I got infatuated with Frieren, not the character but the manga. Back before it got officially licenced for distribution, it was tentatively called Frieren at the Funeral and I just got completely mesmerized with the title. Frieren Beyond Journey’s End is a very nice title. It’s both fitting and poetic. But there was something about the simplicity and harshness of Frieren at the Funeral that captivated my imagination. Then I read the synopsis and fell even deeper. You’ll see what I mean when you get there.
And then I read that it had gotten an official English release so I decided to put my curiosity aside and wait for the official version to come out to read it. That’s how deep my one-sided love was. And here we finally are…
Why I Picked up Frieren Beyond Journey’s End
To be perfectly honest, Frieren was one of the highest-rated manga without an official translation on a lot of aggregator sites. I really discovered it because I was seeing what was popular out there. And then I read the synopsis and I was sold.
More than sold as I’ve detailed in my opening paragraphs!
Elf mage Frieren and her courageous fellow adventurers have defeated the Demon King and brought peace to the land. But Frieren will long outlive the rest of her former party. How will she come to understand what life means to the people around her?
Decades after their victory, the funeral of one her friends confronts Frieren with her own near immortality. Frieren sets out to fulfill the last wishes of her comrades and finds herself beginning a new adventure…
My First Impression
Oh, I get it.
What I liked
Frieren is a masterclass in making contradicting messages work as a whole. Let me take a step back and try to explain this,
Frieren herself is our point of view character. She is an elf and in this world elves live a long time. Actually, they are near immortal. Frieren herself is closer to a millennia at the start of the novel, years pass by in the blink of an eye for her. She is a young woman who may be the equivalent of a 19-year-old and she will still be one after several generations of humans have come and gone. And so, the world she experiences is very different from that of humans. And yet the sun still rises at the same time so she must still exist within the same confines. By showing us a very familiar fantasy world through her eyes, Frieren Beyond Journey’s End also forces us to reexamine our own point of view.
In just the first volume, the story beseeches us to cherish every moment no matter how small as time is fleeting and yet it also tells us not to dwell too much on anything as in the grand scheme, it’s not all that important, but in a good way. It tells us that even the smallest kindness matters as the light of Himmel the Hero shines in remote corners due to his generous spirit and good heart. People everywhere were touched by his actions, and yet, the younger generations hardly remember him at all, they have their own heroes to create. And that’s ok. Being remembered wasn’t the point of being a hero.
Frieren’s unique position of seeing a man’s life, his legend, his legacy and finally his disappearance is what the book is trying to show us but instead of dwelling on a singular hero, it presents it as a general condition of being human. And it shows it as a good thing.
Frieren Beyond’s journey’s end is a hopeful and even joyful exploration of mortality and the ephemeral nature of existence. What other manga can you say that about? Well except Natsume’s Book of Friends.
By wrapping all of this existential introspection in a familiar veneer of high fantasy it also becomes a nostalgic story recalling fairy tales and childhood epics.
I have rarely been so simultaneously and happy when reading a manga. Oh and I also appreciate that it’s a gentle story that loves its characters and wouldn’t simply kill its darlings for the sake of it. Because of that I quickly grew attached to the characters as well.
I loved the first volume and immediately ordered more. This is a manga that speaks to my sensibilities. However, if I was to play devil’s advocate, I think there is a risk of the story losing sight of the forest for the trees.
There is a lot of lore as is traditional for most high fantasy tales, and I can already see how the narrative may be tempted to concentrate on mechanics. For instance, putting more time and importance on the magic system or detailing the history of the land, and I do think that this will take away from the particular charm of Frieren Beyond Journey’s End. The unbound and vague nature of the story is part of the point for me.
This is a plus as far as I’m concerned but it could annoy some that Frieren has an aimless feel to it. Frieren herself is by her nature unhurried, fairly careless and unconcerned with most things. She does things on a whim and does them very slowly as she has what seems like an eternity to fill. And so the story meanders, goes from one thing to the next. In the first volume alone we had four time skips, each for years at the time.
I can’t emphasize this enough, but that’s a strength for me. It makes Frieren Beyond Journey’s End a more unique experience and that sense of aimlessness adds to the themes. In a way, it’s a reimagining of the bildungsroman and completely subverting the usual sense of urgency and meaning is what makes it stand out.
But it’s not for everyone. I can see readers getting annoyed by the uneven pace. I can see people getting impatient being forced to take in the story from the point of view of such a lax character. And I can see a lot of people wanting the narrative to spell out a goal. But I can see just as many finding their own meaning in the story.
There is only one solid drawback I could find for the version I read and it’s that the official translation can be a little shaky. Let me rephrase that, the translation itself is great but even I saw a few typos in the first volume. Most frustrating though, occasionally characters get referred to by the wrong name and that can be very confusing. These were rare instances but more than I see in official versions so they stood out.
I fell in love with a manga that I had not read and unreasonably poured all my expectations into it. When I finally read it, I liked it, a lot. That should tell you something. I did my best to find things that other readers might dislike but if you want my personal take, you should read Frieren Beyond Journey’s End. It will make you rethink all the classic stories you read as a child and maybe like them more. That’s what it did for me.