Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is an ongoing manga series written by Kanehito Yamada and illustrated by Tsukasa Abe, and has recently won several prestigious awards in Japan. The Japanese title is “Sousou no Furiren,” which translates more directly as “Frieren of the Funeral.” This captures the somewhat melancholy feel of the manga, but Beyond Journey’s End is also an appropriate title. The center of the plot is indeed a journey; a fairly typical quest by a fairly typical group of adventurers. But the manga begins as the group returns home at the very end of their ten-year quest.
The elf mage named Frieren, faces the journey’s end with an unsettling indifference. As an elf, her expected thousand-year life span far exceeds that of her (one) dwarven and (two) human companions. She wanders off with no particular goal in mind. When she returns decades later, the reader finds that she has missed time that has been precious to her companions. Perhaps she does not understand how important those ten years had been for all of them.
Yet, Frieren eventually sets her wandering path to retrace the quest journey. Along the way she acquires an apprentice named Fern and a scared but skilled warrior-in-training named Stark, but Frieren seems to be deliberately avoiding attachments. The reader travels with them on their new adventure, while reliving the original quest in quiet flashbacks of both difficult and happy times. The beautiful artwork and lovely pacing allows the reader to feel the grief, and the joy, that Frieren does not seem to acknowledge,
It is possible that Frieren is learning lessons about making connections and paying attention to life but, even if she is not, the reader certainly will. And the story is not over. As with most manga, the series continues in serialization in Japan, with an eighth volume expected in June. The English edition of the fifth volume is due in July.