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Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End – Episode 2

Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I am eager to continue traveling beyond the journey’s end, catching up with Frieren and maybe learning something about human nature or nostalgia in the process. Frieren’s first episode demonstrated a refreshingly meditative approach to fantasy drama, focusing not on some big arbitrary external threat, but on the simple, inescapable melancholy of growing older, watching things you love pass into memory, and finding some peace with what you have left.

While defeating a demon king might not be easy, I’d imagine finding purpose and satisfaction in such an objective certainly is. But for the rest of us, the process of identifying and appreciating what is most important to us is not quite so obvious. We are driven by dreams that are frequently unfulfilled, beset by anxieties that are often as not unresolvable; life is riddled with such disappointments, and the great task of living is not “defeating” these challenges, but learning to find joy in the imperfect messes we make of ourselves. Frieren blinked, and the man who loved her was nearing his death – how might she go forward and live such that future happiness will not similarly pass her by? Let’s find out!

Episode 2

“It Didn’t Have To Be Magic…” An episode title that seems to point towards one of the most effective routes beyond this problem of how to meaningfully wile our time away: commit ourselves to passions that reward such dedication, that expand our perspective or consciousness, or instill in us the abilities to productively change our world. A life may be a short time, but it is still long enough to master something worth mastering, to create a marker of our time here that the experience of life might be easier, more understandable, or more meaningful for those who follow after us

As we cut in, Frieren is explaining that “long-range magic is a combination of three factors essential to mages.” Magic is clearly the route to meaning and self-definition that both Frieren and Fern have chosen, and as such I hope the show finds ways to demonstrate magic’s significance beyond its martial power. Witch Hat Atelier is a showcase of how magic can be used as metaphor for any process of self-discovery and improvement, and that manga takes care to emphasize how “magic” could just as easily be any craft or art form. And Vinland Saga starts as a story of seeking power for its own sake, but eventually evolves to consider the pursuit of meaning and community in the context of a world where might so often makes right. If Frieren can tread a path somewhere between those works, I’ll be very happy

The three factors are the amount of mana, strength with which it is fired, and the level of control the mage possesses

“Regardless of your talent, it’ll take years to master.” Through her general obliviousness to humanity’s perspective on time, Frieren unconsciously pushes back against the hopeless urgency with which we often frazzle and defeat ourselves. To make something great, whether of ourselves or within the external world, always takes time

“So just be patient with yourself.” Of course, Frieren has mastered patience to beyond the point of a fault, letting far too much slip away because she’s so certain there’s always tomorrow

Heiter appears to be using Frieren’s easily distractible nature for good, here tricking her into spending years on the grimoire and Fern’s education

Frieren tells us that “in four years, she’s learned as much as most mages learn in ten.” Frieren of course sees this as a bad thing, possessing none of humanity’s desperate urgency

And then Heiter collapses. The color design matches the gloom of his approaching death, with a rainy day casting long shadows into his gray bedchamber

The visual effects for Fern’s magic are quite nice; the distinctive texture design succeeds in making magic feel “otherworldly,” drawn from a distant aesthetic tradition as if it’s drawn from a different world

Fern is desperate to complete her training before Heiter dies, to the point where she doesn’t wish to stop even to attend by his bedside. A classic fault of humanity, hoping to impress the ones we care about so badly that we end up missing the time we could have actually spent with them

We cut back to when Heiter first met Fern. He confesses he would have liked to lead a quiet retirement, but after Himmel died, he realized it was his responsibility to live up to the courage and kindness Himmel had instilled within him. Living by Himmel’s example became his way of keeping Himmel alive – a consolation all of us must make, and a prayer that our compassion will outlive us through the people we have transformed

“I don’t want him to regret saving me.” Tragically, Fern has interpreted Heiter’s charity in a sort of transactional way, a need to prove she was “worthy” of being saved. It is a noble thing to master a skill, but it’s unfortunate that so many believe such talents are the only things worthy of love

I imagine it’ll slow down at some point, but I like how this show’s current density of montages echoes its perspective on the passage of days

With the grimoire completed, Heiter reveals it was indeed all a trick to get Frieren to stick around and train Fern, that she might be a proper companion on Frieren’s adventures

“Please leave this place tonight. I don’t want her to experience losing anyone else.” Just like Fern, Heiter unnecessarily complicates our fundamental desire to be near the people we love

“What you need to do before your death is give her a proper farewell and make as many memories as you can.” Having learned from Himmel, Frieren can appreciate the tragedy in what both of them are doing

“Why did you save Fern?” “It’s what Himmel the Hero would have done.” A line that comforts Frieren, reminding her that Himmel is still with them so long as his lessons inform their path

And then we cut again, to Heiter’s grave. Savor your days, for in memory they often bundle together, with only stark single images remaining – this cold and shadowed grave, the trick of sunlight gleaming around your forest cabin, the certain way a friend used to smile

Two years later on, our mages are hard at work levitating pumpkins for a local farmer. I love this – simple, practical applications of magic, the unglamorous stuff that makes up any daily wage

Their reward is “a spell for making warm tea.” Also enjoy the seemingly limitless, loosely structured uses of magic in this world. Some stories benefit from a mechanical, almost gamified approach to the supernatural, which tends to facilitate more grounded, coherent action scenes (Hunter x Hunter is a shining example of this approach). But for a story that’s just about people like this, a more whimsical approach to fantasy is much appreciated

Frieren’s indifference to rewards echoes her lack of urgency; she’s not attempting to build some tall spire of wealth before she exits, she’s just wandering and learning at her own pace

Their next task is to restore a statue of Himmel the Hero

Ooh, wonderful flame animation for this flashback monster. Frieren’s tendency to avoid lineart and embrace pure transitions between colors keeps reaping dividends

Himmel’s kindness endures, but it is difficult to outlast living memory – only this old woman, who was a young girl at the time of his heroics, still cares enough to value this statue

Yet it’s still meaningful to Feiren, offering a comforting reminder of Himmel’s vanity

And thus Frieren’s anti-rust and field of flowers spells immediately find use, bringing comfort to this old woman. A quiet protest against the supremacy of combat-focused magic, or really power as the ultimate goal of any pursuit – even gentle, incidental abilities like this can bring great joy to the world, can be the only suitable vehicles for making someone’s day brighter

That point is immediately reemphasized, as this herbalist’s specialties allow her to pinpoint the precise flowers Himmel once loved

And so they set off on a journey to find Blue Moon Weed

Just like that, six months pass. Glad to see this casual, careless articulation of time’s passage retained

With Fern at her side, Frieren can no longer dedicate these endless stretches to such idle pursuits. Frieren might not agree with Fern that her vast magical abilities imply a responsibility to use those abilities to improve the world, but she at least does feel she has a responsibility to Fern, to not waste this girl’s precious human lifespan

“I’ll end my search soon.” “How many years is soon?”

Frieren states she “used to live much more apathetically,” a frightening thing to imagine

Her reason for developing more motivation was because she “met someone who appreciated the spells I knew.” “That’s a silly reason.” “I know.” We do not need a noble cause to find purpose in expressing our passions

“Since they bury their seeds in so many places, they sometimes forget where.” An easy metaphor for the odd tricks of memory, how pockets of recollections can be hidden anywhere in the world, waiting to be unlocked by some triggering factor

Through Frieren’s dedication, the flowers Himmel loved are venerated again. His presence was fading from this village, but Frieren and the herbalist’s memories lead to the planting of a new seed for future generations to admire

“It didn’t have to be magic.” “But you chose magic.” What made her choice meaningful was the bond it represented with Heiter, its tethering to the moments they shared

And Done

Thus, with a mere six months of searching, Frieren ensures that Himmel’s legacy of kindness and wonder at the world will endure for at least this patch of village, at least this span of time. That’s all any of us can really hope for – to live fully and do right by each other while we can, that our lessons and generosity encourage others to offer the same. This episode offered a humble demonstration of our efforts to make life easier or more meaningful for each other, and how our impressions of what others desire often prevent us from achieving the things we want the most. A quietly lovely episode, once again demonstrating how the course of a life need not be defined by conflict and glory, but in truth can be most significantly measured by the long, gentle spaces in between.

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