What they say:
Frieren, Fern and Stark confront the demons in the village. Stark and Fern fight Linie and Lugner respectively while Frieren goes to confront Aura. Frieren’s past revealed!
Content (Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
I was hesitant to adopt the idea but I decided to wait until the end of this mini “Aura arc” to write this review. Despite a gush of words I could make to describe all of the amazing things packed into each episode, they all build to something incredible by the end. The first part of this saga has Frieren easily dispatch Draht and escape, only to be caught by Stark and Fern. While the two of them are anxious about facing the demons, Frieren is confident the two of them can defeat Lugner and Linie, and Fern casually drags Stark along and says they should steel themselves. Fern’s personality has been a continuous delight over the series. It’s another way she takes after Frieren. “It’s going to be difficult, let’s brace for the pain” so nonchalantly while Stark is nearly wetting himself.
They go to rescue Granat, the city leader who has been taken captive by the demons. Lugner’s power to manipulate blood suits him perfectly. The red malice lying within that can’t be seen until he brings it out is a great visualization for the nature of demons. He even uses his teeth to bite his hand in order to bring the blood out, which could serve as a visual for using their words to manipulate humans as their true nature.
There’s also some great action animation between Granat and Lugner using his sword. The animation quality and directing remain consistently top-notch. In the cover of night, Stark sneaks in to help rescue Granat only to be caught by Lugner and Linie. Lugner initially has the upper hand until Fern shows up to land a devastating blow, floating in the sky the same way Frieren does when she confronts Aura. Fern tells them she used Zoltraak, the same spell Qual used. This is when Lugner realizes Frieren must be in the city somewhere or off to fight Aura who is outside with an army of undead soldiers, since she was instrumental in developing anti-Zoltraak magic, and Lugner is clearly concerned because Frieren has earned a nickname for herself among demons as “Frieren the Slayer.”
The next chapter in this story is all action. Fern faces off against Lugner and Stark against Linie. The one story detail we need to know is that Aura’s ability is known as the Scales of Obedience. Two souls are pitted against each other and the soul with larger mana compels the weaker soul to obey the victor. Because Aura is a famous demon, her mana output has allowed her to subjugate an uncountable number of soldiers over hundreds of years despite the spell’s risky nature.
Elsewhere, Fern goes at it with Lugner but he’s overwhelmed by the sheer output of her attacks and eventually, she’s able to land a fatal blow. Things work out as easily for Stark. Linie’s ability is to mimic the movements of other fighters she’s met, and against Stark she copies the moves of the warrior Eisen from the Hero Party, Stark’s master. Initially defeated from the thought of fighting his master’s moves, he comes to a simple revelation. Linie can copy Eisen’s moves but not his strength. Stark willingly takes a blow confirming his suspicions and lands a fatal counter on Linie, killing her. The buildup leads back to Frieren facing off against Aura’s army. This was the first test for Fern and Stark against demons and they passed with flying colors. There’s excellent action animation throughout this episode too, of course. Before Lugner dies, he questions how Fern was able to keep up that barrage of attacks despite the little amount of mana she possesses and he comes to a grim realization and accuses Fern of being a disgrace to mages before Fern kills him.
The final chapter on this story begins with Frieren’s backstory. She’s found by Flamme as the sole survivor of an elf village that was massacred by the Demon King’s army. Frieren managed to kill the general attacking but there were others. Frieren sees Flamme’s mana and it doesn’t look like much but she senses that Flamme is much stronger than she appears. When the other demon generals appear to take Frieren back and kill her, Flamme reveals that she’d been suppressing her mana to appear weaker in order to goad the demons into attacking out of cockiness and uses her full strength to annihilate them instantly. She calls it a form of trickery and begins teaching Frieren magic starting with that exact technique. By now the audience starts to put the pieces together as to what is about to happen. Aura is going to use her scales on Frieren because she appears to have a little amount of mana, but Aura is ignorant of the fact that Frieren has been keeping her true power a secret.
The great director Alfred Hitchcock described suspense as a situation where the audience has more knowledge than the characters. Suppose two people have a conversation and a bomb explodes. The audience may be surprised but this is not suspense. Now let’s say the audience knows the bomb is there because they saw the villain place it there earlier and that it will detonate in 15 minutes with a clock in frame. Suddenly the audience is invested in what’s happening, eager to warn the characters of the situation. What’s happening here with Frieren is the same concept. As we see Frieren learn with Flamme over the years, the two discuss how a demon would never consider such a concept.
Flamme tells Frieren demons form the most basic connections to humanity in order to deceive them. To demons, mana is like wealth and knowledge as well as power. They would never suspect a human (or elf) would consider hiding their true mana. This only adds to the tension. “Give them pleasure,” said Hitchcock. That sweet release with the tension breaking. “The same pleasure they have when waking up from a nightmare.” As the runtime continues, the audience craves Aura pulling out the scales. These episodes have all been building to this moment. It was a brilliant play to time Frieren’s backstory with this confrontation. As Aura taunts Frieren for having allegedly exhausting her mana, she finally pulls out the scales and they tip toward Aura. Then the tension breaks and the audience gets what it wants. Frieren releases her true mana and her aura is massive, engulfing the entire area. Aura may have lived for over 500 years, but Frieren has lived for over a thousand. Her mana overwhelms Aura’s on the scales and Frieren only gives a single order to the compelled demon; “kill yourself.”
There’s one more flashback to 80 years ago when Frieren first meets the Hero Party. While Heiter remarks Frieren doesn’t have much mana, Himmel senses she’s stronger than she appears in the same way Frieren did to Flamme and this is what sparks her to agree to join the Hero Party. Again, the series is great with creating visual and thematic parallels between all the characters. With this chapter concluded, I can’t wait to see where the trio heads next. Manga readers have told me the story gets laxer from here, back to what it was like initially. But that’s okay. This batch of episodes has proved that Frieren remains in capable hands whether it’s backstory, action, or easy-going adventure.
These episodes were Frieren at its strongest. Filled with superb action animation, character parallels, Frieren’s backstory, and a masterful exercise in tension, it has everything I wanted out of them and more. I didn’t even mention Evan Call’s hot score during episode 9. I didn’t expect to get Frieren’s backstory so early but it works, and with that, we’re headed down from the emotional high to what is bound to be a calmer adventure for a while until the next big set of episodes. But that’s okay. The series is in good hands.
Streamed by: Crunchyroll.