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Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End – Episode 3

Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I thought we might check back in on the gentle drama of Freiren: Beyond Journey’s End, and see what our perpetually unbothered mage and her young apprentice are getting up to. Our last episode actually covered a great deal of ground, taking us from the last years of Heiter’s life through the first years of Fern’s wandering with Frieren, which turned out to involve a lot less glamor than Fern was expecting. Helping with errands, gathering niche magical proficiencies, and venerating those who came before: Frieren’s passions are not exactly the peak of fantastical drama, and that is precisely what makes this production special.

In our frequently action-obsessed animated media ecosystem, the idea of fantasy not being a route to power, but instead a tool for achieving greater understanding, appreciation, and integration into the world around us makes for a lovely change of pace. And Frieren doesn’t simply luxuriate in its unique atmosphere; through the course of its meditative vignettes, it takes the long view in grappling with the idea of a “life well-lived,” using its heroine’s unique perspective to consider how we might pass each moment without regret, as well as the legacy we will ultimately leave behind us. Great acts of momentary glory tend to fade in memory; what remains is often intimate and incidental, allegedly idle moments shared with the people we love. Let’s see what our wandering mages get up to this time!

Episode 3

Welp, I’ve given this OP its third try, and still really can’t get past the simplistic digital instrumentation or the singer’s lack of distinctive tone, range, or passion in her delivery, to set aside its vocaloid-adjacent unsuitability for Frieren’s genre. The OP for a show like this needs to conjure a sense of nostalgia, longing, and fantasy, and the on-the-nose lyrics can’t mitigate this song’s shortcomings in terms of structure, melody, and execution. Folks can like what they like, but this one’s a skip from now on

We cut back in to a beautiful sunrise, arriving at “the trade city of Warm, located in the central lands.” For this sort of sprawling travelog-style fantasy, creating a sense of a fully realized world to explore is essential – and for a visual medium like animation, that responsibility falls largely on the background artists. Modern isekai productions tend to fail in that pursuit on two counts, neither providing a world that feels distinct and lived-in (instead just offering an establishing shot of one of those tired circular walled cities), nor offering layouts that give their scene-by-scene drama a sense of texture and space

Something of a grim irony in anime layouts being reduced to sterile CG planes at the same time that the medium is dominated by a genre that inherently demands a more artisanal approach

Brief, incidental cuts offer an atmospheric portrait of the city in the early morning, boats bobbing at their moorings, cats yawning as they bask in the sun. Moments like these are crucial in setting the scene, in making this particular city come to life, and also a reflection of Frieren’s general encouragement to appreciate the world around you. Lovely stuff

And fortunately, the show itself is accompanied by an appropriately wistful duet of lute and violin

Frieren suggests they split up to buy supplies, and Fern can tell she’s hiding something. The simplicity of their go-to expressions presumably reflects the fairly bare-bones art of the original manga, which makes for an odd contrast with this production’s luscious background art

I appreciate how Frieren’s personality both compliments and complicates the show’s themes. She frequently takes the idea of “enjoying the everyday” to a fault, often requiring guidance to avoid either spinning in circles or pursuing unproductive flights of fancy

And man, I am just loving these backgrounds! When a fantasy drama is this lushly realized, it’s a pleasure simply to spend time exploring its world, which is of course crucial for Frieren’s thematic goals. I’m reminded of Grimgar’s gorgeous art design – which, if you haven’t seen it, is easily the best isekai of this current era

Also lots of purposeful layouts to further integrate us into the journey, like this low-angle perspective shot peering past a fountain as Fern spies on Frieren

I have to assume Frieren is picking a piece of jewelry for Fern herself

This surveillance sequence is basically a case study in how establishing distinct layers in a visual composition creates a sense of depth and lived-in space. Excellent use of foreground embellishments, and smart shot positioning such as to evoke depth through the walls of these alleys narrowing towards the horizon

Frieren enters a bar full of Mad Max characters, who nonetheless possess an expansive knowledge of the city’s dessert establishments

I feel like it’s a rule of animation that any group of anime thugs will inevitably have one guy who looks oddly similar to Freddie Mercury

The city is draped in a beautiful set of fresh hues as the sun begins to set. From Anne of Green Gables to here, there is nothing quite like an understanding of the sun’s gorgeous variability to bring an anime environment to life

The animators also do an excellent job with their respective body language. Frieren always seems a little performative in her movements, while Fern holds tightly still when not moving, her prior tragedy still causing her to act like a startled rabbit

“She’s been keeping secret savings?” Easy to see the various ways each of them thinks they essentially have to be a parent to the other

Fern’s suggestion of “Merkur pudding” calls to mind Himmel’s prior suggestion of the same. This show’s focus on memory is an interesting twist on fantasy convention; most of the “treasures” Frieren discovers are lodestones of forgotten memories, keys to unlock treasured moments in the past. A quiet reminder to appreciate such moments as they happen, such as to better furnish an eventual chest of remembered jewels

And Frieren finds a lesson in this memory: to pay better attention to those around her, something she can now put to work in her journeys with Fern

Frieren was actually out buying Fern an ornate hairpin for her birthday

“You really don’t understand people’s feelings, do you?” Funny of Fern to say this, who herself has such a subdued affectation. Another way this show illustrates how being a child of war has shaped but not truly defined her

Wide shots on an open field create a sense of freedom and expectation as we leave the narrow streets of Warm

Frieren reveals that, alongside collecting spells, this journey is intended to retrace her prior adventure before all traces of Himmel and the others fade away. There’s no avoiding embracing the past as a significant, still-present aspect of your life as you grow older; when we’re young we crave independence, but as we age we come to appreciate the familiar friends of memory

Welp, turns out even the thoughtful Frieren cannot avoid a boob size gag

Their journey next takes them to a sprawling forest, where they spend some time practicing offensive and defensive magic

Frieren strikes me as the sort who’d be a bad general-purpose teacher, but who is an excellent mentor for Fern. They both seem to be prodigies, which means they’re generally communicating and executing on a level that would leave normal students behind

Accordingly, Fern instantly grasps the intent of Frieren’s lesson: employ exactly as much shielding magic as you need, nothing more

I appreciate that this conversation is spaced across incidental environmental challenges, like crossing this log over a stream. It’s an excellent way of maintaining a sense of their environment even through what is essentially exposition, an “opportunity” that lesser productions would exploit to facilitate static and easily animated talking heads sequences

Their next destination is a forest village, near the place where Qual, the “Elder Sage of Corruption” was sealed away

Clever use of matching compositions for Himmel and Frieren staring up at the sky, the symmetry aligning them as if they are truly communicating across time. Through visiting these points of shared experience, Frieren is able to conclude a variety of conversations that were previously left floating between them

A beautifully balanced composition as we reach Qual, with a stone archway essentially framing him against the sky

Keichiro Saito’s rise has been truly astonishing to behold. And he’s making the right professional connections to foster future brilliance – lots of collaboration on Shingo Natsume productions, alongside work on The Heike Story, Mob Psycho, Wonder Egg Priority, and Flip Flappers. Basically covering the gamut of interesting currently active directors

Ooh, I love these chalk-reminiscent but presumably CG-facilitated cuts of Qual’s destructive powers. I continue to enjoy how magic is visually realized as an intrusion on reality, taking advantage of distinct aesthetic traditions to convey something that truly feels of another world

“A mere eighty years, huh?” Interesting that this demon is the first creature we meet who considers time on Frieren’s scale

Hah! Oh, I love this. Qual’s “Zoltraak” spell was so effective that it essentially became the standard form of offensive magic, meaning his terrible weapons have been considered conventional for most of a century. One way you can count on humans to “venerate” the past: take whatever is most destructive and incorporate it into their own violence

“Eighty years is quite a long time for humans.” Yep, our rate of innovation would undoubtedly be one of our most powerful weapons relative to creatures that think in terms of “brief centuries.” A great part of what makes us so frightening – rapid innovation tethered to endless ambition

Fantastic, jagged-edged cuts of Qual’s movement as Fern holds off his onslaught. Frieren clearly trusts her apprentice greatly, if this is the stage she chose for Fern’s defensive magic practical exam

God, the boarding is so good too. Love this composition with just Frieren’s head in the corner after the deed is done, the vast sky looming over both her and Qual’s fading remains. A shot that seems to emphasize the weight of legacy, wondering what “gifts” we might leave when we have passed. One would hope to leave a better legacy than a spell that kills people

And Done

Another excellent episode! Frieren continues to be as richly realized and atmospheric as ever, persistently doing its utmost to transport the audience into its world. That effect has very little to do with the underlying material; Frieren’s world is in truth a pretty standard fantasy tableau, but the care with which Saito and his team are bringing that world to life demonstrates how you need not be offering something entirely novel to make something that feels distinctive and lived-in. On the other hand, the reunion of Frieren and Qual served as a welcome variation on Frieren’s usual themes, emphasizing the ambiguity of time’s passage and bright brevity of human lives through its reflection on technology’s inexorable evolution. If nothing else, human ingenuity certainly gives these long-lived beings something to worry about.

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