Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End goes where few fantasy stories dare to go

If you’re looking for an anime that forces you to question the inevitable passage of time and reconcile with the fact that you too will one day be forgotten, then I have a show for you.

Frieren: Beyond the end of the journey is a visually beautiful fantasy adventure, but it is also a melancholic musing on mortality. Elven mage Frieren sees the world around her changing: magic evolves, empires fall, the people she knows and loves grow old and die, eventually forgotten by time. Yet the show is gentle and comforting, even in the face of inescapable oblivion.

(Ed. remark: This post contains some minor setup spoilers for Frieren: Beyond the end of the journey.)

Image: Madhouse/Crunchyroll

Frieren: Beyond the end of the journey picks up where most archetypal fantasy stories end: after the group of heroes has defeated the big bad. They vow to meet again, with a date 80 years from now, when a major meteor shower will return. From there they broke up. Frieren, the only elf in the party, doesn’t bother to keep up with anyone else until their scheduled meeting. While she hasn’t aged at all, the rest of her party – Himmel the hero, Heiter the human priest, and Eisen the dwarven warrior – have clearly aged. And although that meeting takes place, it ends sadly, because Himmel dies the next day.

Frieren swears that she will be able to keep up with her friends better, but another twenty years pass before she meets another of her fellow party members. Life is different when you are an elf and your lifespan is hundreds, if not thousands of years. The ten years that Frieren had been traveling with her company were just a blink of an eye for her, but for everyone else it was a huge chapter. She knows firsthand how much the world is changing, how nothing is permanent.

It’s an affectionate cliché that many Shonen protagonists come from Hunter x HunterIt goes to Pokemon‘s Ash – want to be great heroes that the world will never forget. Even more slice-of-life protagonists, like Hinata in Haikyuu, wanting to achieve legendary greatness. But Frieren repeatedly reminds us that even the greatest heroes will be forgotten. Their images may linger, their names may ring a bell, but the tides of time will wash it all away.

A huge demon looms over two smaller figures

Image: Madhouse/Crunchyroll

Frieren is able to keep her memories and her love for her friends, even when the world forgets them. The rest of us don’t have the privilege of a de facto immortal friend to perpetuate our memories. Although that thought may be terrifying, Frieren it doesn’t come across as bad. It’s just the nature of existence. There’s no point in fighting it. What is What is important, however, are the connections we forge with others, despite the inescapable. A century from now, perhaps no one will know who you were; but now, they Doing.

The passage – and awareness – of time is crucial Frieren, as we see when Frieren explains to her new apprentice, Fern, that the demonic mage they must awaken and subdue was known for creating the most deadly spell of all time, one that could blast through any defensive magical shield. Fern mentally prepares for an uphill battle, but realizes that in the 80 years since the demon has been trapped, his deadly demonic spell has become regular offensive magic. Humanity’s understanding of magic has evolved and so what was once a deadly, irrefutable spell has now become standard. The battle will soon be over. After all, this is a fantasy adventure where the battles and combat aren’t the most important parts.

Instead of, Frieren lingers on the small moments, details often overlooked by other epic fantasy adventures. Much attention is paid to the downtime, the connections Frieren forges with the two young heroes she has taken under her wing, and the memories she has of her old company. Her new quest involves a lot of repeating old steps, so she finds herself visiting places she once traveled and seeing them in a new light. All she has left are memories. And every chance she could have had more contact with them, but she didn’t.

A red-haired young man in a red coat, a purple-haired girl and a small elf woman with white hair stare at a group of statues in the middle of a city square

Image: Madhouse/Crunchyroll

And even now, the audience is constantly reminded that Fern and Stark will one day grow old and die, while Frieren once again outlives a new set of heroes and soldiers in her long existence alone. It looms over the entire show, but instead of undermining the relationships between the heroes, it emphasizes them. When every person you know will eventually be forgotten, it’s more important than ever to enjoy the time you have with them.

One conversation resonates with me the most: Frieren reveals that Flamme, the legendary founder of humanity’s magic, was actually her mentor. She knew Flamme, a person who most people think is just a myth, very well. She tells Himmel, who takes her words to heart. From then on, he insists that the party’s sculptures be made in any way possible so that no one can tell Frieren that they were just a myth.

And yet, when Frieren encounters many of those images, some of them are overgrown and almost forgotten. Villagers forget why they hold celebrations in front of the statues that line their town square. The passage of time is ruthless and unforgiving. Frieren doesn’t encounter many other long-lived characters, but when she does, it’s clear that they too recognize this. Yet they continue.

One day no one will remember you anymore. And that’s okay, because you mattered once.

All episodes of Frieren: Beyond the end of the journey are available now on Crunchyroll.