Sometimes the first volume of a light novel stuns readers by circumventing expectations, either in how it both defies some traditional anime conventions and surpasses others, or by presenting a surprising story. In rare instances, a light novel will do both, which is precisely the case in volume one of The Executioner and Her Way of Life, a series that will soon be receiving an anime adaptation. Described as “grimdark” by its writer, Mato Sato, Executioner imbues a strong literary quality into a tale that features creative world building and a willingness to reach above and beyond standard light novel stories, particularly those in the isekai genre.
As I’ve noted above, volume one is unexpected in a number of ways, and I want to avoid spoilers as best I can to preserve the experience of reading through the book. However, it’s fair to share some of the basic elements of the story, which features protagonist Menou, who works for the Faust, the church organization that wields power in The Executioner and Her Way of Life‘s fantasy setting. She is a special agent of sorts, and deals with “Otherworlders,” young men and women that are isekai’d from Japan into her world. Already noted as “grimdark,” the series isn’t so easily encapsulated by that description, containing other varied elements including some humor and cuteness, heavy doses of action, fantastical elements and magic, and the staging of a couple of excellent action pieces, leading to a read that is quite intense and fully engaging.
Most interesting in Sato’s novel is the world itself. It’s never unusual for a fantasy landscape to show up in isekai series, nor for the church and medieval-type associations, including knights in this story, to add layers of intrigue and both heroism and villainy, but the author’s vision for the setting is particularly well-defined. The technology and lay of the land fit naturally with one another and how characters interact with each other and the world, and with how magic fits in. Though it may be a stretch to compare it to, say, Allomancy in Mistborn, the use of magic in The Exucutioner and Her Way of Life is likewise creative. “Spells” make way for reading of “scripture” and the use of crests, always guided by a highly religious tone that affects all characters in this world and “invoked” by beautiful wording that speaks like poetic pieces from a religious text. The magic itself is structured into various categories that are distinguishable from similar-themed series, with resultant powers that provide for an enormous variance in what magic can be produced.
Just as noticeable as the magic is how important women are to the story. I recall only six characters given name in the text, and five are women. That in itself isn’t particularly telling, though maybe this is: There is no harem centered on a man in this story, nor is that element particularly suggested in volume one. Instead, the women just are in this setting where such characters are leaders, powerful in personality, wisdom, and physical strength. The characters are occasionally sexualized, but they are not fundamentally developed as sexual beings. That fits within the series’ description as both a seinen and yuri work, though romance elements aren’t yet pronounced. In fact, if the yuri genre hadn’t been attached to the story, I’m not sure I would have read various declarations of romance or affection as anything more than those given in series where such characterizations are played more for humor or fanservice for male readers. Thus, Sato shows curious restraint, even while some characters are bold in their pronouncements of love.
As a fan of My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, As I Expected (Oregairu), it would irresponsible of me to miss making a comparison related to two central females in both stories. Oregairu is one of those series that sometimes plays up sexuality between female characters for fanservice and laughs—in that case, Yukino and Yui; this tale, however, seeks to develop chemistry and relationship between it’s own Yuikino and Yui with characters strongly resembling those two in personality and how each approaches one another.
Other engaging elements include active employment of religion in the story, going beyond surface-level aesthetics. The church in the series is not only connected to Menou, but so woven into the fabric of the world and its magic that it requires strong development of its own, and it is given the necessary elaboration. Additionally, the use of names like “Orwell” and “Faust” weave in allusions that are clever and well placed.
With all that Sato attempts to do, not everything lands perfectly well. Menou’s characterization feels too distant between the girl she was and the one she is now, and the volume occasionally feel cluttered. The final battle is hard to follow, and while it reveals an interesting characterization of one of the central protagonists, even that is a bit too confusing in how it’s woven into the climax. But even if the conclusion is a tad rough, it grows out of the writer’s continual attempt to create something unique and outstanding. Indeed, this is an award-winning volume, an exciting introduction into what I expect will be a series of significant heft in the world of light novels.
The Executioner and Her Way of Life, Vol.1 can be purchased through Yen Press, which provided a copy of the novel for this review.