Frieren Thoughts, One Season In

I think there are two aspects of Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, or Souzou no Frieren, that really work well together to carry the story. One is that it’s a really emotional story. The other is that it builds a narrative that is well-layered. The two together works like a sieve of sorts. Instead of a Gunbuster-okaeri payoff you get a slow drip of the mono-no-aware (or as the kids say, “vibe”) over a longer period of time, in much smaller doses, as the story unfolds layer by layer accordingly.

From 30,000 feet up I think Frieren is repackaging the story also told by other cyro-timeskip plot devices, where you have some weak interactor that carries memories from times of ancient past to the present or future. This character is living history out itself so each generation connects with each other much like subsequent scenes in a movie featuring the same protagonist; or a TV show in this case.

Spoilers ahoy.

The story that it tells is one that is really emotional. I think the narrative simply revolves around whims and motivations behind its characters. A lot of the time, we are just simply seeing why different characters do the things they do. This is partly why the plot explains what the monsters do, or what the different natural situation (or maybe not so natural) came about in a forest or in a town. We wondered if Sein would become an adventurer and why that is. Each of the exam candidates themselves seem to hide their own back stories and motivations, even when they’re simply added to the story for this magic test plot arc. It’s like a bit of a puzzle where you wonder how each character pieces together to form this emotional outcome. At least, that’s how I want to view the Ubel-Land relationship, or how Ubel in general is a character about feelings. After all, Frieren’s feelings drive this entire series, it is natural to also have a character whose feeling drives her magic. To be clear, I mean more like an emotional reaction rather than an internal state.

To segue into the setting, in the tradition of Japanese fantasy stories there is this magnificent world, this amazing and elaborate matryoshka doll-type thing. This is also true to a degree in Frieren, but what amuses me the most is how it actually flattens many aspects of it in order to not having to explain it all to the audience. There are some parts that it doesn’t short-hand, which most notably comes in to the whole “folk magic” and “mana” part. I guess it’s still kind of a shorthand? I mean, maybe in 2024 it all makes sense, but having a very choose-A-but-not-B approach seems novel to me. Maybe it’s more plot-hole-y for folks who are totally new.

Yes, the final magic test arc is a drag. I think one of my favorite part of Frieren is her going on a journey while indirectly reforming the Hero’s party, except they didn’t. I guess something had to happen after Sein left, so after some smaller stories which are all so charming, we have the magic test stuff. It’s a bit like peeling off chunks of a grapefruit or orange as you eat, then suddenly taking a big bite directly out of the fruit. It feels incongruent. The actual story and character remained the same, but when presented in this other format we don’t have the same kind of low-key, low-intensity payoff. I guess on one hand you needed to have an action-packed and intense climax to lay out Fren’s larger-than-life destiny, but on the other hand this seemed fanservice for a certain type of readers/viewers while putting the rest in some kind of time-out bin.

I think that’s OK. Life, in a lot of ways, is like this also. It’s good contrast to see Lernen contrasted with Denken. On that note, the cheesy thing he said in remembrance of Frienen (and also Wirbel…this could have been done much better) just seemed, well, cheesy. This entire arc has its highs but the lows are the things we expect better from an emotional story about the passage of time.

Anyways, this is probably the first time I enjoyed an Evan Call soundtrack. Most notably the ending song Anytime Anywhere Evan wrote for milet is so spot on… that I keep listening to the Yamane Aya cover version for some reason. It is definitely my favorite anisong in a long while.

There is an orchestral concert in August for Frienen and I will FOMO that show all year long. I think the soundtrack itself is quite good also…but kind of just par for the course in the scope of similar works in other TV and movies. It is decidedly not that sweeping and much more intimate, which is exactly what you want and expect from Frienen’s soundtrack. Check it out on your favorite streaming service, it might be there (and is on all the major Japanese ones).

Which is to say, for such an emotional story I think watching the anime really helps bring that forward. I don’t know how the manga really is, but I imagine it must be a drag if they do another certification arc type story in it. The voice acting and the music do a lot of lifting and that you just don’t have in the manga!

On voicing over, I think Acchan did a good job but her character is hardly difficult to play. Fren is a great casting choice, it really works with the quality of Ichinose’s voice. This quality about Ichinose’s Fren is very similar to Hoshino Ruri’s casting with Omi Minami too. The rest is a bit of a doozy.

And yes, the Nadesico parallels are hilarious but coincidental. Yes, Ruri design-wise is very close to Frienen. But Nadesico is a great story that just doesn’t get made in similar ways anymore, so please check it out if you haven’t.

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