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by Richard Eisenbeis,

Frieren: Beyond Journey's End

GN 3-4

Frieren: Beyond Journey's End GN 3-4
80 years after the defeat of the Demon King, immortal elven mage Frieren has run across an old foe: demon general Aura the Guillotine. As the two face off, Frieren's young companions Stark and Fern stand as the last line of defense between a pair of powerful demons and a city of innocent people. Will the two apprentices be able to rise to the occasion or will they be the first casualties as the demon hordes push south once more?

Volume 3:

The first half of this volume of Frieren is the continuation of the big, interconnected story arc started in the previous volume with the forces of Aura the Guillotine attacking the gateway city to the human territories of the south. It's basically the big action climax of the series so far. We get to see Fern and Stark fight without having Frieren to fall back on, as well as what Frieren is like when she's fighting a legendary mage who seems to outclass her in every way. But as good as the action is—and make no mistake, it's fantastic—what makes this story shine is how the battle is used to build up both the world and characters.

In the previous volume, we got a glimpse into the psychology of demons. To recap, while they are human in appearance, they are all basically psychopaths. They have no sense of empathy whatsoever (even for their own kind) and see humans as nothing more than prey. The only reason demons have a society at all is to combat the strength in numbers that humans have gained naturally as social creatures.

This volume gives us a better understanding of said society, which turns out to be much simpler than human society. It is governed by a single rule fitting the apex carnivores of the planet: the strongest reigns supreme, with strength determined by mana. The more mana you have, the higher in the pecking order you are.

Once again, this does a great job of showing just how inhuman demons are. While they can talk to humans, they cannot understand them—nor do they have any intention of doing so. It makes them truly terrifying in a visceral way. All your interpersonal experience and social skills work against you when dealing with them, and the only people they actually have any respect for (if you can even really call it that) are mages like Frieren—who they actively fear for how high they rank within the demon society mana hierarchy.

But just as this volume fleshes out the demons, it also expands Frieren's characterization as well. While we have received some brief peeks into it before, this arc lays out the vast majority of Frieren's back story: why she hates the demons, how she came to be the Great Mage Flamme's apprentice, and what she had been doing for the centuries between that time and when Himmel asked her to join his party. Basically, what we learn is that Frieren has trained all her life to appear far less than what she actually is.

Since demons rank everyone based on their mana, Frieren has spent a millennium limiting her mana until it has become second nature to do so—making her seem decently strong but nothing a strong demon couldn't handle. Thus, in her battles against demons, she is always underestimated—which allows her to find the opening she needs to strike with overwhelming might. In other words, Frieren is powerful not because of her magic, but because she exploits the psychological weakness built into every demon by default: their arrogance.

This makes her battle with Aura much more than a pair of mages slinging spells at each other. The action climax is a character-building moment that shows us both the patience and merciless rage that lie at the core of our often-scatterbrained heroine. It's a fantastic way to end the series' second major arc.

The back half of the volume is basically a return to form—a series of loosely connected one-shot stories following Frieren, Stark, and Fern as they continue their journey north. While far less action-filled and with much more in the way of comedy, these one-offs are no less emotionally poignant. In one, we learn Stark's own backstory and see how Frieren continues to apply the lessons she learned during her journey 80 years before. In another, we meet our first elf besides Frieren—one much older than even she is—and once again dive into the nihilistic sadness that comes hand-in-hand with immortality.

But perhaps the standout story in this volume is the one taken straight out of Arthurian lore with its “sword in the stone” premise. It's common knowledge that Himmel pulled the legendary sword from the stone, proving himself the destined hero in the process. But as we learn, this never happened. The sword sits in the stone to this day. The fact that Himmel failed to draw the sword makes him an even more remarkable character. Rather than a divinely chosen hero, he was just a good man with a big heart—a man who saw the suffering in the world and refused to simply stand by and watch it happen. He knew he was a “fake hero” and still refused to give up. And in the end, he saved the world. It completely redefines his character and makes for a remarkably powerful tale on an emotional level. Its message is as inspiring as it is obvious: there's no need to wait for a fated hero—everyone has the potential to save the world. All they need to do is stand up and fight for it.

All in all, this is the best volume of Frieren yet. With its grand action climax, numerous character-defining story beats, and captivating world-building, it truly has it all. Even the weaker of the one-off stories are still good. And on top of everything else, it also makes sure to lay the groundwork for its next big arc. What more can I say? It's great stuff all around.

Volume 4:

While the past two volumes of Frieren have been a mixture of major interconnected stories and stand-alone tales, this volume goes back to the first volume's purely episodic roots. There are no invading demon hordes or climatic battles—the closest we get to an actual fight is Frieren one-shotting a monster that puts people to sleep.

Instead, this volume of Frieren is focused mainly on character building—most prominently the party's newest member: Sein the priest. In a lot of ways, Sein is similar to Frieren (which is the main reason she is determined to have him join the party in the first place). He's a middle-aged man who believes he missed his chance to become the adventurer he dreamed of being as a kid. Now, just as Himmel dragged Frieren out of the forest and onto the adventure of a lifetime, Frieren does the same for Sein.

Sein is a vehicle for all of us to revisit our feelings of regret about the road not traveled. Few people have lived the life they dreamed of when they were young and most of us are just doing our best to make ends meet. Sein serves as an example that it's never too late—and that staying stuck in your undesired situation just because you feel its already too late to change things is the biggest waste of all. It's a great message and one that hits close to home if you are well into middle age yourself.

Within the story, Sein fills the role of big brother to Fern and Stark. Both are orphans that have spent the second halves of their young lives being raised by non-humans (an elf and a dwarf respectively). Because of this, their social skills are somewhat warped and they constantly butt heads. Of course, there is no real malice on either side—they are just opposites in many ways. One is a mage, the other a warrior. One is female, the other male. One is book-smart, quiet, and responsible, the other street-smart, outgoing, and impulsive. As Frieren is incapable of understanding the feelings of either of them, it is up to Sein to help them navigate their conflicts—especially those stemming from the wild emotions caused by puberty. His presence allows us to see a new side of our heroes as they develop in interesting ways.

But while Sein is the glue that holds this volume together, it is still Frieren herself who stands out the most. As always, the most emotional moments of the story center around her immortality and her attempts to connect with her new companions on a deeper level. Be it the story of the hidden meaning behind a ring Himmel gave her or Frieren coming to terms with the idea that Fern isn't a child anymore, there are multiple moments all-but-guaranteed to bring you to the edge of tears.

The standout one-shot of this volume involves Frieren meeting an old dwarven friend she encountered in her time with Himmel's party. This story reminds us of the perpetual tragedy of Frieren's life: she has no elven friends. A human's lifespan is no time at all to her and even dwarves only last four hundred years or so. Everyone she's ever known will eventually be lost to the sands of time, forgotten by all except her. Her life is one of fleeting happiness where, in the end, only she and her memories will remain. Yet, despite all the sadness it entails, there is also beauty in her carrying those memories. It grants a form of immortality to all those she has encountered and will encounter. It's a wonderfully bittersweet exploration of what it means to live forever and showcases Frieren's writing at its best.

Honestly, the mixture of tragedy and hopeful beauty in this volume overall is enough to get me choked up even writing this. The fact that Frieren continues to do this is proof that this series is far from losing its touch even four volumes in. And with the prologue for the magic test arc finishing out the volume—with its massive cast of new characters waiting to appear on stage—this series doesn't look like it will be running out of gas anytime soon.

Overall : A
Story : A+
Art : B+

+ An action climax that delivers not only a grand battle but also character-development and world-building. Smaller one-off tales that hit you right in your emotional core. A new main character that opens up all kinds of story possibilities for our heroes.
Pacing-wise, it would have been better if the whole demon arc had been included in a single volume instead of split between two.

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Production Info:
Story: Kanehito Yamada
Art: Tsukasa Abe
Licensed by: Viz Media

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Frieren: Beyond Journey's End (manga)

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Frieren: Beyond Journey's End (GN 3)

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