Hello In There
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, volume 1
By Kanehito Yamada & Tsukasa Abe (Translated by Misa)
Frieren: Beyond Journey's End, Volume 1 is the first collection of the ongoing Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End (Japanese: 葬送のフリーレン, Hepburn: Sōsō no Furīren) fantasy manga series. Written by Kanehito Yamada and illustrated by Tsukasa Abe, Frieren has been serialized in Shogakukan's Weekly Shōnen Sunday since April 2020. The 2021 English translation is by Misa “Japanese Ammo.”
Adventurers Himmel (the hero), Heiter (cleric), Eisen (warrior), and Frieren (mage) spent ten years together vanquishing the Demon King. Once the foe is defeated, the elven sorcerer bids her companions goodbye and heads off to pursue her lifelong hobby: seeking out magical arcana.
Fifty years later Frieren returns for magical loot she left with Himmel. She discovers that humans age faster than elves. Who knew?
The once robust Himmel is now a bald, aged little man. The self-indulgent Bishop Heiter is a little better preserved; he has been pickling himself in alcohol. Dwarf Eisen has not been worn down by the years as much as the two humans have been … but even he looks older.
It’s sheer luck that both humans were still living when Frieren returned. They were old enough to have long since died of natural cause. Indeed, Himmel dies soon after Frieren returns.
During the funeral it dawns on Frieren that she had completely squandered the ten years she spent with Himmel and the ones that followed.
Now she realizes how short human lives are. Taking the time to know Himmel better would have cost her very little time as she measures it. It is an egregious oversight on her part and one she cannot fix now. All she can do is resolve to know humans better when given the chance. How does this resolution fare? Not well.
Twenty years later, she visits Heiter once more. He’s now very old and increasingly infirm (he’s even had to give up his booze). He has two items of interest to Frieren. One: his ward, a teen named Fern with a talent for magic. Two: a grimoire rumored to contain the secret of life extension, a topic of personal interest to the old bishop. He asks Frieren to take on Fern as an apprentice and also to translate the tome. Which just might extend Heiter’s life.
Frieren declines to take Fern on as a travelling companion. In her untrained state, the girl would die horribly the first time the pair met a Frieren-level magical threat. The tome, however, is more interesting, although it will take several years to do the translation. She agrees to stay put and tutor Fern for the brief time (from her POV) that the translation will take.
Four years later, Frieren concludes that the tome does not in fact contain the secret of life extension. Too bad for poor Heiter, now on the brink of death. Not that he had much hope; he isn’t surprised by the outcome.
Fern is another matter. She is both bright and talented. In a mere four years she has mastered as much magic as a duller student might have learned in ten. Fern can now travel safely with Frieren. It’s almost as through the bishop planned it that way….
Accompanied by her promising new apprentice, Frieren heads off in search of new knowledge and new challenges.
One minor gripe: the artist doesn’t really know how to draw old faces. Aged humans in this look like young people unconvincingly made up to look old. Otherwise the art conveys setting and characters effectively.
This is a fairly standard secondary fantasy world, with humans, dwarfs, elves, and a universally malevolent race (in this case demons) that the other three species can kill without feeling guilty. However, one character deviates from the standard model in an unexpected way: dwarf arms are surprisingly skinny for such stocky guys. I thought perhaps Eisen’s arm was thin because he is old, but there’s a flashback and his arm was thin then as well. Of course, for a dwarf that was not all that long ago.
Immortality: threat or menace seems to be a theme in Japanese manga. In this case, Frieren suffers because elves are extremely rare , which forces her to live among beings whose lifespans are less than a tenth of hers. She’s in much the same situation as someone who adventures with cats. Hmmm. Now I am wondering if anyone has written such an epic adventures and if not, why not.
It seems clear that Frieren is young for an elf and is slowly maturing, physically and emotionally, through the whole volume. She’s disconnected from those around her not only because they are so short-lived, but also because she’s emotionally immature. This would explain why she resolves to build better connections to humans and then immediately wanders off for another twenty years.
This deviates from the standard D&Desque story that it seems to be in a number of ways.
- It begins at the end of the epic quest; later volumes might go another direction but much of volume one focuses on Freiren’s hobbies.
- The protagonist is largely immune to time.
- She lives in a world that is not at all static. There are historical and technological processes at work that transform the world, scaled to the human lifespan, and immortals who don’t keep up may be suffer brief, unpleasant surprises followed by disintegration.
It’s hard to write elves. They can appear too alien and aloof to be sympathetic characters. The author nicely sidesteps that possibility by cunningly drawing the reader into Frieren’s story. Just as cunningly as the bishop saddles Frieren with an unwanted human apprentice/pet.
Volume one is an effective teaser and I will be looking for further volumes. Just where will the author take this story?
Frieren: Beyond Journey's End, Volume 1 is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo).
1: The demons seem to have killed most of the elves. Presumably, demi-immortals don’t have a high birthrate so the population might be rebounding OR the elves might be dying off. Too bad for Frieren if it’s the latter.