Frieren: Beyond just Enjoyment


Ach ja, since this will probably be a short one (I lied), let’s do things differently this time and get to the main point immediately: Despite my consistent praises for the anime series, its superb quality in both writing and production and a seemingly as a good a score as possible with an elf as a main character, I can’t say that I particularly “enjoyed” watching Frieren as one might assume from just the first part of this sentence, or at least how I wouldn’t generally describe experiencing Frieren similar to other anime I did enjoy watching. Now, after I have effectively clickbaited the only person who would read this post regardless, let’s go a bit deeper into what I even mean by any of this.

Now, Frieren is obviously great. One could probably say something about the seemingly “overreliance” of mono no aware or how some story beats seemingly come down to superficial platitudes and while I can’t directly argue against these points in a way that goes beyond simply feeling very different about the series in general, it is also not like I am bothered by any of it. Keep in mind that I am the guy whose favorite episodes often consists of “nothing happening”. So, if I don’t have anything negative to say about the actual anime, what exactly is my issue with Frieren? I lied again, the obligatory introductionary ramble starts now.

Engaging with media takes effort. This is not to be confused with me having to force myself through something or any kind of obligation towards a piece of media. Calling it an investment also sounds a bit too calculated and purely logical, but it goes into the right direction. I rarely sit back and simply get hit with something in the face, before going “Damn, this is great!”. There is work involved. Sometimes, you simply need to get good at the game’s mechanics first, before it actually gets fun. Learning a skill can be satisfying in itself, but it will take time before you can actually put it to any use. Meeting up with this one slightly estranged friend after a couple of years? You are not particularly hyped, it is bit awkward at first, but in the end you tend to be glad you did it. Motivating yourself is half the battle and sometimes you have to give first, before you get something in return. Immediate satisfaction is a drug. Don’t do drugs, kids!

To bring it back to watching anime, the least it demands of you is your attention and time. This might seem obvious, but there are enough people that consume movies and whole shows by having it on in the background and taking it in passively. While I will not judge people for how they interact with media… I absolutely judge people for how they interact with media and I would never consider having seen a movie, if I were to do anything else at the same time. But beyond this, time is not limitless and, of course, you want to spend it on something, if not worthwhile, at least something you would potentially enjoy. Paying attention is also very much a spectrum, especially in an audio-visual medium, whose way of getting its “text” across is inherently ambiguous.

The next thing it demands of you is to honestly engage with it. In comparison, time and attention are easy, but having to use your brain can kill. Just think back to the teacher that has to oversee a classroom full of children that would like to do literally anything else than work on this dumb poem they have already spend the last three lessons on learning about its author, the historical background and the plethora of stylistic devices none of them can make any sense of. You cannot force someone to engage with something beyond a purely methodical approach. This simply does not work. There are certainly inherent points to any kind of work that make it more welcome to do so, but at the end of the day, the one in front of it will have the final say in this.

This is also the threshold for when it comes to analyzing works of fiction. Do you want to think about the things you have just seen, or can you accept simply taking it at face value? Do you want to extract meaning, or does everything inside the story stay inside the story? Do you exam it critically, comparing it to similar works, or will you simply go “this was good, I guess?” and walk on with your life? Being able to analyze something, especially if something lends itself to it, can be fun, but again, it takes effort. It is on you to put in the work, before you are rewarded.

With that being said, let me first tell you a bit about how watching Frieren was for me: Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn’t even have started watching Frieren in the first place. I rarely watch anime seasonally, especially if it looks like a promising series, as I tend to binge-watch such, once they are finished. I knew about the manga and that it is held in relatively high regards beforehand and I’ve also seen the trailer. It looked amazing and I had no doubt it would probably be the biggest new anime of the season (though I didn’t expect it to become that big). All the resulting discourse following the movie-length premiere would have convinced me to eventually give it a shot eventually at the latest, or at least keep my eyes and ears open while it airs.

Alas, I decided to start watching seasonal anime with friends and along two other anime from which one of us each has read the source material, we also picked up Frieren for our weekly discussion. Regardless of the point I am trying to make, this was, by every metric, a good decision, since the other two anime turned out to be rather lackluster. Anyway, the fall season began and I watched the premiere, which amounted to the first four episodes of the anime adaptation. I watched them without a problem, liked them very much and had basically no intention to continue watching any more of it.

“But how come?”, you might ask, if you were an idiot with no reading comprehension. However, you are not and understand why I was yapping on and on until just now. The bottom line is that watching Frieren takes effort for me. But not just the effort one would expect it to take, but some serious advanced effort. Frieren is dense, both narratively and visually. It demands your full attention, because it can and will reward you for it. Basically, Frieren is an analyst’s dream. However, I am not an analyst. I’m just here to have fun and analysis just happens to be a part of the process sometimes. Sure, I can and will not shut up about some things, but I will also admit that, at times, I simply can’t say more than half a Tweet worth of words, because thinking about it anymore will take more effort than it could possibly be worth it. This puts Frieren in a very weird position that is even more rare among the already few anime i feel similarly towards.

There is a certain class of anime that just completely breaks my incomprehensive, if at least consistent, scoring system: Anime I consider “good”, whether I would describe them as “well written”, or “thematically resonant” or any other kind of adjectively verbing, but, through some cruel twist of fate, don’t particularly end up “enjoying” per se. Anime where my eyes normally see something I adore and my brain is able to make perfect sense of it, but where my heart stands still and unmoved. This isn’t just a case of not enjoying something I previously thought I would enjoy regardless, but a weird contradiction. In the same way I enjoy things differently, I also don’t enjoy things in a myriad of ways. Similar to how “hating something” and “being indifferent towards it” are worlds apart, so is my non-enjoyment of the anime I don’t end up enjoying. What scoring is concerned, I can justify putting trash into the S-Tier, but what about reducing the gold standard to scrap metal? One is not correct, the other one is wrong.

Some things simply come naturally to me. Why was I glued to the screen when watching Oshi no Ko, while having to basically force myself through Cowboy Bebop? What overcame me to watch the entirety of Re:Creators in less than 24 hours, when it took me more than a year to finish the last couple episodes of the Pokémon Sun and Moon anime? What do I even see in Girls und Panzer that makes me constantly want to rewatch it on a whim, when I will actively argue against watching Akira or Ghost in the Shell one more time?

It’s over a year ago I started telling myself that the next anime I am going to watch on my own will be Gurren Lagann. It is also worth noting, that I did not in fact go on anime withdrawal since then. The expectations are simply so great, that it is not enough to wait for me to be in a right mood, but to be in the right mood. It is the same reason why Serial Experiments Lain is standing at a 3 / 13 progress since months, because me and my friend will not watch it when exhausted or half-asleep. On the other hand, what could even possibly stop me from watching, for the lack of a better word, easily consumable trash? It took no effort to watch Keikenzumi, beyond calculating how much faith you are willing to loose. Engaging with Chained Soldier is easy, because it demands nothing of you, because it can only give nothing in return. Just sit back and enjoy the author’s barely-disguised fetishes.

On the flip side, how do I hype myself for something, which I don’t find inherently appealing? How do you approach something that demands your everything, but can’t give you a reason to continue taking this leap of faith? Do I simply wait for the moment when I miraculously am in the mood for it? For when I am suddenly able to completely lock in? For when it truly succeeds in sending chills down my spine, freezes my heart over and leaves me shivering in the icy cold?

So, how am I even supposed to feel about Frieren? An anime I am constantly praising every week anew since almost half a year already, but am also actively avoiding to actually watch every week? Why is one of the best anime in recent years also the one I always see after everything else, not because I want to save the best for last, but because it means spending more time not having to confront it. Why is it so hard for me to full-heartedly enjoy something so obviously good? If Tsunderes are stupid, then call me fucking brain-damaged. Whatever it is, it is probably also the reason why I won’t be able to do a proper write-up on Frieren, so I am at least glad the people willing to listen already know what I would say, even if it only came in the form of utterly incoherent ramblings.

Though, to maybe dampen the whole melodramatic tone I started spinning halfway through, it is not like I don’t “enjoy” Frieren at all. Calling it a very weird and specific anxiety might be more accurate, now that I think about it and almost finished writing 2000 words again… It certainly got easier to press the play button over time and the whole mage exam arc gave me a more concrete idea of what to look forward to at the end of every episode. Heaven, I can’t wait to immediately regret everything I wrote the moment I finish the last episode and only realize how much I loved it the moment it is gone.

Since I am writing this all before the last episode aired, there is probably some kind of sick irony in this post that somehow curves right back into one of the core messages of Frieren. If that is so, then point your fingers and laugh at me. I should know better than to walk into the circus dressed as a clown.

Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is available on Crunchyroll.

local_offer Frieren
folder Anime
calendar_today 2024