board. The one thing that Menou has been trying to avoid this entire time has now happened, and what’s worse, she’s not a wanted traitor. Can she possibly find a way to set things right?

It’s hard to talk about this book without spoiling everything (as you can see by that awkward paragraph above), but I do want to say that a lot of the ideas and themes here are really good. We finally get revelations about Menou’s past, as well as Akari’s past, and they fit thematically. Everything about the Pandaemonium subplot was fantastic, and almost made me have an emotion. That’s probably the part of the series I look forward to seeing most in the next book. There’s generational stuff here, as we see the relationship back in the day between Flare and one of her isekai’d victims was similar to Menou and Akari’s. An anime of this would probably kill. It’s just… it all feels so flat on the page. I kept checking to see how long it had to go. The author’s writing has no style, no pep, no verve.

There’s enough here for me to grudgingly continue, if only to see if Ashuna can actually do something next time. But for the average reader wanting to see what comes next, I recommend waiting for a Season 2 of the anime.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life: The Promised Land

By Mato Sato and nilitsu. Released in Japan as “Shokei Shoujo no Virgin Road” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jenny McKeon.

There is a famous quote (actually he said it a number of times) by Anton Chekhov about dramatic principles. One of the quotes says “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”. This is a perfectly fine dramatic tenet to use, and I have no real issues with it. That said… you still need to write something OTHER than the pistol hanging on the wall. You can’t just have 90 minutes of ‘pistol on the wall, la de da’ and expect the audience to stay invested. In case you’re wondering where I’m going with this, the 5th volume of The Executioner and Her Way of Life does have some guns go off near the end of the book. But the first half of this volume may be one of the most boring I’ve seen in Japanese light novels, as everyone walks around aimlessly, reiterates what we already know, and waits for Menou to have some revelations about herself.

Everyone’s arrived at the Holy Land. Flare has taken Akari, put her in an ivory tower, and given her an existential crisis to keep her busy for most of the book. Momo and Ashuna arrive there, and have some warmed-over banter before Ashuna promptly exits the plot after seeing a future plotline. Momo is, to her surprise, taken in by the Archbishop and put to work with Hooseyard, who is a summary of all the “naive but nerdy” glasses girls in anime. Manon, Pandaemonium, and Sahara have arrived to wreak havoc. And Menou has arrived to fight Flare and lose, because she knows that’s going to happen. The problem is that she’s right for the wrong reasons. Something she figures out when they fight and it becomes clear that Menou has surpassed her master… in all ways but one.

The book turns around, as I said above, once Menou has a horrific realization: she’s only killed strangers she barely knew, and when she tries to kill someone close to her, like, say, Flare… she can’t do it. In other words, despite forcing herself into the role of a “villain”, she has empathy. Surprise! That said, it is pretty dramatically satisfying, and I enjoyed her burst of hysterical laughter. Akari has the misfortune of spending most of the book in a state of shock after realizing that if Menou dies, and she has to rewind time again,. she’s probably going to start losing her memories of her time with Menou, which nearly destroys her. Of course, there’s an obvious answer to this for both of them, one that Flare (who seems to be trying to commit suicide by cop throughout this book – Menou is the cop) is trying to hammer home. By the end of this book, we’ve finally moved past “I’m going to kill Akari/Only Menou can kill me”, and it will be interesting to see where things go next, especially after seeing the last few pages, which confirm something hinted since the start of the series.

I’ll keep going with this, because I want to see what happens to the characters. But “writing style” is not a reason anyone should read this series, and it makes the front half of this volume sheer murder.