The anime adaptation of Frieren: Beyond Journey's End is finally here, and at least so far, Madhouse's take lives up to the hype. That is, my own hype; the original manga created by writer Kanehito Yamada and artist Tsukasa Abe sold me almost immediately when I first picked it up. Most fantasy stories might focus on the fight to defeat the lord of demons and the 10-year journey to that point, but not Frieren. No, Frieren is more concerned with what happens afterwards – the lives we lead and how they intersect with others. And how we come to know people and are known. You know, the simple things.
It's much more introspective than it might even initially seem. There's magic and demons and fights and death, sure, but the small moments between characters are where Frieren truly shines most brightly. The search for a particular blue flower is much more compelling start to finish than any of the show's combat sequences, though it's no slouch in that department either.
This is all to say, the name of the series is largely indicative of its content. It follows the adventures of Frieren, an elven mage and former party member of the group that defeated the Demon King decades ago. The rest of her party – Himmel, Heiter, and Eisen – do not live as long as elves, and therefore she's got a bit of a skewed sense of time. For the rest of the party, 10 years is a long time to have been running around together, but for Frieren, it's just a small fraction of a percent of her life.
It's a fascinating concept, if not an entirely new one. For someone that is effectively immortal with roughly 1,000 years (or more) under their belt, what does it mean to come into contact with, grow beside, and perhaps even love someone that will only ever have roughly a tenth of that if they're lucky? And if you realize, perhaps, that those moments actually were precious and you were wrong to downplay them, and now it's too late, what then? Where do you go from there?
That's the question Frieren sets out to answer, though perhaps in not so many words. The two-hour premiere, consisting of the show's first four episodes, is really all just to set the stage for the main attempt of the above. Frieren ultimately tasks herself on finding what is, essentially, heaven. There exists a place, according to notes left by her master centuries ago, where one can converse with the dead. One of her former companions suggests that perhaps, just perhaps, Frieren might like to converse with another that's already departed in order to better know him and to finally have no regrets about the time they spent together.
Frieren: Beyond Journey's End is a heartfelt, poignant story that is retold well here, and beautifully animated. It flits between the present, past, and distant past fairly quickly, framing stories from multiple angles. Each new chapter or episode is typically first placed in relation to the aforementioned meaningful death, and regularly includes how Frieren previously experienced something, how she experiences it now, and how the latter recontextualizes the former. Put in writing, that might seem overwhelming, but the anime balances it well by letting scenes take as little or as much time as necessary.
It's always hard to judge what's going to pop with viewers, especially from having only seen an initial batch of episodes, and Frieren rightly shouldn't be compared to the shonen heavies that often dominate seasonal releases. That's just not what it is; it's not even competing in the same category, really, despite sharing a medium. But the premiere is promising, and as someone that knows the journey beyond where Frieren: Beyond Journey's End has currently adapted, it is easily the one new anime series to watch this season, because you won't want to miss where it's going.
Frieren: Beyond Journey's End is streaming as part of Crunchyroll's Fall 2023 anime season. If you've already given Frieren a go, there are still plenty of anime series you should be watching in 2023.
This feature is based on advance screener access to the first four episodes of Frieren: Beyond Journey's End as provided by Crunchyroll.