The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 10 – From Letdown to Taboo

Manon isn’t that surprised or intimidated by Akari Prime’s time magic, while it’s Akari who keeps getting surprised by this current iteration of the world. Manon was the child of a Lost One, a Japanese woman who was not intentionally summoned but simply appeared. Lord Libelle, Manon’s father, married the woman to bolster his power with her pure concept, but ended up never forcing her to use it, because he fell in love with her.


Manon is right that it’s a lovely story, but it has a cruel ending, as one day Flare executed Manon’s mom right in front of her, and didn’t even bother to kill her too. Manon grew up with everyone having great expectations for the child of a Lost One, only for her to have no magical power whatsoever. Branded a great letdown, Manon became mired in a life of uselessness an ennui…until she decided to embrace the dark side and become taboo.

This is why Manon doesn’t fear Akari in the least, nor Menou when she shows up to save Akari from certain death by Chaos magecraft. Not because she’s particularly powerful—Menou basically freezes her with her gaze then lops her arm off—but because, in short, Manon isn’t greedy. She’s had fun as a rebel and a taboo, but ultimately she’s just a vessel and sacrifice for something much, much worse…the little girl in the Iron Maiden who almost blew Momo up.

This girl is creepy and frightening as fuck, successfully toeing the line between twee and terrifying. Menou slits her throat, and she simply sheds her old skin and pops out of her dead body good as new. Then she twists her own head around dozens of times and stretches it vertically until it pops off to create a fountain of blood.

Out of that blood, multiple eldritch beasts emerge, and feast upon her corpse. Then she pops out of one of the monster’s mouths, once again whole. It’s an atmosphere-upsetting enough incident for Ashuna, still getting over Momo standing her up (though to be fair, Momo is bedridden), to sense from the mainland.

Yes, the girl herself is the Human Error Pandemonium, having escaped her prison of fog and is now ready to finish off the world she almost destroyed once before. Like Menou’s conundrum with Akari, how can you kill someone that won’t die when you kill them? We’ll surely find out in what’s looking like a season-capping final battle that’s sure to include more than just Menou as it progresses.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 09 – Too Much Is Different

Despite her priestess garb, Akari sticks out like a sore thumb among the aristocrats at the ball. Menou warns her not to eat or drink anything, then scouts around the castle grounds and ends up crossing paths with Princess Ashuna. Meanwhile, Momo again demonstrates her impeccable competence by knocking out the guard and gaining access to the Monstrine operation without breaking a sweat. Ashuna doesn’t know who Menou is (she hides her face with magecraft), but she can tell Menou is a strong fighter.

Unfortunately for Menou (but fortunately for us), that means Ashuna wants to fight her. A lusty battle ensues, with Ashuna hitting nothing but air and Menou showing her just how much more mastery over ether she has. Ashuna merely gets toyed with, but still has a blast…even when she’s almost literally blasted. Does Ashuna feels somewhat shoehorned in here just so she can spar with Menou? Maybe…but I don’t mind because even when she’s getting her ass kicked, Ashuna is awesome as hell.

Akari is lamenting how the ball is no fun alone when the big boom and column of flame occur. Then Lady Manon sidles up to her, wanting to know more about where Akari comes from. Akari tells the truth: there’s very little she remembers of Japan, but there’s something about the way Manon likens Akari’s hair her mom’s that suggests some kind of connection. After Manon leaves her, Akari Prime awakens, and is concerned: way to much is happening in Libelle that has not happened in previous loops.

Akari really wants Menou to kill her in this loop, but not having the advantage of knowing how the future will unfold will make that tougher than she’d like. Speaking of tough, Momo soon finds the Iron Maiden and lets her guard down when she frees the young bloodied girl inside.

Helping the girl—not opening the Maiden—springs an explosion trap, and Momo gets a poison spike to the side. Manon is alerted to the trap being set off, and revels in the possibility this could be the day she finally gets her revenge.

The next morning Momo wakes up in rough shape, but with a proud senpai standing over her and patting her head in gratitude. Either the spike or the poison would have surely killed weaker folk, but thanks to her massive stores of ether, Sicilia believes she’ll pull through. Menou, meanwhile, is fed up with half-measures. She wants the Fourth rounded up and their drug ring shut down.

Sicilia, noting how Flarette, unlike Flare, isn’t afraid to rely on others, grants an operation and goes to negotiate with the knights. The Fourth nobles are holed up in Manon’s castle, but suddenly they’re all frozen in time. Akari Prime emerges from behind a cabinet, intent on talking in private with the Lady of Libelle.

Is Akari trying to mitigate the fact she’s no longer sure what the future holds by securing an alliance with someone who can mess up her plans? We may not know what exactly Akari wants with Menou, but we do know her goal, and that she’ll stop at nothing to achieve it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 08 – Better the Watermelon You Know

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Giving up on killing Akari in Libelle for now, Menou instead takes her target to the bustling marketplace, which is not only a festival of new sights, smells, and tastes for Akari, but establishes both ancient etheric tools as vessels for ether and the penchant of this new arc’s villain for using food as a means of control.

That villain, Lady Manon, is standing not ten feet from Menou when some members of Fourth attack and take Akari hostage, but Menou can only sense their boorish intent on attacking her. She dispatches them easily, but they soon transform into vicious monsters the knights have to then put down.

Libelle’s chief Faust Pastor Sicilia isn’t happy with Menou’s expense reports talking of delivering the still un-executed Lost One to the “Sanctuary”, and isn’t willing to spend further church funds on such vague and dubious promises. Instead, she’ll fund Menou’s pilgramage if she investigates a new drug called “Monstrine”, which the Fourth members took and turned them into monsters.

After delegating part of this investigation to Momo (who is all too happy to make life easier for her beloved Menou) and Menou defensively leaping out of bed when Akari tries to curl up with her, Lady Manon tightens her grip on the city’s elite by informing them she laced their food with Monstrine, then has one of them transform and strangle heself to death. The child she put in the iron maiden provides the Sin Magecraft source of the drug.

I’ll admit I was disappointed by the dearth of Princess Ashuna last week, but while her scenes with Momo are very choppily edited and suggest possible animation issues or shortfalls, it’s still great to see our swole queen, who can’t help but compete with Momo (whom she clearly likes) on the Monstrine investigation. Just seeing them having drinks at the bar…they just look right together, even if Momo’s heart belongs to another.

Speaking of, when Ashuna brings up an evening ball Lady Manon is holding tomorrow night, Momo learns in her next meeting with Menou that her mistress also got a ticket. Momo won’t let her pose as a simple priestess, but instead uses the opportunity to dress Menou up to the nines. To Momo’s later envy, Akari also tags along in an elegant priestess clothes.

As soon as Menou spots the hostess Lady Manon, I would hope she’d be extra-careful about what she eats or drinks. That said, Menou has no idea the lengths and depths to which Manon has gone specifically to take her revenge against Flare for killing her mother.

I imagine Akari’s presence at the ball may portend the use of time magic should Manon succeed in killing Menou. In any case, these two episodes did an adequate job setting the table. Knowing this series’ ability to ramp up at the drop of a hat, the resulting meal should be a good one.

P.S. Manon is voiced by Iwami Manaka, whom I will always remember as the voice of Honda Tooru, one of the kindest, gentlest characters in all of anime-dom. Lending her voice to an evil villainess must have been fun.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 07 – Going Fourth

With the Orwell ordeal behind them, Menou commences her pilgrimage with Akari, a two-month journey all the way to a purported “sanctuary” for Lost Ones. And if she comes up with a way to execute Akari along the way, so much the better. Akari wouldn’t have it any other way. Their first stop after two weeks is the port town of Libelle, which sits in the shadow of a perpetual curtain of fog known as Pandemonium.

Menou and Akari trade the ominous fog for the steam of a public bath, which constitutes “splurging” for someone like Menou who lives in “honorable poverty.” Notably, Akari neither tries any hanky-panky nor compares her boobs to Menou’s—both points in her favor. Instead she simply revels in being in the presence of her “emotional oasis”.

It’s not a role Menou is particularly comfortable or experienced in playing, but she continues to play it nonetheless. Momo, who arrived at Libelle sooner by a more dangerous route (and claims to have gotten Ashuna killed in the process), gives Menou a report on the “Fourth”—a terrorist group who reject the three other classes of society—in the town. She also suggests Menou try to kill Akari with the Pandemonium.

Menou didn’t even think to do such a thing until Momo brought it up, which adds fuel to the argument that she’s now actively hesitating in execution Akari in any kind of timely fashion, using what’s at hand. That’s remedied the next day, as Menou takes Akari out on a boat ride to get a closer look at the imposing Libelle Castle, home to Countess Manon Libelle.

Akari takes her “anti-nausea medicine” without question and soon passes out. Menou, in what is an oddly Wile E. Coyote-style move, tosses Akari on a rubber raft and lets her drift into the Pandemonium. There, Akari Prime revives, immediately recognizes where she is, spots an odd beam of light cast on her head that wasn’t in previous loops, and is then gobbled up by a monster. She resets right back next to Menou, reminding her that fulfilling her solemn duty isn’t going to be so easy.

Still, that odd beam of light Akari Prime did not expect is just one of many little odd things that fill the episode’s periphery. The other odd things involve the aforementioned Manon—the leader of the Fourth in Libelle—who isn’t taken seriously by her court of older adults but may well be poisoning them with spam sandwiches while paling around with a little girl with wide eyes who is always humming…even when she’s placed into an iron maiden and gooshed. I have no idea what Manon is up to, but I’m definitely intrigued…and a little weirded out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 06 – Killing Her Properly

A part of me was disappointed with how relatively cleanly Menou’s path to redemption became when Orwell went full Genie Jafar levels of evil. But I shouldn’t have worried; Virgin Road pulls off a rip-roaringly epic mid-cour finale that’s both ass-kicking and heartwarming.

While Menou fights Orwell down below, Akari’s “blanching” is interrupted by an automated time magic spell, which revives who I’ll call Akari Prime, who knows everything that has happened in all the previous time loops she’s experienced.

It’s thrilling to see this knowing Akari easily dispatch her captors, as well as to learn that she knows Menou has been trying to kill her, but she loves her so much that if she must die, she wants no one but Menou to kill her.

Akari ZAPs herself back to a simpler, earlier version of herself, but keeps a sense of deja vu and her love for Menou, which is clearly the most important part of her existence. No wonder Akari fell for Menou so hard in such a brief time together. Akari Prime also does something pretty “mean”, but also necessary to defeat Orwell.

In the bowels of the castle, Momo and Ashuna are stalemated against the demon and red dragon. But then Akari remotely ages Momo’s most prized possession: the ribbons Menou gave her when she was little. Now, we know Menou is excellent at wielding ether but has a very short supply. But her aide is no slouch in the ether-wielding department, and possesses vast stores of the stuff.

She is so freaking pissed when the dragon’s flame burns away what’s left of her ribbons, she goes absolutely ballistic, unleashing an attack that brings half of the castle down on top of her. For one terrible moment I thought she’d ethered Ashuna, but not, the swole princess not only escapes, but has never had more fun.

Following Momo’s lead, she whips out a mega-blade to defeat the demon with no regard for the corrupt castle where she was brought up. Then it’s Game Over for Orwell at the halfway point of the episode, because Akari and Menou are reunited. That means Menou’s ether supply is no longer of any concern.

That said, it’s her against Orwell and her Red Angel automaton, but the advantage doesn’t last long when Momo, still super pissed, brings down the cathedral’s barrier and beats the red angel to a pulp. Momo takes advantage of her competent aide’s distraction to create a diversion of bubbles…and etheric camouflage.

By appearing as Flare, she’s able to make Orwell hesitate for just the few moments she needs to throw a knife at her unguarded head. But it still is guarded, as the apparently not-too-judgey cathedral itself protects her simply due to her position as Archbishop. This even surprises Orwell, who thought for a second she was a goner.

She isn’t, which means she’s still quite a handful for Menou what with her RGB wand, and Menou knows it. In order to defeat her she’ll have to use Akari’s Pure Concept and delve deeper than she ever has into Akari’s subconscious.

I lit up when I heard that, because that means Menou is going to catch a glimpse of Akari Prime, who is still in there somewhere. A trippy dream sequence ensues as Menou enters Akari’s mind while dealing with her own subconscious, which admits she was never able to become the villain Flare taught her to be.

Just as Akari always has Akari Prime in the back of her mind ready to protect her, Menou always harbored a desire to be a non-sarcastically pure, just, and strong priestess. And in a way, she has remained that, as she didn’t go along with Orwell’s scheme.

Subcon Menou is ready to take her own life with her blade when she’s stopped by Akari in the classroom of her school. There, Akari tells her she’ll be her best friend, no matter what happens.

This acknowledgement of their bond allows Menou to unlock her and Akari’s combined powers, against which Orwell’s RGB wand is absolutely no match. The white beam overwhelms the rainbow beam, and rather than her planned de-aging, Orwell’s aging is ultra-accelerated to just a few moments before her death.

She almost seems to regret having cast aside all that was just and pure for her own path, and considering it led to her ruin, I can’t blame her. But this isn’t her story, it’s that of Menou and Akari, and of Momo and Ashuna, the latter of which finds the former sleeping off her berserkness. She tells the slumbering Momo that she genuinely enjoyed fighting by her side.

In the aftermath of the battles that claimed both the Noblesse’s castle and the Faust’s cathedral, the public report is that Orwell died in battle, her heretical crimes never to be revealed. She wasn’t too big to fail, but the Faust are, which means Menou still has a job, and still has values to uphold.

In a beautiful callback to last week’s shopping, which feels like a dang year ago, Menou instantly cheers a contrite, weepy Momo up with twin red scrunchies, which immediately become her new most prized possessions. Menou also explains how the Akari now among them is a regressed version of one from a distant future, but despite “resetting”, she maintained her affection for her. As we saw, that’s a feature, not a bug, of Akari’s magecraft.

Menou decides she’ll stay by Akari’s side in order to find a way to kill her. After all, Akari is still an existential threat to the world, something Prime Akari is aware of. Because of that and her love for Menou, she not only doesn’t hold it against her, but welcomes the day Akari will kill her.

We catch a glimpse of that future in the form of a nightmare non-Prime Akari has before waking up in her hotel room with Menou. It’s definitely a nightmare for Akari Prime, because it’s the day Menou dies before she can kill her, leaving the deed to Flare.

All Akari Prime can do is keep going back, making adjustments, and maintaining her faith that one of these times around, her beloved Menou will kill her properly.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 05 – Old Age Having a Go at Youth

Having seen where Menou came from and who trained her, it’s entirely possible her bonhomie is merely a carefully practiced act. Hell, even her sense of style, which Akari admires, was developed as one more arrow in her executioner’s quiver. But gosh darn it all if she and Akari have the most adorable date in Garm on the eve of Akari’s ethering.

I honestly didn’t know why so much attention was spent on Menou delegating her investigation mission to Momo, but now we know: because as Menou skips around town with Akari, Momo is scouring Garm’s massive underground tunnel network. There, she not only finds forbidden Faust tech under the Noblesse royal palace, she also finds Ashuna, who is conducting an investigation of her own.

Ashuna and Momo’s dynamic continues to get better and better, especially here where they don’t take up arms against each other but simply co-exist as two people with a shared goal: uncovering the truth, whatever it is. Meanwhile, the absolute truth that Menou feels nothing for Akari starts to show its cracks the closer they get to zero hour in the creepily white ceremonial hall.

As the apparent magecraft to eliminate Akari starts up, Menou’s scripture lights up, indicating a call from Momo. Momo, along with Ashuna, have already discovered that there are Faust conspiring with the Noblesse for some dark purpose. Menou is just a little too late to realize it, for Orwell is right beside her when she does, and she can tell Menou’s figured out she’s doin’ some dirt.

So no sooner does Menou know than Orwell knows she knows, and after that, Menou finds herself in a hopelessly lopsided battle against the Archbishop of the Faust. Her most powerful attack is leisurely swatted away by Orwell, who then unleashes a terrifying counterattack that destroys Menou’s book. She tosses it at Orwell like a bomb, but ends up falling through the hole Orwell makes below her, leaving Akari on her own against eight priestesses.

Orwell follows Menou to the space below the hall, where Menou finds all of the missing women who have literally had the life and vitality sucked out of them. Orwell’s face game is epic, as she gives her bad guy speech about how she’s sick of helping people and wants something in return: her youth back. She’s planning on using Akari’s Pure Concept to make that happen, and was willing to conspire with the Noblesse to do so.

The scripture-less Menou is probably already toast in a one-on-one battle with Orwell, but Orewell still decides to make it interesting by summoning a red automa in angel form to do her dirty work. It’s not just Akari she wants for her Pure Concept, but Menou she wants as a catalyst, revealing she’s played the long game for ten years.

The title of the episode is “Goodbye”, but it’s not about Menou saying goodbye to Akari. It’s about her saying goodbye to the righteous life she thought she was living. With Orwell not just turning heel, but having been a heel all along, the bottom has dropped out from Menou’s world. She and Akari are down, but they’re not out…not as long as Momo and Ashuna are still out and about.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 04 – The Only Bad Guy

You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy’.—Tony Montana

As Akari naps on her shoulder, Menou reflects on how she got to this point, on a train to the execution of what seems like a perfectly ordinary and nice young woman but for her potential to end the world with her unchecked powers of time manipulation.

We’ve seen where Menou’s old life ended and where Flare found her; a haunting blanched world of pure white destruction. The first half of this episode expounds upon that scene, and how the landscape was very much reflecting Menou’s own state at that time: a blanched, blank slate.

Like Fushi in To Your Eternitythis Menou didn’t feel anything; she was simply there…until Orwell assigned Flare to look after her. Her first words to Flare were “who are you?” which might as well been a question to herself. Flare’s response, that she’s a “pure, just and strong” priestess, is delivered with a villainously twisted face and dripping with sarcasm Menou takes at face value.

Menou came to learn that Flare was an executioner of otherworlders and other enemies of the Faust, and is eventually taken to an entire continent of nothing but salt slowly dissolving into the sea, the result of one of the Four Human Errors. Upon learning the solemn duty of people like Flare, Menou decided on the spot that she wanted to be one of those people.

To this request, Flare warns Menou that executioners like her are little more than villains to be loathed and discarded when at the end of their usefulness, someone willing to do anything to anyone, good or bad, man or woman, in order to keep the world safe. Someone strong, but bereft of purity or justice. A tool.

When Menou says she wants to be one anyway, Flare takes her to a monastery to train with other young girls. They learn how to fight and kill, and also learn about the otherworlders and how they influenced this world and threatened its very existence at least four times in history. The iconography on display in the classroom is wonderfully dark and medieval.

It’s here where Menou learns that she must “speak of friendship, whisper words of love, be dirty and underhanded” in order to kill one’s targets. She also meets the younger Momo, who like some other girls is not taking the indoctrination into merciless killing machines smoothly. Menou comes to Flare, who seems to be sleeping uneasily in her dark and musty chambers.

There, Menou asks her to make her “the only bad person” so the girls who don’t want to don’t have to be. It’s clear their hesitance is a result of past experiences Menou no longer has due to the calamity she survived. Flare proceeds to evaulated Menou’s strengths and weaknesses, adding up to a “slightly below average” candidate for such a role.

Then Menou surprises Flare (something I’m sure doens’t happen often) by  taking her face in her little hands and asking her not to make her like her, but to make her her. A little Flare. A Flarette.

Flare, long ago resigned to her fate as a loathsome villain who will never find vindication or peace, is half-lamenting and half-admiring in stating that a “twisted personality” has emerged from Menou’s “blanched out soul”, and that one day she’ll surpass her when all of it is destroyed by happiness and she still survives.

That segues nicely into the present, with Akari waking up from her nap to see Garm growing larger through the window. She’s too distracted by the big shiny capital city to noticed Menou’s pained expressions, the result of having time to herself to reflect on her past and present. Flare knew Menou would come to this point, when happiness threatened to destroy the villain she’d become.

Menou promises to go on a sightseeing date with Akari, but they first pay a visit to the Faust cathedral (which is right next to the Noblesse’s fortress…keep your enemies close). The ceremonial hall that will “take Akari home” is there, and Akari meets Archbishop Orwell, who says the hall will be ready in two days.

Akari is apologetic and appreciative, the only person not in on what is really going on. Orwell plays the role of kindly grandmother figure to a T, while Menou does not flinch in the presence of this deeply upsetting charade. She also agres to take on a side job for Orwell investigating missing women in the city in exchange for funds for taking the pilgrimage route once her business in Garm is finished.

The fact that this job conflicts with the promise Menou made to Akari to go sightseeing together, and also looks ahead to the time when Akari is back “home”, irks Akari to no end, and she makes her anger plain once the two are set up in a fancy hotel room. She storms back inside to take a bath, slamming the door behind her.

Menou is seemingly taken aback by Akari’s anger, forgetting that while she’s always kept a professional remove due to her ultimate mission to eliminate her, Akari considers Menou a friend, and for Menou to treat her like a “stranger who will be gone soon” truly hurts, even if Akari is being a little immature about it.

While Akari bathes, she has a chance to reflect on how she reacted, and concludes she was indeed too harsh on Menou, who has many responsibilities to juggle. To whit, while she’s in the bath Menou meets with Momo on the balcony, and basically delegates the investigation job to her.

As she was on the train, Momo is obedient to the big sister she loves more than anything, but also very weary of Menou’s continued interactions with someone she deems an extremely dangerous otherworlder. Menou laments forcing “the messy stuff” on Momo’s plate, but still does it, because she needs and wants to keep Akari happy.

Upon going back into the room, Akari meets her there, having emerged from the bath in a towel, and apologizes for how she acted, saying she’ll sightsee on her own while Menou takes care of her duties. Menou in turn says their sightseeing date is back on, and Akari embraces her, loing her towel in the process.

As much as Akari may like Menou, the fact of the matter is she’s being lied to, and proverbial knives are being sharpened for her demise, not her return to Japan. Menou is using their nascent friendship to keep Akari docile and content until the knife can be slipped in. It’s heartbreaking, compelling character drama.

Next week’s episode is titled “Goodbye”. Will it mark the departure of Akari, or Menou’s departure from villainy? Judging from her past, the latter seems more likely. But then again, she’s never met an otherworlder quite like Akari.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 03 – All Things Strong and Beautiful

First, kudos must be dispensed to the OP and theme “Paper Bouquet” by Mili, which absolutely slaps. Second, kudos to the cool head and hewn granite abs of Princes Ashuna (MAO in a non-cutesy voice for once), who doesn’t flinch when a band of terrorists attempt to take her hostage.

The muscle princess is naturally on the same train as Menou and Akari, who also have to deal with the terrorists. One of them orders Menou (at etheric gunpoint) to strip, revealing any hidden weapons. To Menou’s shock Akari not only comes between them, but offers to strip in Menou’s place, protecting not only her person but her virtue as well.

Naturally, these thugs are no match for an established priestess like Menou. Momo, stashed a few cars back from them, makes similarly quick work of the terrorists before encountering Ashuna on the roof of the speeding train, also having no problem dispatching them.

Momo and Ashuna, not just a bodybuilder but a knight in her own right, proceed to exchange semi-cordial shit talk, complimenting each other’s strength, beauty, and fashion. Then, because Ashuna’s dad is on trial for heresy, she decides to go toe-to-toe with a Faust.

Their fight is marvelously epic and badass, but Menou’s got shit going on too. Turns out all of the terrorists swallowed red gems. This means once activated the gems consume the bodies in which they reside, then combine to form a summoned golem, in this case a red knight. Because Menou fights this knight in the engine room, the etheric engine is naturally damaged, causing the train to go out of control.

The extra speed doesn’t faze either Ashuna or Momo. Ashuna is enjoying the fight while Momo, still a novice but a Faust novice, laments how big of a hassle this “crappy little princess” has become. Momo turns her garrote-like saw blade into a humming sword, then a boomerang, which she uses to shoot some branches and twigs at Ashuna’s front, leaving her back wide open. Unfortunately for Momo, Ashuna manages to grab her and both are thrown from the train.

Menou’s fight with the red knight golem (such a cool concept btw) is complicated further by the arrival of Akari, whom Menou told to be a “good girl” but who thinks she is being a good girl by worrying about her new friend. Unwilling to find out what happens if the red knight swallowed up Akari (and her powers), Menou uses more ether than she’d like to defeat it quickly.

It should be noted that during both her battle with the knight and Ashuna and Momo’s duel, all three women experience a funky time shift of some kind. This almost certainly means Akari either consciously or unconsciously activated her time powers.

While the red knight is history, the train is still runaway and they’re nearing a station where another train is parked. With insufficient ether to stop it, Menou takes Akari by the hand and asks if she can borrow some of hers, something that normally wouldn’t be allowed…but her options are limited.

The yuri undertones of this scenario and Menou’s proposal are all too clear already, but become even more explicit when Menou actually borrows Akari’s seemingly bottomless stores of ether to bring the train to a stop. Menou mentions how she’s “lost most of herself a long time ago”, which means whenever she shares or combines ether with another, it causes a great deal of pain.

But while it may be painful for Menou, it merely tickles for Akari, who makes a few noises that could be construed as suggestive in addition to calling out Menou’s name during their, er, “ether transfer.” I apologize here as I’m not trying to make this seem hornier than presented (it’s actually presented quite matter-of-factly)—but Menou and Akari clearly share and go through something here.

The result of that something is that the train comes to a halt a mere inch from the stopped train. Somewhere in the woods Ashuna and Momo continue to spar, but thanks to Akari, Menou was able to save all of the innocent people on the train and deal with the terrorist threat. You have to think that with all of their wholesome interactions and Akari’s inherent goodness, at some point Menou has to start questioning her duty to execute her.

That’s not just true because Menou stood between her and a terrorist and offered to strip in her place, or give the little girl on the train courage to tough out the ordeal, or lent her the power to save everyone using a semi-taboo practice. No, what Menou contemplates—and which is vividly dramatized—is what really went down on that train before the day was saved.

Did the train actually crash in a timeline, killing everyone, and then Akari’s  time magic kicked in, rewinding things to before the point of no return? If so, how many times did Akari die and time reverse to get the right set of conditions for the train to be stopped safely? Like Menou, I can’t help but shudder to think, but it’s also fascinating to think about.

It’s a rare episode that can pull of so many cool concepts and action set pieces and still hold together beautifully thanks to skilled direction and pacing. It always helps move an episode along when it’s a train, but the technology, tactics, and emotions behind the characters were firing on all etheric cylinders here. I’m tempted to go back and immediately re-watch it, so thrilled I was by this ride. Time magic, indeed.

P.S. Somehow, the ED theme “Touka Serenade” by ChouCho kicks just as much ass, if not more, than the OP.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 02 – Giving Herself Away

Menou isn’t expecting Tokitou Akari to walk out onto the balcony when she lands there, bringing them face to face. That said, the depth and quality of her training as an executioner is demonstrated admirably in their ensuing encounter. Menou first gets Akari to confirm she’s a Lost One by asking for her her class number. Then she immediately makes it plain that she’s on Menou’s side, trying to get her out of danger.

It’s interesting to hear Menou speak lies as easily as breathing this week, now that we’ve already seen her do this to the poor doomed Mitsuki last week. Akari agrees to escape with Menou, because she’s currently a prisoner in a fancy cage, so why wouldn’t she? But when Menou tries to kill Akari, the girl’s Pure Concept reverses time itself, nullifying the death she just suffered.

Menou has to once again improvise, asking Momo to distract the guards while she gets Akari out of the castle. From Akari’s perspective, Menou is playing the role of the valient knight saving her from her doom, right down to the mid-air princess carry. Akari can’t help but blush being in Menou’s sure grip. That night while Akari sleeps, Menou makes her report to Orwell, who tells her to bring her to the cathedral in Garm where there’s a ceremonial execution room that should do the trick.

The next morning Menou is all smiles with Akari, basically following her target’s lead by embracing their chemistry together and strengthening the illusion that they she has Akari’s best interests at heart, rather than preparing to deliver her to her elimination. I can’t underscore how tense and unusual this dynamic is. On one level I hate what Menou has to be, and that she believes Akari must die. On the other hand, maybe Akari does have to die to protect the rest of this world.

Momo’s fixation on her big sister figure/eternal crush was a bit one-dimensional last week, but here we see her jealousy over Akari’s sudden closeness to Menou combined with her genuine fear that Menou could be in over her head. Probably few people know Menou as well as Momo, and it could be she knows Menou has a nice and decent side that could prove a Lost One Executioner’s undoing. She forcefully insists she’s accompanying Menou and Akari on the train, albeit keeping out of sight.

Menou actually pretty much proves Momo’s concerns are legitimate by letting her have her way; a harder and less understanding superior would refuse Momo’s request and likely discipline her for insubordination. Menou and Akari’s arrival at the station is an opportunity for Menou to deliver some world-building exposition, as the trains run on ether, and magecraft is less magic and more a technology. When a lost little girl trips, Akari heals her, again making it clear Menou has to execute and ordinary, good person.

As charming as Akari is, with her references to an epic adventure together with shoujo-ai romantic undertones (it’s clear from the start Akari has a thing for Menou, and who wouldn’t when you’ve only seen the heroic and kind side of her?), by the end of this outing Menou is still committed to delivering Akari to her death.

Not just because it’s her duty, but because she truly believes that if left unchecked even someone as sweet as Akari could bring about the apocalypse. That’s not to say she won’t develop stronger misgivings about what she’s doing.

As for that “ceremonial room” (which is goddamn creepy hearing it discusses so causally), if it doesn’t work and Akari still can’t be killed, what then? In the absence of the means to kill her and any sign of her becoming a threat, Menou will only grow closer to Akari—and perhaps farther from the certainty of her organization’s cause.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 01 (First Impressions) – Pure, Just, and Strong

As isekai anime go, this one starts out pretty ordinary: after a stinger involving someone’s dream about being in a class where everyone likes them and they have one “best friend of all”, a boy, Mitsuki, is suddenly summoned into the court of a king, but when judged to be lacking, Mitsuki is promptly tossed out of the castle, where he meets the lovely priestess Menou.

Menou offers a roof under Mitsuki’s head and food and money if he’s willing to work for it. Menou informs him that he’s not the first “lost one” from Japan; in fact, this world has been so influenced by summoned Japanese, the culture there in full force. That said, this world still has its own strict social ladder in which the Faust, or members of the church like Menou, sit even higher than kings and lords.

Mitsuki laments he has no powers, saying the wizard back at the castle said they were “null”, but when Menou gets him to summon his powers, they learn that he actually has the power to nullify anyting, as in making it cease to exist. Once the kid realizes what this means, he immediately start to show signs that suggest he might well abuse that power if left unchecked…

…And so Menou checks him, plunging a dagger straight through his skull. Turns out her true duty is as an executioner of Lost Ones, neutralizing their threat to her world and its balance of power. This wasn’t Mitsuki’s story. It was never supposed to be. It’s Menou’s.

Mind you, Menou doesn’t enjoy doing this, it’s simply her duty, and considering how much chaos carnage a Nullify power could have caused, it’s a damned important duty at that. It’s just great to see the typical isekai (and typical dull MC) formula subverted so promptly and completely.

Menou understands all too well how important her role is, as she is the sole survivor of a calamity that resulted from a Lost One—another high school student from Japan—accidentally turning an entire town into snow (or something white and powdery).

Menou is saved when Flare, the priestess who will become her master, kills the girl. When the girl comes back as a giant snow monster, Flare’s old master Orwell takes care of it. I loved the haunting bleakness of the scene, with the snow (or whatever) serving as a stark contrast to the usual flame-themed dark flashbacks.

Back in the present, Menou meets with her aide Momo, who unlike Menou treats this whole business like a fun game, perhaps her way of coping with the things that must be done to uphold balance and peace (not agreeing with that philosophy per se, jut acknowledging it’s there).

Momo is also infatuated with Menou, an attempt to add some levity to a very dark and bloody business. When the king’s guards come to the church, Menou deals with them quickly and efficiently, while Momo takes care of the one who got away.

Momo determined that the second Lost One the king summoned after the boy Menou already killed is a “guest” of the castle. The king, being of the Noblesse class below the Faust, is hoping this Japanese girl could be used as a weapon to being the Faust down. The episode ends with Menou descending on the girl on the castle balcony.

Menou is immediately a complex and thus fascinating character to watch: ever since she was rescued from that disaster she’s been trained for nothing but what she’s doing, and even parrots Flare’s slogan that a priestess must always be pure, just, and strong. There’s a bitterness in the way Menou says it.

You could say she really is all three of those things, and that the potential threat of the Lost Ones justifies her cold vigilance and laser focus on duty. But to see her master Flare and her aide Momo seem to revel in their bloody deeds in the past and present, while she gives the boy she executed a proper burial, there’s definitely a kernel of moral conflict that this second Lost One will likely help to sprout.

Her Way of Life borrows a lot from its isekai predecessors, but I’ve always been one to say if you can tweak the formula enough that it’s fresh and execute it well, you’ve probably got me as a viewer. Menou’s complexity, concise world-building, the dark comedy of the would-be MC boy’s fate, and combat scenes that pack a punch all conspire to make this one a sure keeper.

Fabiniku – 08 – Night Pool

Jinguuji makes Tachibana make her first kill—a rabbit so they can eat—but it’s not just the two of them on their journey to the capital. They’ve picked up a hanger-on, Shen, who claims to simply want some company as they’re headed in the same direction. But Jinguuji suspects treachery afoot.

Sure enough, Shen drugged Jinguuji’s rabbit stew, making it hard for him to move. When Tachibana emerges from the apartment after a call of nature, she finds two strapping lads shirtless and ready for a donnybrook. Jinguuji insists Tachibana flee and he’ll figure it out, but to their surprise, Shen isn’t interested in Tachibana at all, nor does he find her cute in the slightest.

Tachibana, who believes her “only identity” in this world is her cuteness, is rarin’ for a fight, but as she bickers with Shen Jinguuji only grows more immobile, at which point Shen moves in for the…well, not kill, but back massage. Turns out Jinguuji was seriously fatigued and Shen just wanted to work on him. Of course, that doesn’t justify drugging people (in Tachibana’s case, with laxative!)

After Jinguuji and Tachibana institute a ten-meter rule with Shen, they arrive at Ishurna, the royal capital. After a brief tour and a bite to eat, they head to the supposed location of the prophecy they’re after: the Temple of the Goddess of Love and Beauty. When a fully-clothed, angelic priestess greets them, Jinguuji is extremely thrown off, having expected some kind of “night pool party”.

But once the priestess lures them in and asks them to change into extremely skimpy swimwear, they learn she herself is sporting a purple slingshot bikini under her robes, and takes them to the main area of worship—the very pool party/bacchanalian of Jinguuji’s imagination! It’s here where the priestess, who let the two wear their clothes, insists that they take if off and show the goddess what they’ve got.

When the priestess does reveal Tachibana in her microbikini, she also notices the seal on her neck, and everyone at the pool immediately loses their chill and starts talking about whippings and prison islands. That’s when Jinguuji takes some heat off Tachibana by tearing into their “crappy goddess”, then plowing through their feeble attacks.

He seems ready to give the slingshot priestess one of Brock Lesnar’s F5s when a well-dressed redhead busts into the temple and issues a “royal command”: the two weirdoes were summoned by the goddess and are not to be harmed! Could this woman be an oasis of sanity in a night pool of chaos, or simply guide our couple from one crazy scene to another, different but equally crazy scene?

Meikyuu Black Company – 05 – The Rise of General Ninomiya

After a very nervy and fun fakeout in which Ninomiya dreams he’s back on Earth but Rimu followed him and is wreaking havoc on the city, he wakes up somewhere else entirely…or rather somewhen else. He was summoned to save humanity, who have been living in the underground town of Marcia for the last three centuries. This appeal is initially clumsily made by Marcia’s “Priestess”, Ranga (voiced with great verve by M·A·O), whom Ninomiya discovers is a boy…by grabbing his crotch.

This is obviously a despicable act, but not shocking considering it’s long since been established that Ninomiya is a slimebag. The “cute girl is really a boy” trope is also particularly outmoded and tone-deaf, especially for a show spouting progressive socioeconomic theories. It also isn’t dwelled on for too long, so I won’t either. Suffice it to say Ranga is determined to make his “Lord Messiah” fall for him—Why, I cannot say—but also is mainly on board so he can get to the surface; he can’t stand living underground.

When Ninomiya bristles at helping a bunch of needy losers, Marcia’s mayor Zazel pulls an old 9mm pistol on him, only for the gun to get chewed on by Rimu. Ninomiya, a constantly snacking Rimu, and Ranga travel across the surface by motorcycle. There, Ninomiya learns this isn’t a different world, but the same old Amuria, just in the future.

Raiza’ha Mining Corp. basically destroyed human civilization and made it ripe for conquest by the Demon Lord. Now the monsters rule the surface. Ranga directs the trio to what is “probably” the Demon Lord’s castle, but turns out to be home to the Demon Lord’s deputy assistant section chief, General Ant.

This ant turns out to be Ninomiya’s old friend and comrade Ant A, who treats them to a feast while he unburdens himself with the monsters’ current troubles. These are put into relief when one of the conquered humans bursts in complaining about the horrific conditions under which he works.

These conditions are, hilariously, the norm in both Japan and America: 8 hour days, only two days off (AKA the weekend), and a scam called insurance. While it’s a pretty on-the-nose critique of our present late-stage capitalist dystopia in which we live, there’s definitely something to plainly listing all the ways it sucks through the voice of someone acting like it sucks, rather than it being the norm.

Of course, this and many of the other humans aren’t aware that it could be much worse than the status quo; it could be like the state of Raiza’ha at the height of its power, when employees were treated like dispensable slaves. Seeing which way the wind is blowing and reunited with his good friend Ant A, Ninomiya decides to ditch the mission he was summoned for and join Team Demon Lord.

By employing more draconian labor practices upon the conquered surface humans while at the same time incentivizing rule-followers and hard-workers with the ability to boss other humans around, he quickly reorganizes the entire social structure of the human subclass, while increasing efficiency, output and earning favor with the big guy.

This results in Ninomiya returning to Marcia in a gaudy Captain Harlock outfit. As the Demon Lord’s newest deputy assistant section chief, General Ninomiya declares that he’s going to be running Marcia from now on. Flanked by Ant A, Cerberus, Rimu, and a Ranga who is simply going with the flow at this point, I’m not sure the underground humans have any choice but to submit, desperately short on supplies as they are.

At any rate, Ninomiya Kinji has once again climbed to the top of his situation by being nothing more or less than the asshole he is and always will be. We’ll see how long it lasts and what form his likely inevitable downfall takes.

Dororo – 09 – Not Letting The War Win

Dororo has never not known war, and it has taken everything from him but his life. But even that is threatened when he suddenly collapses with an apparent fever. Hyakkimaru has to carry him to find help, and eventually comes upon a kind priestess who takes them into the temple for Dororo to recover.

After a couple of lighthearted episodes—one in which the ghoul-of-the-week turns out to be not so bad, and one in which a boy and his big sis survive—the “party is over” this week, as we’re told the heart-wrenching tale of how Dororo became an orphan, and why he clings so close to Hyakkimaru and fears being left behind.

On two occasions, Dororo spots red spider lilies, which he hates, because they remind him of when his mama died in a field of them.

Dororo’s father Hibukuro was a big, strong leader of a band of brigands who unusually only targeted samurai, seeking retribution on those who destroyed their village. His mother Ojiya was his strong, kind wife. But it doesn’t take long to see that an age as cruel as the one in which they live wouldn’t allow such an arrangement to last for long.

Hibukuro is good at killing and good at bringing men to his side, but when his band gets strong enough, his right-hand man Itachi suggests they make a deal with a lord. It’s the smart, pragmatic move; one that has the best chance of ensuring the survival of his family. But neither of Dororo’s parents are willing to turn to the lords ever again…and young Dororo follows their lead.

Predictably, Itachi betrays them by making a deal with the samurai, who end up filling Hibukuro’s legs with arrows. Itachi takes the band for himself, leaving the wounded Hibukuro and his family to scavenge fields of the dead for scraps of food. Itachi and his treahery represented a natural element to this world, and Hibukuro and Ojiya simply lacked the pragmatism that would have enabled them to survive.

If he hadn’t betrayed them, Hibukuro’s stubbornness would have doomed him again anyway…and it does, when they happen upon another village the samurai are preparing to burn. One of them recognizes Hibukuro’s signature pole sword and seeks revenge for his fallen friends.

Hibukuro has an epic death by bear-hugging and impaling the man who impaled him, but the end result is that Ojiya and Dororo are now all on their own. You can see the moment Ojiya knows they’re somehow even more screwed than they were a minute ago, and their margin of survival henceforth is that much smaller.

It’s something of a miracle the samurai let Ojiya and Dororo go free, and we know from Dororo telling Mio that Ojiya never sold her body for money or food. But when she hears that samurai are handing out free soup, she gets in line, something she and her husband might not have done before things got so dire.

She’s even willing to cut in line, hold out her hands, and have the scalding soup poured in her hands (she has no bowl) so that Dororo can eat. And Itachi is there, in his fancy clothes, comfy with the lord, basically telling her “I told you so.” Dororo throws a rock at him—perhaps for the first time—but Itachi catches it easily.

When we see the mother and child walking slowly through a field of those damned red spider lilies (the show’s profound artistry on full display this week as usual), I knew that was going to be the end of Ojiya’s tether. She collapses from starvation, can’t get back up, and the life drains from her eyes as Dororo begs her not to, promising he won’t tell her he’s hungry anymore. It’s a brutal gut punch.

Time and time again, right until the moment of her death, Dororo’s mother told him not to let the war beat him, even though it claimed her and his father. When he recovers from his fever, we learn he had told the priestess this entire story. Thanks to her ministrations, he can keep going, keep fighting against the war that’s taken almost everything.

But as he continues his journey with Hyakkimaru, Dororo realizes when he smells his freshly-cleaned clothes that those clothes had to have been removed at some point. And the priestess told Hyakkimaru how difficult it must be to travel with “such a young girl.” That’s when I learned for the first time (I never watched the original show): Dororo is a girl.

The hints were there: her button-cute appearance, girlish eyelashes, and the fact she was voiced by a girl and not a boy. And surely it’s smart to dress as a guy and not a girl when you’re all alone in a cruel, merciless world like this. Now Hyakkimaru knows the truth, and I’m eager to see how that’ll change their dynamic as he continues to develop his voice.

Unfortunately, the days they still have to travel the lands together in search of ghouls and fortune may soon be interrupted by more huge developments: one of Daigo’s spies has informed him of a midwife who put a limbless infant in the river, and young warrior with prosthetic arms. Tahoumaru overhears as well. Soon, Hyakkimaru, the instrument of Daigo’s mounting misfortunes (due to the demons losing his parts one by one) will be the crosshairs of his father and younger brother.

And while Dororo is a capable fighter and thief, she’s far from invincible, as we’ve learned from the times Hyakkimaru has had to rescue her, including the first time he did. Like Hibukuro, the day may come when he’ll have to choose whether to fight those who have forsaken him, or focus on protecting Dororo. More limbs and senses, more problems…

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