Frieren: Beyond Journey's End: Conquering The Labyrinth
April 24, 2024 1:48 AM - Season 1, Episode 23 - Subscribe

The Second Test has begun, and its objective is deceptively simple - reach the depths of a dungeon that has never been fully explored. But unexplored dungeons have dangerous threats, and the one this dungeon has might be the most dangerous of them all...

Welcome to the Second Test, where the mages are going to need to actually work together, because it turns out that Sense selected Ruins Of The King's Tomb (Ultimate) for the test instance.

We start off with the remaining candidates gathered at the entrance to the Ruins, where Sense details the test - despite her reputation, she reassures them that the test will be a simple one - the Tomb Of The Kings has never been fully explored, and as such it will be the goal of the mages to do so, reaching the dungeon's vault. In addition, each mage has been provided with a bottle containing a golem of Lernen's creation - crack the bottle, and the golem will safely evacuate the candidate, though doing so will disqualify them. In addition, the bottles are enchanted to break at dawn the next day, setting a time limit on the test. Beyond that, the candidates are free to work together - all mages who reach the depths will pass, as Sense looks to travel with the candidates as well (though purely as an observer.) And with that, the Second Test begins.

Interestingly enough, the beginning has the candidates break up into logical groupings to discuss their next steps - several of the prior parties - I, VIII, XIII, and XVII - group back up together, while Frieren/Fern, Kanne/Lawine, and Land/Ubel form their own groups. Richter notes that there's multiple entrances, to which Denken notes that the design comes from the Unified Empire era (i.e. Flamme's era, or thereabouts), and thus it has a convergent design where all paths lead to the central vault. With that, Denken points out that they should work together - as he notes, the test's setup is such that cooperation is the optimal strategy. But grudges do die hard, and the First Test still has everyone on edge - and with that Ton - "clay" or "sound" - becomes the first candidate to enter alone. With that, the candidates begin to enter in parties defined by prior relationships. As Frieren and Fern enter, Sense decides to follow the two, as she perceives that they will have an easier time of it all.

With that, our protagonists with proctor in tow begin their exploration, using a magical minimap to chart out their paths as they move forward. At one point Sense is about to put her foot down before Frieren warns her she's about to step on a trap, causing the proctor to pause - causing Fern to note that her master does seem to have a strong knowledge of dungeons. As with many things, this is once again the doing of none other than Himmel, who had a thing for dungeoneering as well - seriously, the man came out of JRPG central casting. As a result, he managed to drag the Party of Heroes through dungeon after dungeon, and would explore each thoroughly (again, the man had a chronic case of JRPG protagonist.) But as with all things Himmel, he had a deeper, more emotionally resonant reason - exploration is fun, and what better way to have fun with your friends, even as the dungeons get harder? And because he knows his little elf better than anyone, he points out that if they don't explore every path, they might miss a grimoire - which promptly gets Frieren's attention. Back to the present, as they continue to walk, we see Frieren has a happy little smile on her face thinking back.

(Once again - she's in the running for The Most (Socially) Dense Object Known To Anime Fandom for a reason, but she's starting to come around.)

Back at the entrance, Lawine and Kanne enter together - not surprising, as the idea of partying with someone who did just try to kill them a few days prior doesn't sit well with the two. This leaves just Parties XIII and (most of) I at the entrance, where Denken laments the candidates not working together. Richter points out his words prior - that doing so "didn't sit right with them", while pointing out that this group is the most prudent, and that this group won't fall for mimics, to which Denken notes as they enter that anyone taking the examination isn't that naive... which we immediately cut over to Frieren pondering a chest that they've analyzed magically, determining that it is (with 99% certainty) a mimic. But with the sort of rationalization that only comes with years of practice, Frieren notes that there is that 1% chance, and that braving the unknown is how discoveries are made...and yup, we get a scene of Frieren half-swallowed by a mimic - which seems to be the natural predator of this particular elf. With a cry of "get me out!", Fern starts pulling on Frieren to extract her, to no avail. Observing this, Sense starts wondering if she made the wrong choice here.

Returning to Team Denken, as they walk carefully down a trapped corridor, they see a suspiciously human shaped stain on the floor - a sign of the danger of these traps. Reaching a gargoyle-flanked door, Denken touches it to examine it - but the statuses aren't just for show as the gargoyles come to life and attack. Working together, the mages make quick work of them (and we get a look at how skilled Methode is in combat, a good preview not only for here but also for an arc in Season 2) - but a blast from one causes Lange - "length" - to be knocked into a trapped room, with spiked walls converging on her. The party tries to free her to no avail, forcing her to shatter her bottle. The golem grows to full size and makes quick work of the trap, extracting her from the dungeon - she might be disqualified now, but she is still alive. And with that, Denken tempts fate with a simple thought of what greater dangers await below. (You're not going to like the answer, Denken.)

Back to Frieren in a mimic, it turns out that the answer to getting her out is counterintuitive - push the elf in, and trigger the mimic's gag reflex. With that, Frieren is soon out, though Fern asks how she dealt with mimics on her own - the answer being blowing them up from the inside, though that plays havoc with her hair (and has Fern remembering when she would come home with a rather...different hairstyle.) With that, they continue with the dungeoneering, exploring paths and dealing with mimics (seriously, they really are her natural predator.) Taking a break, Frieren surveys all the various treasures she's found in their exploration with giddy joy, a reaction that puzzles Sense. As the proctor and Fern watch Frieren joyfully nuzzle her haul, Sense says she doesn't understand, to which Fern notes Frieren's obsession with magical trinkets is just as much a puzzle to her as well - to which Sense notes that she was more puzzled by Fern - she is an exceptional mage, trained and drilled hard, and yet she seems bereft of passion or drive (which, again - her name does mean "aloof" or "distant".) With that, Fern tells her how she became a mage to honor Heiter's choice to save her, and how that drove her - but she never thought beyond that, and thus with her goal achieved, her passion went with it. Sense asks then why she continues to search for magic, to move onward, to which she points to Frieren - Fern notes that the woman who is both her master and her mother figure delights in the joy of finding new spells, exploring the depths of what magic can do - and in Frieren's joy Fern found hers. Considering Fern's response, Sense notes that she did indeed choose the right party to follow. Then, in the depths of the dungeon, we see a crystal shrouded in darkness flash with light - things have just gotten materially worse for the mages as the true master of the dungeon makes its move.

Returning to Team Wirbel, the trio is examining a chamber as Scharf senses a change in the atmosphere - and soon Ehre is Sorganeil - a surprising result, and one that immediately has the experienced mage on guard as Ehre reports that there are three mages lying in wait. Knowing the weakness of the binding spell on Ehre, Wirbel has Scharf throw up a barrier - and we get to see an eminently practical application of the "field of flowers" spell as Scharf uses it to create material for his spells, creating a shield of metallic petals, freeing Ehre. Looking at their ambushers, Wirbel realizes why this particular dungeon has never been conquered - they're facing magical clones of themselves. Realizing that dueling themselves in mirror matches would be a bad strategy, Wirbel pairs Scharf against his clone, Ehre against Scharf's, and himself against Ehre's. They're not the only ones facing clones, as Team Denken has confronted their own as well, dealing with a clone of Laufen. The clone was a near-perfect clone of the original, with mana and skills equal to her - the one saving grace being that the clones are monochromatic in coloring - though that's little comfort given that they're still capable of what the original is.

Yeah, if you're starting to put two and two together, this is Bad News, and Team Denken is about to find out how bad as they enter the vault antechamber - to be greeted by the official raid endboss, hovering implacably in the center of the room, staring them down:

A nearly perfect clone of the most powerful mage currently in the Ruins Of The King's Tomb - a mage who has lived a thousand years, who has become the bane of demonkind, who fought against and defeated the Demon King alongside the Party of Heroes - Frieren the Slayer.

(I commented a while back that there was a scene that had many a viewer seeing a Dark Souls or Elden Ring boss life bar appearing in their minds - this is it.)

Denken's response sums up exactly how terrifying this realization is - that if this wasn't a test, he would have used his bottle upon seeing that, as they prepare to fight.
posted by NoxAeternum (4 comments total)
So yeah, Raid Boss Frieren - this definitely falls under the "Frieren-class threat" I talked about a while ago. And it's worth noting that she's not the only threat (though she is definitely the most serious) as every mage got cloned. Though this does show that all the worries about "future enemies" wound up being overblown for the Second Test, as it's clear that success here is going to be about cooperation - especially given how utterly dangerous some of the clones are.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:56 AM on April 24

"No one taking the first-class mage test would EVER fall for a mimic!" There's a kind of humor that works best when you KNOW what the punchline is going to be. This is an example of that.

I'm having very mixed feelings about the mage exam. Superficially, this phase of the test seems like a good idea: have the test-takers that were pitted against each other in phase one demonstrate that they can still work together. But if no one ever passes Sense's tests (and a "Frieren-class threat" seems insurmountable), what really is the point, other than to beat the mages down?

And why would the mages put up with that? If you're Frieren, why put yourself out for an certificate that will be worthless almost before you know it?
posted by SPrintF at 10:07 AM on April 24

But if no one ever passes Sense's tests (and a "Frieren-class threat" seems insurmountable), what really is the point, other than to beat the mages down?

First, there's a sense that Sense's tests have such high failure rates because the candidates don't grasp that she genuinely wants them to work together. The point of the test is that a first class mage must be adaptable (and we'll see why in Season 2, when we get to see first class mages in the wild.)

Second, the thing is that while Frieren is tough, she's not invincible, and has stated as much. The next few episodes will have the mages figure out how to fight her - helped by having a reference elf to work with.

And why would the mages put up with that?

This got explained earlier - for most, the rank and "the privilege" are powerful lures. There are a few of the candidates (most notably Frieren, Fern, and Denken) who have ulterior motives as well.

If you're Frieren, why put yourself out for an certificate that will be worthless almost before you know it?

Because a) it's the easiest way to get to Ende, and b) it's an opportunity for growth for Fern - she's been too long using Frieren as her measuring stick, and needs to see how she stacks up against her peers.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:28 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]

for most, the rank and "the privilege" are powerful lures

I don't know, but this sounds an awful lot like why the demons can't bring themselves to conceal their mana: their displayed mana is a banner that projects their status and position. Maybe that's the point: the pursuit of magic for power or status is the sign of a corrupt mage. A mage that prefers an interesting spell (say, one to conjure a circle of flowers) may be the one to trust.
posted by SPrintF at 12:28 PM on April 24

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