Frieren: Beyond Journey's End: Privilege Of The Young
April 6, 2024 10:41 AM - Season 1, Episode 14 - Subscribe

It's Fern's birthday, and tensions are high as it seems that Stark has forgotten and Fern is upset - but the reality of the situation is more complicated, as it usually is when emotions are in play, especially one particular one. Then while on the road, a monster attack causes a particular item of Frieren's to be lost - one with significant meaning...

So, the series finally decides to directly address a certain pachyderm sitting astride the plot in this episode - which is good, because it's going to be pretty hard to dismiss come the next.

The episode starts with a flashback opening, with Frieren recalling the Party of Heroes after the party enters a town to rest and recuperate after being on the road, remembering how in a similar situation Himmel offered to buy her something as a reward. Which leads into the conflict for the first half of the episode - it turns out that it's Fern's birthday, and Stark not finding her a gift as the young mage in a particularly dour mood, resulting in a fight that has the warrior storming out of the room in anger. Sein, seeing Stark angrily heading out of the inn, heads in to speak with Fern - who takes out her anger on the priest after he tries to play down forgetting important dates. After things cool down, Sein points out that her intransigence has really upset Stark, and that she has overstepped things and needs to apologize - a point that Frieren also agrees with, leading Fern to head out. When she gets to the town square, she sees Stark sitting, clearly in thought and working over his emotions (glancing at the bracelet they had picked out), which causes the young mage to pause before seeing Sein buying a pouch with a butterfly motif. Going over to the priest, the two talk about what's happening, and Sein offers to let Fern pick out a gift, which she declines with a soft smile. With that, Sein notes that Stark isn't the sort of person that would intend to hurt her, noting that he likely doesn't keep track of his birthday - to which Fern replies that he didn't have to, because she did. Sein notes that they had picked out his gift together, and that she has memories of gifts she's received, which is prompting her feelings. Sein then tells her to go make up with him - and that she needs to tell him how she feels, because he won't know otherwise.

With that, Fern agrees, and apologizes for her tantrum to Sein, before seeking out Stark, who is currently standing at the town's statue of Himmel, studying it. Stark trembles in fear as she approaches, blurting out an apology to her and telling her that he wanted to get her gift with her, to make sure she would love it - but after her outburst, he felt that doing so would come across as covering for forgetting her birthday. In response, Fern asks for his forgiveness, realizing how much of a misunderstanding all this was and how inappropriate her response was. With apologies out of the way, Stark asks if she's ready to go shop for her present - and the soft, happy smile on the young woman's face is all the answer needed for that question as they head off. Of course, they weren't exactly alone, as we soon see that they had a couple of spies looking out for them from the rooftop. Sein notes that the sort of quarrel the two had are a "privilege of the young", noting that Fern went to him for advice, and not Frieren - which has the elf divulge that she was raised by Heiter after being orphaned. Sein says that he couldn't compare to the great priest, to which Frieren notes that her memories of the man are decidedly less noble or flattering, noting that Sein is very much following in those particular footsteps. Sein notes that it's hard to see Heiter in that way - the man he remembers is the caring, gentle bishop who made sure to look after both him and his brother - a "proper grownup". This causes Frieren to flash back to a conversation she had, while translating the grimoire for him - where he points out that while people see him as this authority figure, in his heart he has never stopped being the boy he was so many years ago, his adulthood being an act, one he kept up for the sake of the children who needed his support - like Sein and Fern. Frieren notes that in that case, he needs praising as well, to which he says he'll get that when he sees the Goddess - to which Frieren responds that he should be praised now, gently patting his head like he would to her. Smiling, Heiter notes that the pats are rather nice - and this segways into Frieren doing the same to Sein in praise for helping the two younger members of the party work out their issues, noting that he's as proper an adult as any. As they talk, we cut away to see the gift they select - a bracelet with a mirrored lotus design, that nicely pairs with his simple silver one (and the messaging could not be more blatant without literally spelling it out.)

With that, we now move to the four getting a ride with a merchant, riding in his wagon. Frieren thanks him for his generosity, and he responds that it's not trouble before giving her a sales pitch. Frieren turns him down, but notes that Fern might be interested, before noticing her bracelet. In response, the young mage gets flustered and shy, noting that the bracelet is her birthday present from Stark - and seeing the motif, Frieren notes that she has a ring with the same one - a present from Himmel. She goes to retrieve it from her suitcase of holding (seriously, that thing seems to have unlimited capacity at times), which is right when a bird monster decides that the merchant wagon is perfect pray. As their trip suddenly switches to a flight, they discuss how to deal with their predicament - Stark suggests killing the monster and flying down, to which Frieren notes that's not possible - humanity has only "just" figured out magical flight 50 years ago, and they still don't completely understand the theory, making its use taxing on mages because of high mana consumption. Frieren says she'll take the merchant, and Fern takes Sein - and Stark can jump, to which he points out she's crazy, as the drop would surely kill him. Frieren's response is that Eisen would routinely fall from great heights without a scratch, a feat that never failed to shock Heiter. However, with Sein noting that the monster is going to slam the carriage into the ground, discussion is overtaken by action, as Frieren slays the monster and the mages use their flight magic to cushion the rough landing.

Luckily, about the only casualties of the fall creature-wise is Stark's dignity and a slight injury to the horse easily healed by Sein, but the carriage is damaged and needs repair to make it functional again, a task set to by the party. But there's a bigger problem - in the fall, Frieren's ring was lost. Sein notes Fern's bracelet, and they talk about how it took three hours for Stark to pick it out - but he notes that it was worth it because Fern adores it. Sein then congratulates him for his choice, noting that the mirrored lotus motif is a symbol of eternal love - something that neither of the two were aware of. But when Stark asks if he should replaces it, Ferns response shocks him - that he put all that effort into picking it out, and that he should never suggest something so foolish ever again. Sein, of course, is not stupid, and knows exactly what the score is. Slowly, they get the wagon fixed - and at night, Frieren searches for the missing ring with no luck - but with the wagon repaired, there's no chance to find it after this night. Fern tells Frieren about the design's meaning, and encourages her to continue looking - leading to the merchant noting that as a dealer in accessories and jewelry, he has a folk spell designed for finding lost ones, which he planned on using as payment to the elf. With spell in hand, recovering the ring becomes trivial for Frieren, and soon she reclaims it, as she thinks back to the time when Frieren chose the ring with Himmel - and it becomes clear that while she might not have known what the lotus meant, he very much did, with him putting it on her hand in a manner that...okay, look - the legendary hero proposed to the most socially oblivious entity ever, which if you're at this point in the story should be taken as par for the course. This isn't subtext, this is just flat out text.

Good? Good. Moving on now.

Pondering the ring, Fern asks if Frieren is glad she didn't give up the search, to which she notes she is, before asking why Fern has a bracelet with the same motif - to which she simply replies that the person who gave it to her is an idiot. Poor Stark can't catch a break, it seems.
posted by NoxAeternum (5 comments total)
So yeah. Let's discuss the elephant in the plot, with is best summed up in a line from a song in Beauty and the Beast - "there's something there that wasn't there before."

Because after a year of traveling together - of fighting alongside one another, of braving the wilds, of surviving the brutal winters of the mountains - the friendship and camaraderie between Fern and Stark is (and this is pretty much obvious to all but the two at this point) slowly blossoming into genuine romantic love. We actually got a hint of this back in a scene in Episode 11, when while clearing the snow from the roof of the cabin Fern slips - and Stark catches her almost immediately, a sign of how close the two have grown. And looking back, it's easy to see all this happening - but what makes this such a great little love story is that, unlike many such narratives in media where the characters are quite clearly pushed into boyfriend/girlfriend shaped holes in the plot, this is done organically. When we start out, there is no real sign that the two have any romantic feelings at all (and why would they - their adoptive parents aren't exactly the romantic types, after all), and it's only after a number of experiences that help them bond and come closer together that we see them start to develop real affection for one another (and that lack of experience also gets reflected in how neither of them can really just Spit It Out and use their words, which is also realistic.)

This video is a pretty good discussion on why this particular subplot works, but be warned - it does have spoilers for scenes in the next few upcoming episodes, including a particular one where Sein becomes The Voice Of The Fandom Screaming Into The Ether.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:59 AM on April 6 [1 favorite]

This episode was the one that really convinced me this show was something special. Any competently done anime can build hype out of a couple of good fight scenes, but Himmel getting down on one knee was such a beautiful scene spun out of a mostly jokey episode.

Again, the storyboarding of this series is just immaculate. When Himmel is kneeling in front of Frieren, between them is a clock tower. The thing that separates these two is time, and I’m not crying you’re crying shut up!
posted by C^3 at 9:12 AM on April 8

I confess that I was never really fully sold on the Fern/Stark romance in this season. (Keeping an open mind for season 2.) I'm not sure how much of my skepticism is just that they're typical teenagers in a lot of ways—especially when interacting with each other—and I just don't find that sort of adolescent clunkiness terribly romantic or endearing. There are some nice hints of affection but a lot of them are in the background, whereas what's foregrounded are clashes that really highlight that adolescent awkwardness and inability to talk about things. And it seems like everyone cites the moment where Stark catches Fern from falling off the roof... but like? That's just being a decent person, which Stark clearly is? I don't really get any chemistry between them; it's not quite boyfriend/girlfriend shaped holes, more just "this is the only person of my age and another gender that I'm spending any significant time with." Which, to be fair, is good enough to most teenagers! But it doesn't have me rooting for them as a pair.

I also don't love how the romance always brings out the worst in Fern, making her an irrational nag that Stark has to placate with preemptive apologies. She has this mode with Frieren too, but it seems like her default with Stark, and it just feels like decades-old retrograde sitcom characterization.

I'm being a little harsh I guess. I don't hate it and it's not like it ruined the show for me or anything. I do think it's probably the plot line in this first season that fell the most flat for me, that felt most like I wasn't on board with what the creators intended. But it could go a lot of ways in Season 2.
posted by valrus at 7:14 PM on April 8

To be fair, valrus, I've read ahead (that is, I've read the full manga run), so I know there are some later chapters that better illustrate their developing romance (and a couple are right past the end of the first season!) And I do like that their relationship is that of a couple of teenagers, because that feels authentic and genuine.

The point of the scene on the roof is that he's in tune enough with her that he catches her almost immediately after she starts to slip - which illustrates how close they are. In of itself it's not a sign of them becoming romantically involved - but it's an illustration of how they're getting closer, and it's that progression that is important.

And I do agree that Fern's attitude is problematic - but it also comes off as organic, as she was raised by Frieren, so she's had a bit of parentification in her life, and she struggles to say how she's feeling, which again stems from her past (remember, she's a war orphan who was on the verge of committing suicide at one point - that leaves scars.) And she's called out on it, and she often realizes she's in the wrong as well, as part of her own personal growth. (And Stark does eventually get to get her back, which gets us a very fun little arc a few chapters after the first season ends.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:36 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]

Stark and Fern work for me as framing for Himmel and Frieren's hopelessly time-separated relationship. The ring and the whole set up for it, both of their sad smiles of realisation.
I wonder who animated the cut of Frieren casting the accessory spell, it stood out in an interesting way.
posted by lucidium at 4:41 AM on April 9

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