Title: Frieren: Beyond Journey's End Vol. 1
Author: Kanehito Yamada, Tsukasa Abe
Release Date: November 9, 2021
Publisher: VIZ Media
When it comes to tabletop RPG archetypes, elves’ longevity is one aspect most players are likely to remember. Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End Vol. 1 uses that as a premise to think about what happens after everything is said and done. The team’s travels come to an end, but life goes on after it, especially for the elf who still has centuries of living to do.
Frieren is a highly emotional experience that builds upon the regrets from living longer instead of just going for cheap shots at drama. For an elf, decades are hardly any time at all. For the rest of the party, whom she lived with for barely ten years, it’s way too much time. By the time she comes back to see them, they are all decrepit older men.
As the hero who led the expedition dies soon after the gang gets together again, Frieren finds herself with regret. Her different set of values meant she didn’t understand how precious this time was for humans and other races. By not understanding people around her (and not even herself, to be frank), she missed the timing to live with her friends and enjoy what she cared for the most.
Now she starts a new journey, not to defeat a Demon Lord, but thanks to this very regret. While she continues to look for new magic spells, her journey also includes retracing some of the memories of those short ten years. On the way, she learns more about other people and their precious lives.
Even though the story doesn’t intrude on her mind, it’s easy to relate to her feelings. And the first volume does a great job at making all characters believable, charismatic, and humane. It’s a relatable story, and getting to understand these characters’ feelings hurts a lot. Of course, living as an elf means seeing your friends’ death, but there’s also a long time of learning if the person is willing to.
Tsukasa Abe’s soft illustrations complement Kanehito Yamada’s story well. The story ends up feeling like the best kind of slice of life in which it’s possible to see meaningful character interaction. Every chapter feels like an opportunity for Frieren to grow, to learn, and to better herself. It’s also a chance for the reader to learn about the memories of the journey. Not only those still lingering in her mind but also from other people who were affected by their battle.
In a story of interpersonal connections, the low stakes and slow pacing here make it all relatable. This new journey beyond the end makes Frieren realize how much time is precious. Life is ephemeral, time is a relentless machine, death is unavoidable, and even the smallest moments with friends make up important memories.
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End Vol. 1 is an excellent entrance, a moving volume, and possibly even a life-changing experience. It’s easy to empathize with the characters and feel the weight of Frieren’s late realization. Even by this volume alone, I would already consider this manga a must-read, and I can’t wait to see how Frieren’s new journey will go.
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