It’s not every day when an anime makes you hunger for more — not just more of it as an entertainment vice but (on a grander scale) more time.
Yet, “Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End,” now streaming on Crunchyroll, is anything but an everyday anime. Although it might be packaged in the relatively overused fantasy genre, studio Madhouse does away with the atypical tropes presented in such tales.
Instead, “Frieren” follows in the aftermath of the heroes’ journey. It’s as if JRR Tolkein picked up his quintessential "The Lord of the Rings" several years following the events at Mount Doom, which may not sound quite appealing for some but “Frieren” is nothing if not wholly original, thought-provoking and incredibly heartfelt.
In following the titular elf Frieren as she simultaneously navigates the fantasy world in tandem with her memories, we as the viewers garner immense respect for the ways our own lives have been marked through various trials and tribulations. Over the past several days as I’ve barreled through the anime series, I can’t stop thinking about “Frieren” and its poignant message on appreciating life’s greatest wonders even with such a long life still ahead of me.
Despite my newfound respect for time, I find myself wholly enraptured with this mere anime story, one full of such incredible emotion that it’s impossible not to share in its revelry.
On time’s passing and lessons learned in reminiscence
“Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End” follows the titular Frieren, a nearly 1,000-year old elf with extraordinary magical talents. The story picks up at the tail end of her journey, which saw the defeat of the menacing Demon King alongside a valiant troupe of would-be friends, including the human hero Himmel, the human priest Heiter, and the dwarf warrior Eisen.
I say “would-be friends” due to the fact that Frieren doesn’t exactly know what friends are. It’s this very aspect of the show that gives it such kinetic charge. As an elf, Frieren experiences time much differently due to her borderline immortality. Alas, the decade-long journey the group experienced together is nothing more than a mere footnote to her, making Himmel and the others akin to acquaintances in her mind.
It’s not until she stands at the foot of Himmel’s grave, over 50 years following the defeat of the Demon King (which happened in the literal blink of an eye), that she comes to grips with this reality. Her tears aren’t shed in the face of Himmel’s death, but more so upon the loss of so much time — time she feels may have been better spent getting to know those around her.
And this is where Frieren finds new meaning. Himmel’s passing gifts the show both an emotional and temporal anchor, with Frieren now forever measuring her travels from that fateful event. As the audience follows along on her newfound journey, a quest that sees her gathering new spells as a pseudo-excuse to reminisce on times long passed, we gain a fascinating glimpse into the unbearable weight of time.
The first episode alone takes place over the course of nearly 80 years, showing the sheer breadth of Frieren’s potential lifespan. But it also highlights just how important the Hero Party has no sooner become to her as she retraces their steps and remembers the times both good and bad.
“Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End” has easily rocketed up to among the best anime for me due in large part to this incredible depiction of the passage of time. Slow and fast at seemingly the oddest moments, time never ceases to allow us just a second to cherish these events that mean so much to us. Instead, we are left only to remember — and even that can often be dodgy at times and challenging for others.
Time is cruel, after all, but it can be beautiful, too …
A complete (emotionally-charged) package
Beyond just its incredible story, “Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End” would be nothing without its gorgeous animation and mystical OST. These forms both uplift the already high emotional touchstones to such a degree that makes you really feel the weight of the moments on screen. It’s not just some flashback-filled extravaganza, “Frieren” has so much more baked in.
Especially in regards to its OST, which features heartfelt flutes, sweet piano, and acoustic guitar, “Frieren” feels so much like “Lord of the Rings” and yet not to the point where it’s distracting. In fact, I find its OST (and narrative to some degree) mirrors in large part the exceptional 1994 film “Legends of the Fall.” It shares similar themes on time and aging, and the music of “Frieren” encapsulates these feelings of loss and regret so poignantly.
Although the anime isn’t exactly action-packed, as it is more of a quiet and beautiful meditation than it is a Shonen, when there is action it’s top-notch. With star animator Kouki Fujimoto on your side, who has worked on shows like “Jujutsu Kaisen” and “Chainsaw Man,” it’s hard to miss in this category.
Take for example one scene later in the show which sees one of Frieren’s newer party members, Stark, in battle against a dragon. It’s phenomenally drawn, to the point where even the physics of his clothes and hair match with his movements as he hangs on to the side of a dragon for dear life.
All of these elements come together to birth one of the most emotional and thematic-rich series I’ve seen in years, an instant must-watch new anime in the same tier as “Suzume” and “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners." As someone who admittedly put off watching “Frieren” merely due to its underlying story, I can attest to that feeling of doubt when first seeing its poster or reading its premise.
Now, though, I’m grateful for the experience and I think it wouldn’t be right for me to keep it to myself. If you’re in the mood for some comfort food, a kickback anime that makes you stop and think about the best and worst of times — and may well make you dial up that friend you haven’t spoken to in years — “Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End” is the right one for you.