Frieren: Beyond Journey's End: Well-Laid Plans
April 16, 2024 1:06 AM - Season 1, Episode 19 - Subscribe

With the First Test continuing, Frieren and her two young mage compatriots still need to acquire a stille - and they're not the only team in that boat. But given the stille's traits and the implications of Serie's barrier, Frieren hatches a plan to catch one - the problem being that said plan is by its nature picking a fight with all the other teams without a stille...

And in this episode, the First Test really kicks into gear, as machinations begin - after all, Genau only said you had to have a stille at the end of the test, not that you had to catch it.

We start off (after a short recap of the conditions for the First Test being laid out) with Frieren up and pondering by the campfire, while Lawine and Kanne sleep in their shelter, cuddled together. As she looks at the two, Frieren recounts Kanne talking about Lawine after the attack, thinking about next steps while flashing back to her travels with Himmel, and how he would reassure them not with bombastic speeches as is typical, but by...just being Himmel, the man who would prove himself by deed worthy of the title of hero. Walking over and looking at the young mages sleeping, she notes the wisdom of Heiter's words - every party needs something different to motivate and reassure those in it.

Flipping to Fern and Party IV, the trio has managed to catch one of the birds, but Land - the blond haired second class mage, whose name is self-explanatory - notes that this only means that the test has truly started. Because now that they have a stille, this puts a bullseye on their backs for every party that doesn't - a thought that excites the bloodthirsty Ubel.

Meanwhile, Party II begins reviewing what they've learned about the little yet powerful birds: they can go supersonic (so chasing them is a fool's errand), they're actually more akin to dragons than birds (so they're immune to a lot of spells to effect their minds), their speed and draconic strength makes physical restraint useless, and they're highly sensitive to mana (which is trouble for a bunch of people who literally radiate the stuff.) Worse still, the stille have no mana signature themselves, meaning that one of the ways mages track their world is completely useless to them - and there's no telling how many there are, meaning that there might not be enough stille to go around. All in all, the three have two problems - finding a stille, and then catching it, to which Frieren notes that the latter is something she can handle, using the binding spell that she used to save Kanne - a folk spell used by hunters to capture birds, as long as the target reads as "bird" to the wielder. This begins a major part of worldbuilding that we'll see expounded on in this arc - in the world of Frieren, the core of magic is visualization - if you can envision and comprehend a result, then a spell can cause it to happen. This is why the folk spell worked on the monster - to Frieren, it read as a "bird" (if a large, monstrous one.) That said, there's one small problem - the spell has a very limited range, which means that they need to get the stille to come to them.

Thankfully, Serie's barrier has provided a solution - it's blocking water from entering the test area, which means that water is now accumulating at low points and pools. Given that the stille are highly sensitive to mana, all you need to do is dope the larger sources with mana to frighten the stille away, and you can drive them to seek out a pool that isn't mana-tainted - where you lie in wait. The problem with doing this is that this is a test of exceptionally skilled mages, after all - there's bound to be some that are going to figure out what they're doing, and in doing so will tell them that Party II has a plan to catch one. In short, doing this is going to pick a fight with everyone else who doesn't have a stille. Still, it is a solid plan, given the situation, so they move forward.

Back to Party IV, the three mages now hole up in a cave, as having a stille means that moving around not only serves no purpose but puts them at risk from attack by another party that figures attacking them will be easier than catching the little birds. Unfortunately, they have a problem there as well - they need water, with their canteens running dry, and the barrier has cut off all external water sources, so the streams that would be running through the region are now dry. This presents a danger because (as noted above) the stille will gravitate to the remaining water sources, which in turn will cause the other parties to follow - and thus obtaining water means risking conflict. Unfortunately, the concern of an ambush is precient, as this is the moment where Wirbel and the rest of Party VIII attacks the three from the trees, though he wasn't counting on Fern's awareness or speed as she not only stops the attack but returns a barrage of Zoltraak for his trouble. With the opening pleasantries out of the way, the mages pair off - Wirbel confronts Ubel, Scharf - "sharp", referring to the needles the third class mage uses in combat - takes on Land, and Ehre - "honor", a fitting name for the second class mage given that she's not only an honors magic school graduate, but the granddaughter of Lernen himself - pairs off with Fern. Wirbel tells them to leave the cage, to which Ubel responds in kind, and the magical duels are about to kick off...when suddenly a massive outpouring of mana comes from the lake.

Party II has kicked off their plan, and with a show of force with Lawine openly freezing the lake solid - to which Wirbel notes that they just made fifty new enemies with that act. One of the parties starts by trying to melt the ice, but Party XIII's Denken, watching from the trees notes that this is a fool's errand - even if the ice was melted, the mana infused into the water by both the freezing and melting would insure that no stille would think of getting close. His teammate Richter - a fitting name in two ways, as it's meaning of "judge" suits his personality, and having the name used for the measurement of earthquakes befits his being a geomancer - asks what they should do, to which the sly old mage notes to both Richter and Laufen - "running", which we'll see why she's named that - that their option is to steal now, and if Party II just pulled that stunt, they clearly have a plan to catch a stille. Catching up on the others, we see Kanne executing her side of the plan, quietly doping other pools with mana, constraining the water sources the stille have to use; meanwhile as their festivities start Fern is left wondering what her master has planned. Land calls to the others, telling them to scatter, so that the fight becomes a matter of separate duels.

Observing the response to Lawine's act, Denken notes that other mages have taken flight to find other sources of water - but in doing so have opened themselves up to the dangers of the air - where the large predatory bird monsters lurk in wait. As such, Denken notes that their only option is to wait for Party II to show their hand - and as they move into the woods, his earlier observation bears grim fruit as they find the corpses of the party that took to the air draped on the branches of a tree - bait for more prey for the monsters. Laufen asks why the test would be held in such a place, to which Richter points out the simple reality - the test is meant to simulate the very real threats a first class mage will face, and thus dying simply proves that the candidate was unfit (to which Genau provides acknowledgement.) Denken shows disapproval of that mode of thought, which surprises Richter, given his position as Imperial Magister, to which the mage notes that what is more important is the symbolism of what first class mages represent, rather than outright power itself, as power is meaningless without the symbolism. As he notes from hard won experience, "might makes right" only works until the people's hate overpowers their fear - what makes for stable rule is winning the hearts and minds of the populace. Richter then calls Denken weak, which has the mage respond that he can still kick his ass with ease if he so chooses.

Finding several pool of waters, Denken examines them as Party II begins to execute their plan. The old mage notes that all the watering holes they found have been subtly doped with mana, making sure that the stille would avoid them - and Laufen realizes what Denken has - there is an untouched watering hole that Party II is driving the stille to, and that is where they will make their move. Sitting, Denken notes that he's going to rest - the testing area is immense, and a search would be too difficult to execute. No, the winning move here is to wait, as when Party II makes their move, they'll know exactly where they are. Returning to Frieren and the two young mages, the elf notes that limiting the watering holes should be enough to force the stille to their hands at the one they set up, and now it's Frieren's part of the plan as she can suppress her mana to near nothingness - letting her lie in wait. And lie in wait she does, with Kanne and Lawine laying in watch as animals of all sorts come to slake their thirst, until, as the sun sets, a stille perches on Frieren, well in range for her to catch the bird. But Frieren notes that the real test is about to begin, as Denken detects her use of magic - and with that Party XIII makes their move to challenge Party II for their prize. Meanwhile, the duels between Parties IV and VIII kick off, with Ehre noting that Fern's combat style is refined to a polish, but also dated - much like her grandfather's (which given who that is makes the comparison quite the compliment.) Fern points out that Frieren taught her that the basics of combat magic (that is, Zoltraak) is enough for the mages of the current era - a comment the young mage takes personally with a hail of stone bullets. Meanwhile Wirbel and Ubel are at it hammer and tongs, the two mages being masters of battle in their own way, as Ehre notes that Wirbel's skill and experience fighting the remnants of the Demon King's army makes him a very dangerous fighter - though Fern has her suspicions that Ubel will be a match for him.
posted by NoxAeternum (6 comments total)
So yeah, this is a fun episode as we see the mages actually get into some conflict, in particular Fern and her team taking on Wirbel's crew. We also get to see the cruel deviousness of the structure of the First Test, as the setup and its inherent stresses become clear - especially when we see the bodies on the tree. It's clear that next episode is going to kick off the fireworks factory as we clearly have the Party IV/VIII and Party II/XIII fights to resolve.

More important here (especially if you're planning on reading the manga after finishing the series to see what happens next) is the insight we get into Denken, who is one of the major candidates after Frieren in terms of threat (and it's pretty clear the story is going to put the two in conflict.) We get a wonderful demonstration of how to use plot twists and deception successfully, as the prior episode set up a very particular picture of who Denken is supposed to be, only for this episode to pull the rug out as we get the sly old mage dissect that image thoroughly with his observations on the nature of power and force. This is the episode where I grew to like the old mage, as he winds up being both shrewd and noble - representing the concept of noblesse oblige in the best meaning of the term. Which is good if you're reading the manga or waiting eagerly for season 2, as there's an upcoming arc where he'll play a major role.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:18 AM on April 16

I'm not sure how I feel about this story. We haven't met many (any?) human mages before this, other than Fern, but don't the other test-takers seem somewhat... monstrous? Like, now that the Demon King is no more, humans are scrambling to become the world's new demons?
posted by SPrintF at 12:52 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]

but don't the other test-takers seem somewhat... monstrous?

Not really - honestly, the issue is that Genau's an asshole, and created a test that's meant to put pressure on the candidates until they break (something that Denken dislikes.) Also, it's worth remembering that the Demon King's forces are still around in part (this is why they need the certification, remember) and that's shaped some of the candidates like Wirbel.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:44 PM on April 17

but don't the other test-takers seem somewhat... monstrous?

Yes, absolutely. Many of these people are willing to kill each other to pass a test. And killing other test takers is not disqualifying.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 6:57 AM on April 18

Many of these people are willing to kill each other to pass a test.

We only see one test taker who openly takes that particular position, and it winds up impacting him later in a few ways. Wirbel attempting to kill Ubel is more about his feelings about someone like her with her reputation than passing/not passing.

There's also the fact that the test is set up this way, and we'll get some background later on why that is (suffice it to say, Serie is as vicious as she is petty.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:14 AM on April 18

The Field Exam is a subtrope of the Tournament Arc. I'm not sure why but these are usually among the best arcs in a show. Maybe it's because they rely on ensemble casts that help fill out world building, maybe it's because we all love a lawyer finding a loophole in the rules. This one is very much modeled after the Naruto's Second Chuunin Exam rules: acquire and keep a mcguffin, and bring it across the finish line (although Naruto escalates by requiring you steal a mcguffin from another team). All the same team combat dynamics emerge.

Team 2's approach was far better than I was thinking: what if the only way to catch a bird that flees to safety was to make everywhere else so dangerous the cage was the safe option? And this thought was only reinforced when they suggested going through with it would pick a fight with all the other teams. Anyways, while setting the entire forest on fire would definitely rile things up, the show instead highlighted the importance of water. Many times in the show this is foreshadowed. Kanne mentions the barrier stops the rain, Ubel mentions the dry river bed, and we know Kanne's magic depends on water.

Like, now that the Demon King is no more, humans are scrambling to become the world's new demons?

I think that's the logical conclusion. Earlier in the season Lugner mentions that demons focus and hone one magic their entire life. Every mage in the tournament other than Frieren seemingly has a singular focus: cutting, binding, water, ice, stone, teleportation, etc. And like, if you think about it, the demon's downfall is a mixture of pride and honesty. Humans and demons lie with words, but Flamme, Frieren and Fern deceive with magic too.
posted by pwnguin at 9:19 AM on April 25

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