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.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life: Crimson Nightmare

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.

For the most part this fourth volume of The Executioner and Her Way of Life is a bit of a breather volume. There’s pretty much zero gore, which is nice. Akari and Momo prove to be highly amusing together as they pettily snipe at each other, and both are more interesting away from Menou. And the running gag of various enemy agents being forced to admit they’re sex pests to avoid giving away their cover runs long enough to be funny and just that long. Plus we get the addition of several old villains, and they’re almost pleasant. All this and hot springs. The whole thing would be lovely if it were not for the fact that Akari is still a ticky ticky timebomb… or is she? As Menou slowly figures out… or is straight up told… various parts of the plot, she rapidly realizes that killing Akari to save the world might not be what’s actually going on. Unfortunately for her, her Master has come to take over.

Akari and Momo, reluctant allies – very reluctant – take a train to a nearby hot spring town in the mountains. Neither one wants to be around the other, but they both have one thing in common, which is that they want to save Menou’s life. Unfortunately for them, Menou managed to go after them much faster than expected due to the obvious solution of “ask Ashuna for money and a ride”. Good news for Ashuna (and the reader), this involves Menou dressing in a butler uniform. And, as it turns out, EVERYONE is arriving at this little mountain town, including Pandaemonium, who lacks power but is still dangerous, Manon, who is resurrected with a new body, and one other surprise guest. Things do not build to a furious climax, alas, but peter out, as Akari ends up spirited away by the one person whose presence has suffused this whole series.

The best parts of this book were the parts with Akari and Momo. Their constant insults and angry bitching is funny, yes, but as the book goes on we get to see how both of them are generally a lot kinder than they’d like to let on, and Akari in particular feels less upset by Momo’s attitude after she realizes that Menou is pretty much all Momo has. We also get a lot of stuff explained to us here, such as the nature of Conjurations, why Akari has to be killed, and what really happened in the past. This even ties in with Japoan, not only because the hot springs mountain town is the closest we’ve seen to Japanese culture in this world, but also because there may be a way to get Akari back after all. If she wants to go. And if she can put up with mass murder. And of course Flare, near the end of the book, shows us, unsurprisingly, that she’s not going to arrive to save the day.

This series has a cast that are interesting and fun to read about but are all, except maybe for Menou, various shades of unpleasant. It makes for an intriguing read.