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All the Announcements from Anime Expo 2024
Crying in AX: Frieren, Beyond Journey's End & The Apothecary Diaries Panels

by Bamboo Dong,

ANN's coverage of Anime Expo 2024 sponsored by Yen Press and Ize Press!


The dual Frieren, Beyond Journey's End and The Apothecary Diaries panel was a hotly anticipated event, with fans being turned away from the line long before the panel even started. As the moderator introduced the first slate of guests—Himmel voice actor Nobuhiko Okamoto, TV series director Keiichirō Saitō, animation producer Yuichiri Fukushi, and monster designer Daiki Harashina —we got a glimpse at why the crowd was so frenzied. “Frieren doesn't usually do events at all!” Okamoto revealed, to a screaming crowd. “The fact that we're doing an event this big is… oh my goodness! In other words, if this event is a huge success, I might be able to come back to Anime Expo again.” This sent the crowds cheering and clapping again, setting the tone for a very energetic hour.

Director Saito said he was very happy as well. “Normally I'm just inside my office all day, talking about Frieren, drawing Frieren, writing Frieren… the fact that it has made it so far outside in the world is really exciting.”

Based on a manga by Kanehito Yamada and Tsukasa Abe, Studio Madhouse's TV adaptation quickly became a fan favorite when it debuted last fall. It even overtook the top spot on both the ANN Encyclopedia's Top 10 Anime list and the MyAnimeList Top Anime Series page, which both use fan ratings to establish an informal power ranking of best series. Frieren, Beyond Journey's End is named for one of its main characters, an immortal elven mage named Frieren. She and her friends have defeated the Demon Lord and spend time reminiscing about their decades-long journey. But as time continues to march onwards, her friends start passing one by one, leaving only Frieren to reflect on life's missed moments and opportunities.

The panelists discussed how they were first introduced to the series and any challenges they faced during its initial production. Producer Fukushi said he already had Saito in mind when he first read the manga. “Whenever there's an underlying work like a manga, I always try to make sure we make the best possible version of it… As I was reading the manga, in the back of my mind, I was already thinking about Saito as my pick for director. I could already imagine what this would be like as an anime.”

Saito, meanwhile, said that he felt immediately drawn towards the character of Frieren. “She stays up late and has a hard time waking up in the morning—I'm sure we can all relate!” Monster designer Harashina had a long history of working with both Fukushi and Saito, which led to him working on the project as well. He said that he was also drawn to Frieren: “I think she has this old, almost motherly quality like I want her to scold me.”

The panelists were asked beforehand to pick their favorite scenes and describe what they liked best about them. Harashina picked a quiet scene from the third episode where Fern secretly follows Frieren while she's accessory shopping. Explaining his choice, he talked about the pair's strengthening friendship, “You can see their relationship as it evolves. The whole time [we were making this scene], I thought, 'I hope this becomes a good scene and comes together.'”

Fukushi went next, selecting the scene where Frieren reveals the field of blue moonweed flowers planted for Himmel. “I applied this pressure on myself like this had to be the best thing I've ever produced… In this scene, where all the flowers bloom at once, I wanted to make sure we nailed it. We were very fortunate to have this animator, Aoi Ōtani, for this one scene. She really pulled it together; I'm really happy with how it turned out.”

Okamoto showed a scene from episode 14 where Frieren recounts Himmel placing a ring on her finger. Explaining his decision, he said, “In that scene, I felt a longing. It's this weird emotion where you feel like your heart is being tied up. There's a subtle nuance every time I see this scene. You can really see how Frieren and Himmel's emotions are running in parallel… When I played this scene, I said Frieren's name many times, and I have a lot of different emotions every time I say her name. At times it's like I'm addressing my mother, or a daughter, or an older sister, or a younger sister. Sometimes a friend. At times a lover. This scene almost feels like a proposal. When I say her name, I try to get all of those emotions. And of course, I'll never know how Frieren felt in that moment, but staring down from up in heaven, when I see her looking for that ring, maybe those feelings will be reciprocated.”

It's perhaps worth noting that by this point in the panel, attendees were visibly crying. The in-room camera inadvertently panned across more than one person wiping away tears, while the fan sitting ahead of me sobbed profusely as he turned around to pass his friend a bottle of iced tea.

Meanwhile, Saito stirred up even more emotions in the audience. He selected the scene of the adventurers making their triumphant return to the city in a horse-drawn cart, reminiscing about their lives together. “That first hook is very important. Frieren is unlike other anime—it starts after the adventure is all over. This scene is both the prologue and the epilogue at the same time.” As the fan in front of me beamed, tears streaming down his face, Saito talked about how important it was for him to get that scene right. “I remember during the storyboarding phase. I kept going back to it. It's hard to remember, but I think it came together in the end and it was very satisfying. Ran Kamezawa did the sakuga—she did a great job bringing everything together, especially the horses, which are hard to depict.”

Reflecting on what the series meant to him, Saito said that while it's hard enough finishing a 12-episode cour, pulling off 28 episodes was “a monumental task. Blood, sweat, and tears were poured into this. This is the crystallization of everything we poured into it over the years. You can't create an anime with just one person. The entire team, the staff—I can't thank them enough for helping me pull this together. We were only able to keep our motivation throughout the entire production process because of the fans. This wouldn't have been possible without you.”

As the panelists left and the audience dried their tears, the panel switched over to The Apothecary Diaries. A fresh slate of special guests was brought to the stage—director and series composer Norihiro Naganuma, character designer Yukiko Nakatani, and color designer Misato Aida.

Asked about the main things he focused on for the series, director Naganuma said there were three: respect for the source material, attention to the sound and color, and wanting to deliver an amazing story to everyone. On the second point, color designer Misato Aida talked extensively about her job as a color designer. She said that she tried to encapsulate both the universe and the world setting of the series, all while trying to create color templates for the animators to use.

Showing examples of the series' colorful costumes, Aida said, “I tried to decide on colors that would maintain a consistent throughline throughout the series. As the story progresses, I try to imagine the different scenarios throughout the series and how those colors would change in the context of the anime.” She also discussed how she used color to capture the vibrance of the royal palace, making sure there was strong primary color throughout to “draw audiences into the world we were trying to create.” It also helped to juxtapose the difference between the royal place and everyday life inside the town.

“Another thing I paid attention to was capturing the characters' emotions using color.” Here, the panel showed close-up shots of the characters' eyes, some splashed in vibrant colors, some more muted. “For the very important scenes throughout the anime, we wanted to make sure that in addition to the [vocal] performances, that color was part of the 'acting' as well, so it would draw additional emotions from the audience. Overall, we tried to use a lot of strong and vibrant colors… If you pay attention to the eyes, sometimes you'll see very vibrant colors when you're trying to convey happy or upbeat emotions. When they're darker, then the characters are also gloomier and darker. In The Apothecary Diaries, there's quite a dynamic range of color and the color changes from scene to scene… The same goes for lights and shadow—that strong contrast is very important.”

Character designer Nakatani also spoke at length about her role, saying that she got the job by auditioning. Asked what she focused on while creating the characters, Nakatani said that she wanted to portray the quirky, cute feel of Maomao, all while also making her lovable. All of this went into the design of her facial expressions. As for Jinshi… “Bijin,” she said, laughing. “Beauty. That was the one word that had to capture him. But designing and drawing someone really pretty is harder than it sounds! It was a huge struggle for me.”

Nakatani spent the rest of the panel doing a live drawing of Maomao, which was displayed in real time on the screen. While this was happening, Naganuma was asked what made Maomao stand out as a strong female protagonist. “What makes her strong is that her strength doesn't always come from the strength she was born with. She uses the knowledge and experience she's gained over time to face many different situations. She has a very strong sense of justice and she hates losing. That sets her apart.”

He also talked about the various bath scenes. “Maomao is very close to death. Many people's deaths. So, any time she goes into the bath, she's almost shedding off that negative energy.” The literal and proverbial nakedness is also a way to strip away the characters' titles and ranks, allowing them to exchange their thoughts with each other more truthfully. “It's when Maomao can be the most honest with herself.”

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