Content Warning: Death and grieving
What’s it about? For a decade, elven mage Frieren traveled with Himmel the Hero, Heiter the Priest, and Eisen, a dwarven warrior, on a quest to defeat the Demon King. Now, five decades after their adventures end, Frieren must ask one question of herself: how do you go on when connections begin to end?
For once, I’m coming to a premiere highly invested: I started reading Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End (hereafter Frieren) when VIZ localized it in November 2021. It was exactly what my bruised heart needed: a story that was pensive and made a slow and steady pacing its charm, rather than a detriment. Now, nearly two years later, I get to restart my adventure with the titular elf, as do so many others.
This premiere is also unique because it’s quite long. Now, not all anime deserve a multi-episode, lengthy premiere: not because of personal tastes, but because not all stories have the legs up front to handle that well. However, Frieren has gotten quite the premium treatment, dropping a feature film length premiere and leaving viewers with 100 minutes of the first act of a story that’s only just begun.
So, without further adieu, let’s dive in.
Our story begins with the end of a story: namely, the defeat of the Demon King and a celebration as peace drapes itself across the land. There’s merriment in the air as citizens in the capital dance and the hero’s party reminisce on where they started. It’s a true rags-to-riches story: they left with ten coppers and they return the saviors of the realm, ready to go their individual ways now that evil has been laid to rest. At the end of the night, the group watches a meteor shower and Frieren vows that, in fifty years, she’ll show them a better view of it. Quietly, her non-elven companions agree, though the viewer knows that fifty years might as well be an entire lifetime.
And yet, that truly is only the beginning, because Frieren’s true worth is in the after–in Frieren, a member of a long-lived species, moving through the stark realization that “forever” is not universal.
At first, she seems cold and above it all: the hallmarks of a typical elf. Yet beneath the surface, Frieren is deeply emotional, and as she comes to understand the nature of her place in the passage of time, those emotions begin to come more readily to surface, revealing that perhaps, a lot of her surface aloofness is simply a cultural misunderstanding about the true frailty of her human–and dwarven–companions. It’s something Himmel, Heiter, and Eisen understand: for them, a decade is a huge part of their lives.
But for Frieren, it’s merely a moment: that is, until she suffers loss and realizes that perhaps ten years isn’t enough to know the measure of who someone is, and that once time passes, you can never reclaim it.
This continues into the rest of the premiere: Frieren travels, eventually finding one of her former companions, only to be confronted with their all-too-real fragility. Old age nips at their heels, but Frieren? She looks exactly like how she did when she was once called a hero. While I’ll keep things simple since there’s a lot that happens and a lot I don’t want to outright spoil, I will say that seeing this though-line evolve really is something special, in its own quiet, evocative way.
It’s hard not to gush about Frieren because I just love this premiere so, so much. It’s once of the best I’ve experienced since I started reviewing in 2020. Everything, from the execution of the adaptation to the voice acting knocks it out of the park, to the point that I just kind of sat back in awe when I finished my initial watch.
Once again, YAOSOBI brings another banger OP to an anime. It’s no wonder their catchphrase is “novel into music”: “Yusha” (“Hero”) is an amazing opening song that really sets the vibe of the show. Even the general background music, which is done by Evan Call (Violet Evergarden, My Happy Marriage, Hakumei and Mikochi) is splendidly done, channeling a quiet, atmospheric nature that brings to mind The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom’s blend of nature sounds and instrumentals.
But that’s not all that excels here: the animation, done by Madhouse, is beautiful, making the jump from a gorgeously detailed manga to a still evocative anime that conveys the intricate emotions tangled up in Frieren’s life before and after her time as a member of the hero’s party. Honestly, this was the thing I was most worried about because the manga plays a lot with liminal spaces during some of Frieren’s most emotional moments: there’s these gorgeous spreads and empty panels where no speaking occurs. How would a moving medium capture that?
Well, I’m glad to say we’re in good hands with Madhouse: whether or not you’ve read the manga, I’m sure you’ll find yourself at home in this premiere, and hopefully, the series at large. I don’t expect this to flag at all over its back-to-back two cour run. If anything, this feels like it’s only the beginning of one of this decade’s most beautiful series.
So much of the enjoyment of this premiere is watching Frieren’s world change simply through living. She doesn’t slay a dragon or defend the realm or even save anyone: instead, she does simple acts of magic, learns, and walks the world, growing in moments and memories, second by second and day by day. That’s the true wonder of this quiet, but powerful show: that’s why I’m sticking around.
What is the measure of a life? Of a soul, of an existence, of an instant that only one long-lived being will remember? What is worth remembering? How can we reclaim lost time so we never miss out on a chance to get to know someone again? At its core, those are the questions Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is trying to be in conversation with, and I think it does that rather well. I’m already hungry for the next episode, even though I saw the equivalent of four episodes all at once. If that’s not the mark of a good premiere, then I don’t know what is.
Real talk: I think everyone should watch the premiere, regardless of interest levels. Even if you don’t continue with this series, I think there’s so much to be found in this feature-length opener that I’d be remiss if I didn’t encourage everyone to give it a try. There’s so much heart in Frieren’s story, so much important emotionality and an even more important narrative: I think perhaps, this is something a lot of people need. Her loneliness, her journey, it’s all comfort in a way that made me feel seen: hopefully, it’ll make so many others feel the exact same way.