Sousou no Frieren’s flirtation with battle shounen appears to be over, for the nonce at least. In its way the transition was just as whiplash-inducing as Helck’s this week, but it was likewise pretty seamless in actual practice. Just like that we’re back to what this show was for its first eight episodes – thoughtful, reflective, a little melancholy. And just as in those early episodes the most interesting dialogue seems to come from Heiter, which is remarkable given how little of that there actually is.
Graf Granat is gracious enough to be grateful (that’s a lot of Gs) to Frieren and her kids for everything they’ve done (effectively saving his town from annihilation). Among the fallen is Granat’s son, who Frieren’t intervention has finally allowed to rest, which further ensures his gratitude. She doesn’t ask for much in terms of reward – just the fake grimoire which isn’t actually the source of the city’s barrier – so he gets off pretty cheap. He does offer the party some free advice, namely that in order to travel as for north as they want to go they’ll need a first-class mage. And given that Fern is only third-class and Frieren isn’t the sort who goes to the DMV to get these things sorted out, that’s a problem that will eventually have to be dealt with.
The peculiarities of the mage licensing system promise to provide future entertainment, but for the moment the focus is on surviving the winter. Frieren is amused at her bairns’ southern-born ignorance about the harsh realities of a real winter. She informs them that it was northern winters who claimed the most lives during the war with the demon lord, not battle. And sure enough the trio are caught in a blizzard soon enough, with Stark passing out from hypothermia. Given that he’s a hardened warrior that seems more like a comic device than anything based on realism, but I won’t quibble (much).
Fortunately, the emergency shelter Frieren remembers from a mere 80 years earlier at the foot of the mountains is still there. It’s occupied by a shirtless man named Kraft (Koyasu Takehito) doing squats, but this is a literal any port in a storm situation, Fern’s sensitivity be damned. And this is a significant encounter indeed, since Kraft is an elf – the first living one we’ve seen apart from the heroine. And he says he hasn’t seen another of his kind for 300 years, further evidence that the race of elves is greatly reduced in numbers at the very least.
Kraft is certainly a different sort from Frieren. Not at all magical but clearly physically strong, devout and downright gregarious compared to the taciturn Frieren. He has supplies, Frieren and Fern the means to use them, so this is a mutually beneficial partnership. Kraft and Fern don’t exactly become soulmates but they do speak in a manner she clearly can’t with others, and he even remarks on how young she is in reference to her lack of belief in the Goddess. How old does that make Kraft – 2,000 years? 10,000? As I said last week elves could theoretically be immortal for all we know.
This matter of religious belief – most pointedly in the afterlife – seems to me the fundamental question Sousou no Frieren is interested in exploring. What Kraft offers is more or less a rehash of Heiter’s view – he’s come to believe because the alternative to belief is so terrifying. But, as Frieren notes, that’s not really a basis for real belief – just indulging a desire. Intelligent exploration of this theme is a rarity in anime, and Frieren very much stands out in that respect. I still contend that if “Heaven” is as it’s been described, it pretty much undercuts the entire premise – but that’s a problem not even the manga has addressed yet, so it’s way too soon to spend much time worrying about it…