Time is a relentless construct for us humans; but for elves like the titular protagonist of Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, its passage is near-meaningless on the surface. This soon changes for her as the companions with whom she traveled age sharply over the years, and she feels time’s cruelty as she regrets not having lived more in the present. While years feel like nothing to Frieren, the absence of friends makes for a powerful motivator to appreciate humanity’s fleeting presence. Thanks to an advance screener of Episodes 1 through 4 by Crunchyroll, I am happy to give my review of Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End upon its premiere!
A Refreshing Introspective Twist on Medieval Fantasy
The series opened with a surprise for those expecting instant adventure: Frieren, and her companions Himmel, Eisen, and Heiter, are returning after having beaten the Demon King. They’re peacefully coming in on a horse-drawn cart a la the beginning (and epilogue) of The Lord of the Rings, with Frieren’s companions set to live out their lives. But focus shifts quickly to Frieren in particular, who is unbothered by the duration of the journey, and unfazed by the wonders her party has seen.
Viewers may be shocked to see the story jump to decades later, with all of Frieren’s friends visibly aging, and the first of whom is none other than Himmel the hero. A quixotic character, Himmel idealized many of nature’s wonders and was a force of good to those around him, but puzzling to Frieren. This is when the first and most important catalyst for Frieren’s growth appears: Himmel dies of old age, with a smile on his face. In that moment, you begin to see that while Frieren as an immortal has a different grasp on time, she feels its cruel effects and regrets not knowing Himmel more.
It’s then that the episodes’ purpose clicked for me, why it’s a 4-episode premiere: this is a prologue and a real tear-jerker at that. Frieren is losing the friends with whom she had traveled for a significant time in human years while not aging a day and realizes far too late how important they were to her. In a refreshing introspective twist on medieval fantasy, Frieren does her best to honor the wishes of her old comrades and honor the memory of the lost. She discovers in her flashbacks that, while experiencing things like gorgeous meteor showers means little to her, she feels comfort and emotional warmth in being around friends who enjoy the wonders of life. Crafting this type of experience takes a strong understanding of what people enjoy.
Frieren’s Color and Animation Quality Feel Filmic and Elegant
We’re being spoiled with anime lately. So many studios are out here pushing out tons of content, infusing intense animation with out-of-this-world visuals, often assisted with CGI and enhanced by devices that use frame interpolation. Jargon aside, a lot of this technical side of anime sometimes makes us forget that some anime benefit more from authenticity and intimacy. Made by the Madhouse studio, Frieren‘s color and animation quality feels filmic and elegant. It almost feels Ghibli-esque, with authentic-feeling movement, wonderful backdrops, and plenty of shots of tasty food.
If you’re unfamiliar with Madhouse, first of all…how? With hits like NANA, Trigun, Hunter x Hunter, Hellsing Ultimate, My Love Story with Yamada-kun at Lv999, and even guilty pleasures like Beyblade, they’re often an early entry point for lifelong anime enjoyers. After all, their Cardcaptor Sakura series was my introduction to anime. With this already impressive showcase demonstrating Madhouse’s breadth of style, you’ll be pleased that Frieren will rest as some of its best work.
A Powerful Prologue, But Also a Slow Burn
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End upon review would not likely have sold viewers on it if they had to wait 3 more weeks to reach Episode 4’s conclusion. While it’s sweet, it at first feels like a Slice of Life series in a fantasy setting, especially as she takes on Fern as an apprentice. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it’d also not be anything special.
But at the final moments of Episode 4, “The Land Where Souls Rest”, where Himmel and Heiter are gone and Eisen wishes only to live in peace, we see Frieren’s true journey begin. Previous episodes were spent with Frieren finding work, expanding her magic craft, and teaching Fern, but Frieren lacked a true driving force. Learning that she can see Himmel again in the north, along the same path where they defeated the Demon King, she wishes to travel and give Himmel a proper farewell.
It makes for a powerful prologue, but also a slow burn. Those who stick with the series beyond this will be pleased by what they find, as it adapts the ongoing manga and there are very exciting moments in its future. Upon review of this year, while shows like Oshi no Ko have executed long premieres better, the journey ahead for Frieren will still be worth it.
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is a strong premiere, if a bit slow getting viewers to understand its main plot focus. It has strong animation that never feels over-the-top and is best enjoyed among friends. The strongest written aspects of this series highlight how humanism can make life better even for apathetic, non-human characters, and it will make you treasure the friendships you have.
While this premiere won’t receive top marks due to the time it spent getting to the meat of the story, I foresee Frieren having a standout first season, and becoming a hit among the fans. Simply watching it is a charming, warm reminder of the human experience through elven eyes, with real character development that you’ll want to follow every week. When going after what makes you truly happy, after all, what does a 10-year journey mean to an elf?
This review of Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End Episode 1-4 was made using a premiere screener provided by Crunchyroll. Frieren premiered on Friday, September 29, 2023, at 8:00 AM PT, and is available to stream on Crunchyroll.