I definitely think the less conventional Sousou no Frieren is, the better it fares. That may be the reason Fern kind of annoys me, because she’s certainly the most conventional anime character in the cast. Frieren less so, though my issue there is that she’s been kind of a cipher to this point (by nature). That’s starting to change, though, and the group dynamic with Fern and Stark has something to do with that. All humans are children to Frieren in a sense, but when the humans are actual children I think that draws something different out of her over time.
I do know this about Frieren – when we see the past from her perspective, it’s seemingly impossible to draw any conclusion but that she was in love with Himmel. The question is whether she’s starting to realize that herself (there are hints that she is). That may be the raison d’être for this whole journey whether she’s consciously aware of it or not. The revelation that the story of Himmel pulling the hero’s sword from the stone is fake is an interesting one. One doesn’t need the hero’s sword to be a hero, clearly. But that sword is sitting there waiting for somebody (I thought it might be Stark for a brief moment), and it seems like kind of a Chekov’s gun sword to introduce it in this way.
Mostly the focus here is on Stark, with a little more of his history being filled in. The whole “ecchi” bit with Fern comes off kind of stilted and out of place, and I wish they’d drop it already. It’s his 18th birthday, Frieren tells Fern, and Frieren plans to give him that potion for dissolving clothes (because Flamme told her men like that sort of thing) for a present. Fern in typically puritan fashion rebels at this and pours (most of) the potion over Frieren’s head before heading into town in search of a present herself.
I assume we’re building towards something romantic between Stark and Fern, given all the hinting and the fact that they’re so matched age-wise. The tsun thing with Fern is, again, pretty conventional anime by Sousou no Frieren standards. She of course has been getting presents from Frieren every year, and is taken aback to learn that Stark never got a birthday present (or did he?). His father considered him weak and a failure, and it seems as if only his older brother Stoltz (Eguchi Takuya) was occasionally kind to him. And Eisen isn’t the type to express sentimentality – at least in the conventional manner.
It’s nice to think that Eisen was giving Stark a present every year, even if the boy never thought of it in those terms. As for Frieren, after a flirtation with a ring (Chekov’s ring) in her valise, she decides to give him the same present Eisen always did. To wit, a giant (and I do mean giant) hamburg steak made using his recipe. “Anybody who works hard is a warrior” was Eisen’s justification for preparing them for his fellow party members, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be a reward for warriors. Obviously it’s a means of showing one’s affection, no more and no less, and probably the only one Eisen was comfortable with.
I’ve never quite known how to take the cowardice thing where Stark is concerned. I mean, his so-called cowardice is basically common sense, and courage amounts to acting even when you’re scared anyway. But the story treats it like a real thing, so I guess we’re supposed to regard it as such. It seems to define how Frieren and especially Fern view him in a way I don’t think is terribly fair, but I suppose it also serves as a motivation to drive himself forward. If Stark is afraid of anything it’s a fear of being afraid, and not doing what he should do as a result. But in practice there’s really been no evidence that’s an actual problem. I’ll be interested to see how much focus the story puts on that going forward.