I spoke about the zeitgeist of a series the other day with Sengoku Youko, and how my usual discord with it cuts both ways. Sousou no Frieren is as good an example of that as you could want – the current arc, anyway. The series is experiencing a massive boom at the moment, certainly the biggest since Oshi no Ko and it might be close there. But this mage exam storyline is so far removed from what the series does best that I find it to be pretty uninteresting. Just as there are fans who agree with me about how good Sengoku Youko is, there are some who share my skepticism about these developments in Frieren. But it’s definitely the minority, and it makes me appreciate how rare something like BokuYaba – where I actually agree with the zeitgeist – truly is.
I kind of promised myself I wouldn’t talk about the Hunter Exam arc again, but it truly is relevant. To make a plot like this work, you really do need a sense of uncertainty about the outcome. There was zero doubt how anything would go down here. Of course Denken would lose to Frieren. But it was no less obvious that Fern would carry her team to an easy win, or even that the two cute girls would beat mean old Richter. Or, as crucially, that Frieren was ever going to kill Denken. Admittedly Laufen didn’t know that (though Denken did), and that gullibility was crucial to her downfall (Frieren’s deadpan really paying off). But in terms of suspense? Nada.
Maybe now that we’re going into melee format (at least it seems so) that will improve a little. But fundamentally the problem remains that Frieren is never, ever going to lose to any of these people and Fern is never going to lose to any of them except Frieren (who she’s never going to beat). So honestly, we could just fast-forward to the end as we know what the results will be for the main cast. There is a world-building element purpose here too, and introducing Serie (Ise Mariya – ironically) – I understand she’s a big Juventus fan – is obviously important beyond the arc itself. But does it really require an entire cour?
It is at least mildly interesting that Frieren basically blew up Serie’s magical handiwork to rig the game in favor of Kanne against Richter. Does that mean she’s stronger than Serie in terms of mana? The two proctors certainly seemed surprised anyone could undo Serie’s magic, though Frieren’s true identity wasn’t previously known to Genau. There seems to be a suggestion that Frieren and Serie are going to be antagonists. They certainly have conflicting views on the nature of magedom, with Flamme (who introduced Frieren to Serie – her master – a thousand years earlier) describing Frieren as a “mage for a peaceful age” while Serie was a mage of battle.
Frieren’s views are much more closely aligned with Denken, both of them believing that “the joy of magic is searching for it”. I’m not sure this arc is truly salvageable but Denken is doing his best. He’s a fun old guy, as smart as anybody and no slouch in the magic department, but who also knows when he’s beat. And when things are bleak (no mana left) and the zygotes on his team are ready to give up, Denken pivots to the last, best hope – find a team even more ass-kicked than them (one of them dead and all disqualified would do it) and steal their stille. Even if that means rolling up the sleeves and settling things with his fists, which he’s still capable of doing. More Denken, please – he’s the best cure for what ails Sousou no Frieren at the moment.