ANIME REVIEW | The Journey Continues in Gorgeous "Frieren"
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is just about that. After a ten-year journey, a band of heroes have slain the Demon King, bringing about peace in the world. Many of the heroes can rest on their laurels, living with the ease that they rightfully deserve. But it’s not so easy for our titular character Frieren (Atsumi Tanezaki), who sees that ten year journey as merely a drop in a bucket. After all, she’s an elven mage, and elves can live for hundreds of years.
However, after the death of hero Himmel (Nobuhiko Okamoto), Frieren finds herself filled with regret. In that ten-year quest, she never got the chance to get to know Himmel in the ways her comrades Heiter (Hiroki Tōchi) and Eisen (Yōji Ueda) had. As a result, Frieren goes on a much more personal quest: to learn more about humanity, and give Himmel a proper goodbye at the resting place of souls. Thankfully, she isn’t alone on this new journey.
Before his passing, Heiter introduces Frieren to Fern (Kana Ichinose), who has a knack for magic that even the reclusive elf is impressed with. She takes her on as her first apprentice, as Frieren shows Fern the ropes on how to perform magic properly. But magic isn’t the only thing these two need on this quest; a little strength is good, too. This comes in the form of Stark (Chiaki Kobayashi), a young timid warrior whose hidden potential even scares Eisen.
Although there are quests to be taken on, Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End isn’t focused on having an epic adventure. Said adventure already happened with the Demon King’s defeat, with each and every member of the hero’s party now focused on their epilogue. The difference between Frieren and her comrades is the length of their final chapter. Himmel, Heiter, and Eisenhave have decades of post-adventuring to look forward to; Frieren has centuries! It’s this aspect that leads the elven mage to now go on this new odyssey to get to know the people she once rescued from utter tyranny.
In a way, this anime serves as a reminder that — even during perilous expeditions — you must learn to stop and smell the roses. For ten years, Frieren went on a quest to slay the Demon King with three others. And yet, never once in those ten years did she make any effort to bond with her fellow heroes. By the end of that journey, Frieren only had a tiny inkling of what her comrades were like. Himmel was full of himself; Heiter was a drunk; and Eisen…well, even now, Eisen is still something of a mystery. (It’s a shame that he declined Frieren’s invitation to join on her new journey, but it’s understandable that he merely wants to live his remaining years in peace.)
One characteristic doesn’t make a person, something that Frieren realizes soon after Himmel’s passing. Now with a new purpose and crew in life, the elven mage sets out to right a wrong of her past. Getting to know her comrades, seeing what the world is truly made of, diving deeper into a town’s surroundings, and — for the sake of the gods! — evading any mimic treasure chests. These are all things Frieren must learn to do in order to become a more understanding elf.
To some, the slow pace of Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End may be a turnoff. However, that pace is kind of the point. Viewers are seeing the world through Frieren’s eyes, which used to blink to the passing of days, weeks, and even months. Now, whenever Frieren blinks, only a fraction of a second goes by, as she starts to take in the sights, sounds, and people that she now comes across. And with Fern and Stark by her side, she can constantly remind herself why she’s embarking on this new adventure.
Yes, the Demon King is dead, but not all evil has been vanquished. There are still foes to defeat, some of which are linked to Frieren’s past. This comes in the form of Aura the Guillotine (Ayana Taketatsu), whose puppeteering powers are quite frightening when one looks deep into them. Other demons also cause havoc, with some using a faux peace envoy to further their plans of dominating humans. When Frieren, Fern, and Stark take to action, the fiery spirit of adventure is truly on display.
Madhouse (Death Note, The Vampire Dies in No Time) captures that action with both beauty and brutality. Whether it’s a spell being cast or a sword that’s thrusted, the action showcased is some of the studio’s best in years. There’s something breathtaking about watching a stoic elven mage unleash a massive attack on a demon, as her small stature easily throws off the most powerful of enemies. A great action highlight of the series can be found in the party’s battle with the dragon, which placed the timid Stark into a new level of respect as a future hero for those to admire.
And yet, it’s when things have calmed down when the visuals shine the brightest. The forests, the villages, and the mountains showcased in Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End are simply beautiful. One can take a look at these elements and see the Tolkien and C.S. Lewis-based influences that are scattered throughout the story. So much care is placed in the look of the characters and the world they traverse, in ways that make it so hard to blink in fear of missing something unique.
A good adventure group needs to be presented with plenty of personality, and this anime does that in spades. Tanezaki plays Frieren with not too much emotion at first, only for her to blossom more throughout her journey. Ichinose’s Fern is also sometimes lacking emotion, but her means of making a comical quip make for some of the best surprises in the series’s dialogue. Perhaps balancing the stoic with brimming personality is Kobayashi, whose Stark can go from coward to hero in humorous fashion. The main trio make for a strong camaraderie, in similar ways friends may interact over a game of D&D.
Evan Call (Violet Evergarden) has become the industry go-to for gorgeous soundtracks. His score here has the same vibe and feel as Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings compositions, filling action scenes with excitement and caressing calm moments with a gentle touch. He also aids in the end theme “Anytime Anywhere”, performed with grace and beauty by Milet. However, while Yoasobi’s opener “Yusha” is a great song, its electronic pop sounds feel very much out of place in this fantasy adventure.
Sometimes an anime just needs to allow its viewers to take it all in. Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End does that in spades, thanks to some terrific pacing, lovable characters, and its dangerous-yet-welcoming world. As corny as it sounds, Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End teaches us why the real treasure in a quest is the friends we’ve made along the way. Because of that, every moment spent watching this anime feels like a gift to the eyes, the heart, and the spirit.
Voice Acting: (Japanese dub)
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End can be viewed on Crunchyroll, and has been licensed by Crunchyroll. Episodes 1-9 were observed for this review. Promotional consideration provided by Crunchyroll.