We’re a third of the way – almost – through Sousou no Frieren now (which sounds funny given it’s only been a month). So I think it’s fair to start making some general assessments. My take on it at this point is that it’s damn good, but that the character writing is not strong enough for me to really call it great. The things it does so well – mood, world-building, big ideas – are hugely important, and the secondary characters are generally more interesting than the leads. So all in all far more positives than negatives, and I totally get why it’s such a critical and commercial smash. I just don’t think it’s a masterpiece on the level of Pluto or Vinland Saga.
That said (and it’s a hell of a high bar) the versatility Frieren has shown in the last couple of episodes has impressed me. This was a gear I didn’t know it had, and the change in tone is very welcome – there was a risk of some monotony if that style had continued unabated for 28 episodes. This is the titular Frieren we’ve seen emerge here, and even if I disagree with the liberal English translation of “Frieren the Slayer”, the point is the same – she’s a badass. She has no need to show off how strong she is because she knows how strong she is, and doesn’t care whether anybody else does or not. And that makes her kind of scary.
Draht certainly found that out. Remember Draht went after Frieren of his own volition, and in fact Lügner wound up being rather displeased about that when it effectively undercut his entire plan. All that talk about how most mages would “lose their head” after his wire attack was pretty amusing. In truth Frieren wasn’t really bothered by Draht at all – he wasn’t remotely in her weight class. The only problem was that by his killing her guard, he made things awkward for her to stick around and chill in her cell (since demon bodies dissolve into mana when they die).
Meanwhile, Stark is literally quivering with fear at the thought of taking on Lügner (for a second there I wondered if he actually did wet himself). But as they say, courage isn’t not being afraid, it’s being afraid and doing what has to be done anyway. He always gets there in the end. When he and Fern run into the escaped Frieren on the street, Stark begs her to help them take on Lügner aand Linie, but Frieren declines. She makes out like she’s just bailing, but she has much bigger plans in mind. She only offers encouragement. And that smile (a rarity) she flashed when she talked about hating to fight strong opponents was interesting – suggesting a number of different interpretations.
Give Graf Granat credit. He was smart enough to read the situation in the dungeon – and Draht’s absence – correctly and piece together what probably happened. The jig is up at that point, and Lügner finally reveals his magic – blood magic, which he uses to dispense with all of Granat’s guards. But he needs the Graf alive, to tell him how to lower Flamme’s barrier around the town. Lügner gets quite talkative here, explaining how demons devote their entire lives to the pursuit of one specific type of magic, and how he therefore hates “geniuses” (like Flamme) who can reboot the system with timeless bursts of inspiration.
Once more we see Stark’s true courage as he breaks into the palace with Fern, and winds up facing down Lügner and Linie alone as a distraction for Fern. With this advantage Fern is strong enough to launch an attack that damages Lügner pretty severely, but Granat is bleeding out and with Linie still at full strength, Stark urges a retreat rather than a fight to the death at this point. Fern’s style puts Lügner in mind of someone, and he soon realizes who it is – Sousou no Frieren. Call her the slayer, the undertaker, whatever you like – her name is clearly legend among his kind.
Frieren’s plan all along was to take on Aura the Guillotine herself, something she wanted Fern and Stark to have no part of. She left the other two demons to them because she had no choice – I think we can assume Aura is considerably stronger than both of them. We know Frieren considers herself stronger even than Aura, but this enemy hasn’t been sealed in stasis for the past 28 years – presumably she’s been preparing for this rematch (something we’ve seen no evidence of from Frieren). Whatever happens when these two face off, I think we can expect it to be pretty loud.