Frieren: Beyond Journey's End: First-Class Mage Exam
April 14, 2024 4:09 AM - Season 1, Episode 18 - Subscribe

Finally, Frieren and party have reached Äußerst, the Northern Lands' center of magical research and study - and the site of the examination to earn the rank of first class mage. But it's not just Frieren and Fern who seek the title, as a number of mages from around the lands converge on the city of magic...

And with this episode, we move into the First Class Mage Examination arc, which will fill the remainder of the series. In addition, this episode will widen the world of the series in adding a number of new dramatis personae for our protagonists to interact with - both in this arc and in the future.

We start off with our party on a hill overlooking Äußerst, taking in the sight of the magical fortress city, located on an island in the middle of a large lake, with only one bridge entering - the city dominated by the headquarters of the Continental Magic Association. It's abundantly clear why this city exists looking at it, and with that, the party looks to find a carriage to head to the city proper. As they walk, Frieren points out that the certification would be just as - if not more - useful to Fern, and as a third class mage herself, she's more than qualified to sit for the exam (especially since, as we find out later, her performance in said exam set a record.) Fern is shocked by this - pointing out that the rank of first class mage is only held by a select few, and serve as the agents of the Association's head - the great mage Serie, whose name means "series" or "sequence" - something that Fern cannot see herself being. Stark asks why being in the company of a first class mage is needed on the Northern Plateau, and Frieren points out matter of factly that it's simple survival, given the magically inclined threats there - though if they're now requiring that level of support, the situation up north must be serious.

Finally having found a carriage, the party discusses the matter of the examination itself, and Frieren notes that given it will have a combat portion, planning will be crucial. This surprises Fern, who notes that Frieren is, well...Frieren, so the combat portion should be simple for her. Frieren (pouting over being called an old mage by Fern) then lays her head on the young mage's lap - but then sits back up, noting that she could "only see half the sky". She does get serious after, noting that mana is only part of what makes a mage a threat, and throughout her life, she had been bested by eleven other mages with less mana than her. Four were to demons - Qual being one of them, one to an elf, and human mages just like Fern.

And with that, we switch to a new human mage - a brunette woman with a ponytail, and lidded violet eyes that hint at malevolence. Said mage sits down, taking a break with a knowing smile, as bandits pop up to accost her, demanding her valuables. But before anything can happen, the bandits are repulsed by none other than the elf monk (and legendary warrior) Kraft, telling them to leave if they value their lives - a hint the brigands take. "Thanking" Kraft, the mage introduces herself as Ubel - and given that her name means "bad" or "evil", this sends warning signs - signs that Kraft pointedly notes as he makes it clear his comment about the brigands valuing their lives was less about his actions, and more about the fact that they were poking a predator - one who had already struck against other bandits in the region, whose rent corpses he found on his journeys.

(Remember back in the episode 8 recap, where I noted that the spell Frieren used to "unhand" Draht was the signature spell of a mage we'd be meeting? Meet said mage.)

Kraft notes that her actions did technically rise to self-defense as it were, but he wanted to stop the bloodshed that would have happened if the brigands had pressed Ubel. With that, he asks her if she's traveling to Äußerst, which she affirms, as she's planning to take the first class mage examination. Nothing that Frieren had told him of her plans to do the same, he thinks that she should have interesting stories to share when next they meet.

Now back to Team Frieren, they're notified by the clerk at the Continental Magic Association that the first class exam will be in two months - a good thing, as this particular examination is only held every three years. A bigger problem is that the Association requires a ranking of fifth class or higher to sit for the exam - Fern easily qualifies as a third class mage, but Frieren, despite being the legendary mage of the Party of Heroes, is officially unranked, and her holy emblem isn't exactly "current". With that, Frieren starts to walk off, but Fern stops her, making the valid point that if both of them take the exam, it would increase their odds of at least one qualifying - and they need that qualification to continue to Ende given their resources. Hearing about the holy emblem, the white-cloaked mage takes heed of the group and asks to see the emblem - and with a start asks if Frieren is here for the exam. (It turns out that said mage is Lernen - "to learn", in theming with another mage we will meet - the first of the first class mages, and the apprentice of Serie herself.) With Lernen granting her an exemption, Frieren notes grumpily that she's taking the exam after all. Fern notes that Lernen was impressed by the emblem, and Frieren says that it's supposed to be - but as a flashback to the Party of Heroes shows, even they weren't too impressed by it. Still, they note that without knowing the meaning of the emblem, they do know she is an exceptional mage - a sentiment echoed by Fern in the present day, earning her a head pat.

With that, we get some worldbuilding with the two studying to prepare - the Association ranks mages among nine ranks, with the lowest four being that of apprentice rank, and a mage of fifth class or above being considered a "full" mage (hence the requirement for sitting for the first class exam.) Frieren asks why Fern chose to get certified as a third class mage, and she notes it was simple expedience - it was the first exam available when they were in the holy city, and so it was the obvious choice. We also get a breakdown of the Association's makeup - ~2000 ranked mages, of which ~400 are "full" mages of fifth class or higher, with only 45 of those being first class mages. The first class exam is no joke either - it's only held in Äußerst or the holy city of Strahl, and often ends with nobody passing - and the test also has a mortality rate as well. Frieren notes that there are fewer mages as well - during her decade long journey, it was common for a village to have a resident mage, and towns and cities to have several - but with things so peaceful, the learning of magic - combat magic in particular - has become less of a priority. And with that, we get a training montage, interspersed with scenes like them celebrating Frieren's birthday (with a cake topped with a fire code violation's worth of candles) and a demonstration of Frieren being The Roughest Sleeper In History (which has been a bit of a running gag.)

And with that, the day of the exam has come. Addressing the candidates is the proctor for the First Test, first class mage Genau - "precise" or "exact", which tells you a lot about his character - while other first class mages point out candidates of note, like second class mage Wirbel - "whirl" or "vortex" - a mage from the north, having made a name fighting the remnants of the Demon King's army; second class mage Denken - "to think", whose name pairs with Lernen's - an old, sly mage and politician who has held the rank of Imperial Magister; before noting Fern's exceptional performance. However, the observer notes Ubel's history - a third class mage, she was disqualified when sitting for second class when she killed the proctor involved. And finally, we get to Frieren, who to said observer is a complete wild card.

Genau lays out the structure of the First Test - the examination will be held in parties of three, who will succeed or fail as a group, with the parties are assigned by bracelets, which mark the party number. Frieren is assigned to party II, and infusing the bracelet with mana identifies the other party members. She notes that this is a rather ingenious way to test the ability of the mages to build rapport and work together - with parties randomly assigned, they would have to either quickly cohere, or find themselves failing out. She notes that first impressions are important then - which is why her first impression of her new teammates is shocking, with one on top of the other, pulling her hair firmly - resulting in a cat-faced Frieren noting that "violence has been chosen." Fern finds herself in party IV, paired with none other than Ubel as well as a blond haired mage with glasses, and there's a sense of opposites coming in contact between the two female mages.

With that, we now shift to the site of the First Test, where the task they are given is...simple, it seems - the Grobe ("rough") Basin is home to a small bird called the stille ("quiet"), and each party is given till the end of the test to capture one. As the parties will succeed or fail as a group, any party without a stille by the end of the test or with missing party member(s) will fail, as well as any party leaving the test area, defined by a magic barrier placed by Serie. Party II remains a house divided, with Frieren watching her teammates continue to assault one another, but noting that they are at least paying attention as they fight. With that, Frieren suggests that they use ritualized combat - rock-paper-scissors - to decide who carries the cage.

As they walk away, Frieren introduces herself, and then the two girls do the same - the blue-garbed girl (and winner of the cage fight) is third class mage Lawine - "avalanche", fitting for an ice mage with a hair-trigger temper - and the girl in white and green is Kanne - "can", in line with "watering can", being a water mage. They're former classmates, which leads Frieren to ask if they know anything about the target of their hunt - and leads into a montage of them tracking the stille (while fighting along the way). Taking a break, Lawine says she'll scout on her own, with Frieren warning her of dangers. Kanne and Frieren talk, and Kanne asks what she meant about watching the sky, which leads into Kanne noting she's not skilled in reading mana. At that moment, Lawine retruns, noting that she's found a stille, happily standing in a small lake. Frieren tells them to watch it, but the girls demonstrate the strength of their teamwork, using their skill to trap the bird in ice. Of course, this results in the girls getting a Stille 101 lesson - the birds are fast, capable of supersonic speed and thus are able to break out of such restraints - and the stille flying past causes a wake that soaks the three to emphasize the point. Though Frieren does note that their teamwork is exceptional - something that might just get them through the test - but their fighting is going to be an issue. And so we get another montage of stille observation, continued arguing, and another failed capture.

Finally camped and resting, Kanne wakes in the middle of the night, hearing a sound and noting that Frieren was up as well. Soon, Kanne realizes what the sound is - rain hitting the barrier, being shed without falling through. However, the young mage's lack of awareness finds herself attacked by the reason Frieren warned them both about the sky - a bird monster that has decided that Kanne is on it's menu. Clutched under its talon, Kanne looks at it in fear, staff out of reach - and then magical binds snap around it, as she finds Frieren has used a folk spell for ensnaring birds to trap it, saving the young water mage. Giving Kanne a chance to relax, the elf notes that Kanne called for Lawine, which causes her to admit that the ice mage has been someone who has challenged and pushed her forward, recounting when they learned how to fly, and how Lawine got her in the air. Finally, Kanne points out the rain being blocked, and Frieren notes that this is useful information as she plots how to get their bird.
posted by NoxAeternum (3 comments total)
It took me a while to plow on ahead on this particular arc, only because I thought this would devolve into a Hunger Games battle royale, which wouldn’t really fit the vibe of this series. I’m glad my assumptions were wrong - and I enjoy Fern’s opportunity to shine in this arc.
posted by WedgedPiano at 6:15 PM on April 14

The structure of the test is worth noting, because it's designed to test what is expected of a first class mage:

* Able to work effectively in semi-random parties (we do see some pairings of mages with existing ties, like Lawine/Kanne.)
* Able to operate in areas with magically inclined threats and targets (as we'll see with the stille.)
* Able to accomplish a task given a deadline.
* Able to fend off external interference.

We'll see more of the latter starting next episode.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:06 PM on April 15

Well, that was a surprise - the most recent manga chapter that came out today (Chapter 128) revealed what Frieren's "holy emblem" actually means.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:48 PM on April 16

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