We all know the classic fantasy adventure story: a ragtag group of magical heroes team up to take down evil. Through their perilous journey and the power of friendship, they become strong enough to defeat the wicked demon king and free the kingdom! The end. Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, based on the manga written by Kanehito Yamada and illustrated by Tsukasa Abe, takes on a different lens for this classic story. What happens when the adventure is over? How do you live the rest of your life? This tale follows the elf mage Frieren as she lives out the rest of her immortal days and deals with the loss of her fellow party members. Is it worth the watch? Let’s find out!
[Warning: slight spoilers and impressions from Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End are below!]
The stunning animation of Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End
When the unfairly pretty trailer for Frieren first dropped the first thought that popped into my mind was “Please be this beautiful all the way through.” Anime fans often have stories of gorgeously animated trailers that fizzle out into not-very-impressive shows. Thankfully, just like its trailers, Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is nothing short of stunning.
From the start of the first episode, the most standout aspect of this show by far is how beautiful the art is. If you’re an animation dweeb like me, the premiere is worth checking out for the visuals alone.
One of the most crucial aspects of adapting a manga is proper art direction. It has to stay true to what drew people to the original in the first place. Character designer Reiko Nagasawa and art director Sawako Takagi have done a fantastic job. The Frieren manga is a mix of beautiful watercolors and charming character designs, and they certainly captured the feel of it for the anime. The characters are just as cute as the original and the watercolor backgrounds are absolutely lovely. It’s a feast for the eyes.
Only time will tell if the rest of the episodes hold up to the standard set by the premiere, but I am hopeful. The art is a perfect match to the meditative, cozy story. But just how good is the story?
The good and the bad of these premiere episodes
Frieren isn’t one of those fantasy narratives where you’re constantly fighting the dragon or saving the princess. Rather, it’s a story of coming to terms with the aftermath of all that monster-slaying you and your friends once did. The premiere is slow-paced and calm, just like the manga.
There are some pros and cons to this. A personal pro is that it’s very character-driven. We get to spend a lot of time getting to know Frieren and her apprentice Fern. Frieren is a charming protagonist, both calm, intelligent, and yet a little bit of a charming idiot. The overall pacing of the story does a great job of putting us in Frieren’s head. She’s ancient, so time doesn’t pass the same for her as it does for everyone else.
The pacing gives the narrative a sense of timelessness. There is a mix of sudden flashbacks to five decades ago, drawn sequences that only cover a day, and lightning-quick montages that span years. Plot lines about searching for herbs will take most of an episode while 50 years is about 30 seconds. You blink, and her child apprentice is taller than her and acting like her mother. Everything moves too fast and yet not fast enough. The death of one character feels like it just happened, despite being decades ago.
The style of storytelling makes it very easy to see how an immortal like Frieren could go on a little side-quest and return to her friends on death’s door time and time again. Shots fade between her companions wielding their weapons to their now-weathered hands. Everyone is constantly slipping away from her.
Many older readers of the manga have commented that the story perfectly encapsulates the odd feeling of losing your old friends and old adventures and yet having to continue on with your life. The pacing of the anime absolutely encapsulates that as well. It’s a very touching narrative.
However, the anime suffers in a way the manga does not due to its speed. While the manga is also a meandering meditative story, it’s a much quicker read. The first four episodes of the anime only cover about nine chapters of the manga’s eleven volumes. While demons are a very interesting and menacing presence in the manga, here we only get one fight scene that wraps up very quickly. It’s lovely but, well, could be a little boring at times. I can’t fault director Keiichirō Saitō for picking a pace that mirrors the themes of the narrative, but it’s easy to see how new viewers with no investment in the manga might find the story much too slow.
On my first viewing, I personally was a bit bogged down by the pacing. This was of course until I got a fuzzy blanket and a cup of tea and was suddenly overwhelmed by the coziness. After that, the show transformed from a bit of a dull frolic through a pretty world, to a perfect way to end the day.
I recommend enjoying this show on a rainy day when you want to relax. Let the visuals and the contemplative story wash over you, and this show will be a delightful watch.
Watch Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End on Crunchroll
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End premieres on Crunchyroll beginning September 29. Will you check it out? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord!