Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End Volume 1 by Kanehito Yamada and Tsukasa Abe
I’m always curious about new Shonen Sunday titles since some of the series that I’ve enjoyed from the magazine just end up having more emotional and narrative depth than the more formulaic series in Shonen Jump. Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is a deliberately paced fantasy story that examines the question of what happens next after a group of heroes succeeds in their ultimate mission. The party of friends on the verge of retirement includes character types that would not be out of place in any DnD campaign: Frieren, an elven mage, Himmel the Hero, Heiter the priest, and Eisen, a dwarf warrior.
The manga opens as the companions have completed their ten year quest to defeat the Demon King. The group splits up, with Frieren not quite understanding how time is going to pass much more quickly for her companions. She promises to check back with everyone in 50 years with the air of someone who’s going to drop by again next month, and leaves to continue her journey doing magical research. When she does return she finds Himmel transformed into a bald old man with an impressive white beard. When Himmel dies shortly after their reunion, Frieren finds herself more interested in reexamining her memories and trying to think the way humans do. She begins to retrace her party’s previous path and finds some low key magical adventures along the way as she starts to engage more with the idea of time passing for humans. Heiter tricks Frieren into taking on a human apprentice mage named Fern, so Frieren has a new companion along as she begins to come to terms with her past.
There’s a slow and gentle quality to the pacing of Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End. I think it would appeal to anyone who also enjoys Snow White with the Red Hair. There’s also plenty of humor as Frieren attempts to get better at understanding emotions and the human pace of the world. The art is attractive, capably portraying the medieval fantasy settings and capturing the emotional dynamic between the characters. I found reading this first volume both diverting and relaxing.