Crunchyroll debuted Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End by airing its first four episodes. To preserve our first impression format and help those who are avoiding spoilers from episodes two through four, the first two paragraphs below discuss just episode one. However, you can hit the jump for further discussion of the entire premiere.
Fifty years after defeating the Demon King and returning to the kingdom in time to see a grand meteor shower that only comes twice a century, the elf mage Frieren gathers her friends once more, seeing them for the first time in fifty years. She is fulfilling a promise to take them to see the shower from an even better vantage point than they originally had. Much has changed, most of all how Himmel the hero, Heiter the priest, and Eisen the dwarf warrior have aged, especially the bald, shrunken Himmel. But some things remain the same, including the bond the party has with one another, as well as Frieren’s youthful appearance since centuries are but a moment to her. Her detached attitude also remains the same. Having lived so long (and with so many years still ahead), Frieren takes her time doing things (often at others’ expense) and doesn’t really feel any type of intimacy with humans, even those who consider her to be a comrade and friend. But when the elderly Himmel passes away ten years later, Frieren realizes something: she wishes she had come to know him better. And thus begins a journey unlike any she’s taken before, one in which Frieren will learn about others, including the members of the very party that defeated the Demon King and those they saved.
Do you remember a Christmas or birthday that fulfilled your high expectations? I don’t know about you, but those memories are rarer for me than those of disappointment, and with Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End I was prepared for the latter. How could such a brilliant, beautiful, moving manga make the kind of transition to animation that would lead to something just as perfect? But I think it’s happened! The animators at Madhouse seem to love this story even more than I do. Episode one doesn’t give us too much yet in terms of characterization, but it does deliver when it comes to everything else surrounding our beloved party, including the scenery—oh, the scenery! So beautiful! I just wrote about how detailed the pastoral setting is in My Daughter Left the Nest and Returned an S-Rank Adventurer, but Freiren surpasses it with its characters journeying through beautifully overgrown and rustic locations that don’t have to incorporate such incredible arches, colorful fields of flowers, and detailed ruins, yet do. The expansive score also helps convey a sense of peace, nostalgia, and magic in Frieren. I know that anime series have composers who develop multiple pieces for a work, but I was still surprised at just how much original orchestral music features in episode one, much as if it was for a feature film. Again, such care is being taken with the story. And I think even those new to Frieren will understand why: this is a heartfelt, wonderful journey that we’re all about to go on. And it looks like Madhouse is 100% up to the task of taking us on it.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for episodes 2-4!
I was thrilled, also, when it was announced that Crunchyroll would drop the first four episodes of the series all at once. They don’t function as a 100-minute movie like Oshi no Ko‘s extended premiere did back in the Spring, but together they nevertheless give you a better sense of the form of the show and the personality of two of its major characters: Frieren and Fern. Atsumi Tanezaki and Kana Ichinose are perfectly cast; they are the voices I heard in my mind for these characters, which I think is especially critical when you have a cast that conveys emotion and thoughts so subtly. Tanezaki conveys the feelings beneath Frieren’s detached dialogue and Ichinose injects attitude and warmth into Fern.
The animation is wonderful, too. It’s so fluid in its movement and the world is so lush. The director also wisely shows nature and other scenery continuously, with the animators spending a good deal of time focusing on backgrounds and creating atmosphere. Little details like a boy picking up a goose to bring back home help draw us into this fantastic world. Interesting angles and cuts are used as well, though I don’t really know if I feel they’re super appropriate for a slow-moving series like this. I still appreciate them, however, like the one that closes the opening song that splits the screen between Frieren’s former party and the new one that is developing.
Speaking of the opening, it really hops. I love it! Again, I’m not sure if it was the most appropriate song selection, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The closing is a better choice of song–a nostalgic piece that fits perfectly well with a fantasy series. Beautiful stuff.
As you can tell, I am excited about this show, all the more so after seeing the job Madhouse did with episodes one through four. It looks to me that the anime will match the manga, and could even surpass it in quality. That’s a best-case scenario that I hadn’t even let enter in my mind as a possibility. But this debut has now made that a real prospect. How could I possibly ask for more?
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End can be streamed on Crunchyroll.