Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, Volume 21 is the second collection of the ongoing Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End (Japanese: 葬送のフリーレ, 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 Sundaysince April 2020. The English translation appeared in 2022.
Accompanied by her young human apprentice Fern, elf mage Frieren journeys north, hoping to commune with the shade of a long-dead human friend, the hero Himmel. Between the pair and their goal lie thousands of miles, not to mention demon-infested northlands. Daunting? Frieren is an experienced demon fighter. She is a thousand years old … so what matters a few years of trekking?
While Frieren is confident in her abilities and nearly as confident in the powers of her intern, the prodigy Fern, she knows that if she and Fern are to be safe, they need others in their party: fighters brave enough to interpose themselves between mages and danger, as well as sufficiently skilled and durable to survive doing so more than once. In days past, her allies Himmel and Eisen filled that role. Now Eisen is too old and Himmel too dead.
Stark seems an ideal candidate. He has been trained by Eisen; he is famous for having faced down a dragon. But Stark is honest. He tells Frieren that he stood before the dragon because he was too terrified to move. Why the dragon spared him he does not know.
Stark would seem unpromising material. But Frieren has discussed hiring him with Eisen. Stark has speed, strength, skill, and the potential to become even better. What Stark lacks is confidence. Frieren believes that she knows just how to instill confidence in a fighter. All Stark need do is face the great dragon. Either he will win and become more confident, or die and become irrelevant. She puts him to the test; he wins.
The small party makes its way to the border with the northlands. There they encounter an unexpected development: the demons have sent envoys to negotiate peace with human ruler Graf Granat. A welcome development save for the fact that demons are famed for lies and deception. Any détente will likely prove a trap.
The art is skillful enough, save for the artist’s inability to draw convincing old people.
Demons don’t feel human emotions such as love, guilt, and so on. They can mimic such feelings, but they throw off their disguise when they’ve trapped their prey. This is convenient for the protagonists, as there is never a moral quandary when it comes to killing demons. It’s less convenient for the demons2, as they don’t understand their human prey and can easily be misled into self-destructive errors.
Luckily Graf Granat isn’t fooled by the demon overtures. He knows that they lie. His wariness proves less useful than he hoped, but … he tried.
Frieren is a sympathetic character, but in some ways she is like the demons. She has lived so long that she cannot truly understand that what is a short time for her is a long time for humans and even dwarves. She feels no urgency, even when she should feel it for other party members.
The author of the manga also doesn’t seem to feel much urgency. Two volumes into the series, Frieren is still collecting companions and only gradually getting to know them better. It’s only towards the end of this volume, with the appearance of the demon envoys, that the pace picks up. However … the story is intriguing enough that it is only by sheer force of will that I can resist picking up volume 3 to see where the current arc goes. Must save for later!
2: Thus far it’s not clear why demons kill. They don’t rob or devour their prey. They seem incapable of resisting murderous impulses for long. I wonder if some ancient mage created them as weapons?