Why the new anime ‘Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End’ is the future of fantasy

Scene from ‘Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End’
| Photo Credit: Studio Madhouse

The realm of fantasy has long been under the influential shadow of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic saga, The Lord of the Rings, a cornerstone of the genre for several decades. Yet, a new contender has emerged from Japan, challenging the very pillars of these fantastical worlds, previously unshakeable for ages.

Overthrowing Tradition

To those who may not be familiar, My Anime List is a globally recognized anime community site where users vote and rank their favourite series, similar to IMDB for films. For years, the beloved show Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has held the number one spot confidently, with even giants like Attack on Titan and Steins Gate unable to dethrone it. However, Studio Madhouse’s recent fantasy series has done the unthinkable, dethroning the reigning champion and creating ripples throughout the fantasy domain long held steadfast by Tolkien enthusiasts.

The current rankings of top anime on My Anime List

Current top anime rankings on My Anime List
| Photo Credit:

Amidst a flourishing scene of fantasy anime, Kanehito Yamada’s Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End boldly charts its own course, defying the saturated arena of ‘isekai’ narratives that have largely defined recent trends. Diverging from the standard formula of the average ‘isekai’ hero embarking on a grand adventure, Frieren is instead portrayed as a character burdened by her history and the impact of her decisions.

Redefining the Eternal

In essence, Frieren crafts a universe that echoes the essence of Middle Earth, complete with elves, dwarves, and epic battles against malevolent forces. However, the narrative delves deeper, presenting our elven lead not as a detached mystic, but as a being enduring an existential quandary akin to that of humans. Tolkien’s narrative explores monumental shifts and events through the experiences of hobbits and men, but Frieren’s quest is told through the perspective of an elf who, despite her long lifespan, is far from indifferent to the passage of time.

Frieren, the protagonist from ‘Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End’

Frieren, the protagonist from ‘Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End’
| Photo Credit:
Studio Madhouse

Classical high fantasy often places elves on a pedestal of virtue and eternal wisdom. While recent portrayals like those in Amazon Prime’s The Rings of Power have attempted to imbue elven characters with human-like qualities, Frieren’s storyline digs into deeper themes, showing the immense burden that immortal beings may carry—focusing on an individual’s inner battle with the relentless passage of time.

Celebrating Imperfection

Frieren’s worldly travels with companions Fern and Stark underscore the power of camaraderie. As the characters traverse various terrains and face challenges, their journey symbolizes growth and deepening bonds. Unlike the unfaltering heroes of yesteryear, the anime gives us Stark, a character who embraces his vulnerability, highlighting the true courage that comes with overcoming one’s fears. In contrast with many fantasy narratives that emphasize grandiose powers and dramatic heroics, Frieren’s magic is nuanced, prizing cleverness and judicious restraint over sheer might, thereby upending traditional expectations within the genre.

Frieren, Fern and Stark from ‘Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End’

Characters Frieren, Fern, and Stark from the narrative ‘Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End’ capture hearts with their depictions.
| Photo Credit:
Studio Madhouse

Discovering Depths in Simplicity

What makes ‘Frieren’ stand out is its dedication to the subtle intricacies, the serene dialogues among characters that leave an impactful significance. While grand tales like the march of the Rohirrim against a sunset backdrop are breathtaking, sometimes the simpler pleasures, like the hobbits relishing an extra round at the Prancing Pony or losing oneself to Mr Tumnus’ flute melodies over a cup of tea, are deeply cherished.

The strength of fantasy lies in its capacity to take us to a cherished parallel universe where the mere notion of reverting to our harsh real world seems like a blow to our spirit. As we witness the tearful farewells of characters like Frodo and Sam at the Gray Havens or Harry Potter’s last look back at Hogwarts, it’s hard to let go. It’s in these moments of parting, reflecting our own goodbyes, where we crave just a sprinkle more of enchantment. ‘Frieren’ begins her tale at this poignant point, beyond the journey’s conclusion.

Frieren and her original quest members from ‘Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End’

A glimpse of Frieren with her companions embarks on an original quest in ‘Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End’.
| Photo Credit:
Studio Madhouse

Frieren’s poignant voyage stands as a thoughtful reflection on the essence of being, prompting us to appreciate every fleeting moment. Going beyond the grandiose spectacles found in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, the fanciful wonders of Lewis’s Narnia, or the fond reminiscence of Rowling’s Hogwarts, Yamada’s creation not only honors the conventions set by these fantasy legends but also audaciously challenges the conventional narrative, creating a remarkable experience for its audience.

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