Welcome back to Manga Talk!
I do apologize for getting this out late, I swear this won’t be a pattern.
Today we are going to be talking about something that caught my eye at the book store that I bought this from.
A fantasy story that isn’t an isekai, its the first volume of Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End.
As usual there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS for this first volume, so I advise reading the manga.
Let’s get started!
We begin the story following a group of people who are making their way back to the royal capital after they have defeated the Demon King.
The group consists of Himmel the Hero, Eisen the Warrior, Heiter the Priest, and Frieren the Mage, who receive thanks from the king, as well as the adulation of the people.
Frieren seems nonplussed about the whole affair, while the other three enjoy the celebration.
They all reminisce about the ten years that they spent adventuring together with Frieren, who is an elf and will live longer, remarks about how short the time they spent together was.
Himmel and Heiter, both being humans, rib each other for getting older, and the group see a meteor shower that happens once every 50 years, remarking how appropriate it is that it comes in the new era of peace.
Frieren says that the view isn’t all that great and that they should meet up again in 50 years to watch it in a better spot.
The next day, Frieren leaves to gather more magic and the group sees her off, saying that elves perception of things is incredibly skewed because of their incredibly long life spans.
Fifty years of Frieren gathering magic later, and she returns to the kingdom, one to meet back up with her friends and two to get a magical item from Himmel.
When she meets Himmel again, he has aged considerably, and the two catch up as Frieren retrieves the magical item she came for.
The two meet up with Eisen and Heiter, who is a bishop now, so they can see the meteor shower again like they had promised.
It is a few days travel, with Himmel being reminded of their journeys and remembering the good times he had with his friends, and he thanks Frieren for having one more journey with everyone as they watch the meteor shower.
Himmel passes away some time after, and during the service Frieren realizes that during the ten years that they travelled together, she didn’t really know too much about Himmel.
The regret spills out into tears, with Heiter and Eisen consoling her. As Heiter is about to leave, he states that he doesn’t have too much time left after his years of constant drinking, and says that if the other two are near the holy city to leave a bottle of booze at his grave.
Frieren is heading off too, one to look for more magic and two to learn more about humans. She asks Eisen to accompany her, but Eisen has become older and isn’t as effective of a warrior that he was in his prime.
Frieren leaves, returning after twenty years to find that Heiter is still alive. Not only is he still alive, but he has taken in a war orphan, a young girl named Fern.
Frieren says that she has spent her time learning magic and also doing what she can to interact with humans more. Heiter asks if she can do him a favor in taking on Fern as an apprentice.
Frieren declines, mostly because it is incredibly dangerous to be an apprentice mage. Heiter understands and asks for a different favor.
He shows her a book that supposedly has magic related to immortality and resurrection, but it is encoded. Frieren figures that she can crack the ciphers in five or six years but asks why Heiter wants to know about this magic.
Heiter isn’t in the search for immortality, but a little more time. Heiter asks that while Frieren is decoding the book, if she can at least help Fern a little bit with magic, to which Frieren agrees.
Frieren finds Fern and learns that Fern is actually very proficient in magic, though not at the level that Fern would like to be.
Fern says that Heiter told her that if she can blast a rock on the other side of a canyon with a spell, then she can be considered a full mage, but she falls short.
Frieren gives her some tips, and we get a montage of time passing, four years in fact. Heiter asks about Fern’s progress and Frieren says that she has progressed incredibly fast.
Frieren is almost finished with decoding the book and as she makes a remark, Heiter collapses to the floor.
He is ok, but only just and his time is definitely coming soon.
Frieren tries to convince Fern to stop her training for the time being so that she can stay at Heiter’s side.
Fern replies that Heiter saved her life, keeping her from jumping off the cliff when she was much younger. It is revealed that Heiter wanted to do one last good thing in the world, as a tribute to Himmel who was a really good person.
Heiter almost regrets living longer than Himmel, and so to make up for that he wanted to help Fern, which is why he wanted a little more time to help her before he died.
Frieren acknowledges this and allows Fern to continue her training while she finishes deciphering the book, unfortunately to no success.
She tells Heiter this, along with saying that Fern can be considered a full blown mage. Heiter then asks if that means that Fern won’t be a burden for Frieren anymore.
Frieren realizes that Heiter tricked her into training Fern so that the two can travel together, and Heiter suggests that the two leave tonight. This is because he doesn’t want Fern to see him die.
Frieren disagrees with this and tells Heiter to have some last good memories with her and give her a proper farewell, again with tears streaming down her stoic face.
As Frieren leaves, she asks Heiter why did he save Fern, to which he responds with it’s what Himmel the Hero would have done, which Frieren agrees with.
Fern spends some time with Heiter, and Frieren sees that Fern has in fact blasted the rock on the other side of the canyon.
Heiter passes away, and Frieren fulfills the promise of bringing booze to his grave and taking Fern on her adventures.
Some time passes and the two mages have been doing low profile jobs, getting some minor spells along the way.
The two end up at a town where they meet an herbalist who asks if they can help. The are brought to a rusted statue of Himmel and the herbalist says that it was made after Himmel defeated a monster and saved the town when the herbalist was a little girl.
Frieren says that Himmel brought it upon himself after spending so much time trying to figure out a pose and settling for a normal one. The herbalist seems to realize that Frieren was with the group that travelled with Himmel and the two mages get to work cleaning up.
When the two are done, the herbalist thanks them and says that she’s going to plant some flowers later to brighten things up. Fern asks if Frieren can do it, which she can, and decides that blue-moon weed would be the perfect flower, because it was a flower from Himmel’s hometown.
Unfortunately it appears like the blue-moon weed has gone extinct. This doesn’t deter Frieren, so she and Fern begin searching the forest for any signs of the plant.
They spend half a year doing so, much to Fern’s chagrin. She vents to the herbalist about it, and the herbalist says that Fern should tell Frieren about it and gives her some seeds of a flower that is related to the blue-moon weed to plant instead.
Frieren realizes Fern’s concerns, and says that they just need a little more time to look for the flower. Just as Fern is about to protest, Frieren points to a seed rat that takes the seeds Fern brought and the two follow the rat.
Fern asks why Frieren studies magic, and she says that it is just a hobby and that in the past she was much lazier.
We see a flashback of Frieren making a field of flowers which impressed Himmel, who often praised Frieren for the magic that she had acquired.
The two find an old tower which the seed rats use to store their food, and as Frieren explores the tower, we see another flashback of Himmel promising Frieren to show her blue-moon weed one day.
Frieren finds a whole bunch of blue-moon weed and the two bond over their love of magic and why they learned it and plant a whole bunch of blue-moon weed flowers at Himmel’s statue.
Just before the two leave, Frieren makes a crown of flowers and places it around the statue’s head, like he did with her many years ago.
On a supply run, Fern notices that Frieren is acting odd. Fern knows that this could be a bad sign since they don’t have so much money and Frieren has a tendency to buy unnecessary things on occasion.
Fern tails Frieren for a while, and after seeing that nothing really seems to be of major concern, she accomplishes her shopping and meets back up with Frieren.
Frieren makes the offer to go get some delicious dessert and when fern asks about money, Frieren says that she has some secret savings.
Frieren apologizes for not knowing what Fern likes, as she pulls out a fancy hairpin that she had bought for Fern’s birthday, which Fern had forgotten about.
Frieren reminisces in how little she knew about her old group and Fern reassures Frieren that she loves the gift and deeply appreciates Frieren trying to learn about Fern.
When the two are about to leave the next day, Fern asks what the purpose of their journey is. Frieren says that primarily it’s about gathering magic, but it is also about retracing the her old group’s steps and reliving the old memories before everything fades away.
It is also remarked that Fern is already 16, showing that there has been a massive jump in time from when the two first met.
The next year, the mages are practicing defensive magic and Frieren explains that making a massive shield wastes a lot of mana, and that protecting specific points is much more efficient.
When the two get to another village, they are actually there for a purpose. Frieren has come to eliminate a demon that the group had sealed many years ago, and an old man in town says that they were expecting her.
Himmel apparently had come to this town to check on the seal and had said that Frieren would come back one day to make sure that the demon was taken care of before the seal had broken.
Frieren says that she had sealed him because he was incredibly powerful, and that the killing magic that the demon had developed could pierce through defensive magic and magical armor.
Frieren says that the demon’s magic was his downfall, and when Fern asks what she means, Frieren says that she would explain the next day when she would undo the seal and destroy the demon.
When the seal has been broken and the demon learns about how long he was captured and that the Demon King is dead, he unleashes a powerful blast, to which Fern uses defensive magic to block.
The demon remarks that it must be a highly advanced defensive spell to block his attack, which surprises Fern because it was just a basic defensive spell.
Frieren says that after the demon was sealed, all the mages spent a few years to improve their own spells and equipment, so much so that the demon’s highly lethal killing magic has become mundane offensive magic.
The demon is impressed and unleashes a volley of magical attacks, which is blocked effortlessly by Fern and Frieren delivers the demon’s own magic to kill him.
The town thanks Frieren and Fern, with Frieren remarking to Fern later that the town believed in Himmel, to which Fern responds that Himmel believed in Frieren to make the right choice to come back and help the town.
The two get to another town, and with a reward of a journal that was written by a great mage by the name of Flamme, the two help clean up the beach.
The two know that the book is a fake, but they help anyway. As time passes and they clean up, it is revealed that the reason that they are doing so is so that the town can celebrate their New Year’s Festival by looking at the sunrise of a clean beach.
Frieren, being someone who does not wake up early of her own accord, wants to see the sunrise because the last time she was in town with her group, she had slept through it.
They manage to clean the beach in time, and on the day of the festival Frieren is asleep but Fern manages to drag her to it.
At first Frieren doesn’t see the big deal about it, but notices that Fern is enjoying it, thus Frieren enjoys it as well. Frieren shows her appreciation to Fern by saying that she would have slept through this sunrise if it were not for Fern.
We then see a flashback of the old group as they talk about what happens after they die at Eisen’s home. Eisen holds the dwarfish belief that they become nothing, Frieren is unsure about the after life based purely out of academic reasoning, Himmel is indifferent, and with Heiter being a priest he believes in an afterlife.
He believes that it’s a better way to think that one goes into a nicer place after dealing with life’s hardships, rather than into oblivion.
Himmel seems to agree, and manages to convince the others to pray alongside Heiter.
We jump to present time to see Eisen praying at the same spot when the two mages meet up with him. Eisen and Frieren catch up when she asks if he needs help with anything.
Eisen takes the two mages to look for the great mage Flamme’s notes. Frieren says that most of the things floating around claiming to be Flamme’s notes are fakes, but Eisen says that Heiter had studied a bit about Flamme and has found a general idea of where the real ones might be.
The three look for where the notes might be, and Frieren asks why Eisen is looking for the notes. He says that he pitied how bad Frieren had felt after Himmel’s funeral, and had talked with Heiter to look for the notes as a way to possibly talk with Himmel’s spirit.
They find the location where the notes are, and it is revealed that Frieren was Flamme’s apprentice over a thousand years ago. When she finds the notes, she is able to verify that they are in fact the correct notes.
Frieren reads the notes and it says that Flamme had talked with the souls of her departed comrades in a particular region.
It turns out that the region where this was done is the same place where the Demon King’s castle is.
Eisen convinces Frieren to go and talk to Himmel, giving the story a direction for the future.
My goodness this manga is great.
I was not expecting it to be as good, in fact I had no expectations of the story at all. When I first picked up the manga and read the synopsis on the back, I had some doubts about the story, but was intrigued by the premise enough to pick it up.
I am happy that I did.
What I really love about the story is the premise, an immortal going through life watching those that they cared about dying and learning how to cope with that.
Frieren is pretty stoic throughout the story, but the moment that she realizes how little she knew about Himmel, her friend and colleague for ten years.
She had felt regret and that provided a massive change in how she interacted with the world. The way that Himmel is a part of the story without being a character of the story shows how much of an influence he had on the world.
It reminds me sort of an epilogue to a long running Dungeons and Dragons game. The characters becomes heroes of the world, and after the accolades and celebrations, life moves on.
Monuments to heroism become old, heroes age and die, and it becomes important to remember the actions of the heroes and carry that to the next generation of heroes.
Frieren is effectively immortal, having lived over a thousand years, and it takes the death of her friends to realize that being immortal can be a burden.
Heiter shows that as one ages, regrets can come from survivor bias. He admits that Himmel was a better person than he was and that Himmel should have lived as long as Heiter. he does his best to make up for that by making sure that Fern becomes strong and gains a purpose to live.
Eisen, who is still alive but no longer in the prime of his youth, wants to help Frieren overcome her regret before he dies.
Fern is a younger character that we as the audience are seeing grow and become better, one through Heiter taking care of her, and Frieren teaching her magic. It also shows at the beginning of a new chapter how many years have passed since Himmel’s death, which seems to be an indicator that there is a chance that we see Fern get older and eventually die.
The story addresses a lot of themes, and I feel it does so in a way that doesn’t feel preachy or overbearing.
I also love the art, especially the expressions when Frieren is crying while remaining stoic, those are some powerful images.
The art also helps when there seems to be at least one montage sequence, which helps show the passage of time, no matter how short or long it may be.
I only have a couple of minor complaints about this story.
While I do enjoy how the montages show the passage of time, I do feel that it is a bit of a crutch and done much more often than I feel is necessary.
I can also say that some of the humor didn’t really land with me, mostly the jokes about Heiter being a drunk which got a bit old.
The chapter where Fern was tailing Frieren was also a bit slow for my liking, but even with it being my least favorite chapter of the volume, I still think that it’s an amazing chapter.
I would highly recommend this manga, especially if you love amazing fantasy art, a unique premise, and exploration of many interesting themes including belief, regret, and redemption.
I was not expecting to feel this strongly about this manga, but I am definitely going to be following it in the future.
On Friday we will be talking about another fantasy series, although this one is a bit different.
We will be talking about Witch’s Printing Office, and maybe you’ll get to see how I really feel about the fantasy isekai genre.
So until then,
Heiwa to sayonara!