I haven’t loved every episode of Sousou no Frieren by any means (though there have certainly been no outright clunkers), but the last two have been really good. And this one might be my favorite so far. I mentioned last week that series should do what they’re best at most of the time, and I think that applies to Frieren more than most. In the “wistful” area of the emotional spectrum, it treads with supreme confidence and a feathery touch (while not in the same weight class it does recall a similar vibe to Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou in that way, in and of itself an extreme rarity). And as the cast has grown, so has the emotional engagement.
Sein did, as I hoped, meaningfully impact the chemistry in a positive direction. The story really needed an adult figure, because while Frieren is literally a very old lady, her persona is basically childlike (and childish). Stark and Fern are still children for all intents and purposes, as their bumpy relationship attests. This is clearly not a realm in which Frieren feels a lot of confidence as a parental figure, but Sein is happy enough to tell it like it is. I’m sure he’s not going to be right all of the time but he’s experienced, and that does give a certain boost to the sensitivity of one’s bullshit meter.
The in the moment drama here concerns another tiff between Fern and Stark (who really need to just get a room at this point). Fern’s birthday has come around and Stark hasn’t bought her a present. As it turns out it’s because he’s too embarrassed to admit he has no idea what to get her, and her reaction is – as usual – way over the top. Bluntly, I’m still not nuts about Fern. Her tsundere act was tired long before it’s current overused state, and most of the time she’s really kind of a mean person. But, as Sein notes, she is a kid and kids act immature. And there’s no question in the world that her hostility towards Stark is basically a schoolboy way of covering for her true feelings (including to herself).
Then we have Frieren, who remains something of a cipher but is gaining resonance as the fundamental sadness of her existence comes into clearer focus. She loved the people she adventured with in the fight with the demon king, but at the time she never understood how much. In fact she doesn’t really understand it now. But she keeps getting reminded of it in ways that make her unsettled. Stark has a lot of Himmel in him, to be sure (he senses this from her reactions), and since she was in love with Himmel without realizing it this is a bitter pill. And Sein obviously recalls Heiter in many ways. While Frieren wasn’t in love with Heiter, they did love each other – and he understood her perhaps better than anyone ever has.
This is a trend I picked up on a while back, but Heiter consistently says the most interesting things of anyone in the cast, often because he says what other people think and feel but either won’t or can’t put into words. That bit about pretending to be an adult even after the calendar says you are one really hit home – I think for a lot of us that’s what life feels like a lot of the time. Just as with his incisive analysis of human beliefs about the afterlife, understanding these things doesn’t mean Heiter was immune from being troubled by them. And that moment where Frieren patted him on the head was utterly sweet and beautiful – again, a deeper moment than Frieren seems to understand, but that doesn’t even really matter.
The MacGuffin tying all this is the lotus pattern on the bracelet Stark finally decides (after three hours shopping together) to buy Fern – the same one as on the ring Himmel gave Frieren as a “reward” after their battles were over. The import of the ring would have been obvious to most non-Frieren people anyway, but it’s absolutely clear than Himmel knew exactly what that symbolized in the local language of flowers. The more interesting question is whether or not Frieren knew that when she chose that particular ring (in about three seconds) – I tend to take her denials at face value, but there’s just enough uncertainty to be fun.
When the ring is lost in a flying monster incident while the Frierengumi are bumming a carriage ride with a local merchant, Frieren’s reaction makes it clear that – for whatever reasons you wish to ascribe – the ring means a tremendous amount to her now. This is the tragedy at the heart of Sousou no Frieren – she never realized what she had when she had it, and now that’s gone forever. Frieren is making a new life with this new trio (who likewise will pass long before she does), but what she felt for Himmel and he for her may never come her way again. In that light, watching the developing bond between Stark and Fern is surely going to be bittersweet for her, at the very least.