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How Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End Speaks Christ into Anime Fantasy

Are you a fantasy geek looking to step into the world of anime, but aren’t quite sure where you should start? With the most obvious jump point—The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim—delayed until December 2024, let me suggest a series that’s already on the air. Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is a moving, thoughtful, and humorous anime that also heavily features conventions typical of western fantasy stories. But it goes even further than that; this epic story speaks truths that are even more ancient, conveying to us the ways that humans were designed to be in relationship with one another, the evils that seek to destroy us, and the hope of an eternal home.

Friendship (and Evangelism) is Like Joining a Party

Frieren, a mage who has lived for centuries, is the titular elf in the series. In part because her view of time is so much wider than humans’, she doesn’t place a high value on her relationships with others. Thus even her travels with a heroic party, which last several years and lead to the demise of the great demon lord, are but a blip on her life’s timeline. I won’t spoil how, but she does eventually come to value that journey and the comrades that comprised the heroic party. Because of their friendship, Frieren starts to care for others.

Frieren’s transition between the formation of the heroic party until becoming the more altruistic individual she is now provides an example of how we as Christians might grow in our faith. Many of us, for instance, will serve the church and evangelize to those outside of the church out of a love for and obedience to God. This is fantastic, but much like Frieren in her hero’s journey, we might be doing this without really caring about the people involved. Our hearts might be set on God but not the same as His heart for the lost. This is evidenced sometimes in how we carry out church tasks but are unwilling to get involved in the lives of those we’re “ministering to,” stopping short of getting into the complexities of relationship.

And relationships are complicated for sure. It’s the same for Frieren, who begins to care for a travel with an orphaned girl named Fern and then with Stark, a young warrior lacking confidence. Slowly and surely, the group becomes a true party, and Frieren comes to know their ins and outs; at one point, she even purchases a gift for Fern, who is surprised that her seemingly emotionless mentor went out of her way to remember her birthday. And later, she trusts the two to fight extraordinarily powerful opponents, assuring them that she knows their strengths and that they will overcome their foes.

We can’t grow the kind of intimacy that leads to life-changing relationships if we aren’t willing to take the step to invest in others. It’s not about bringing our mission to them and leaving; real relationships take time, effort, and heart. Frieren travels with Fern for years and Stark for months, getting to know all about them—their ins and outs, their likes and dislikes, their beauty and peculiarities. If we want to effectively be part of God’s mission here on earth, we must do so first by being a friend like the Savior is to us, to get to know and love them as they are. 

We have to join their party.

Demons Are Always an Enemy

Comics and fantasy series like to play with the concept of demons as having a sort of dual nature. In some cases, they’re even anti-heroes. Anime plays heavily into this concept as well, particularly since the Japanese notion of such creatures isn’t connected with the demons of Christianity. But Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End presents demons is a much darker light than virtually any other anime series I’ve seen; they’re presented more along the lines of the real thing, those straight out of scripture.

Make no qualms about it, demons as described in the Bible are our enemy. They and their leader, Satan, oppress (Acts 10:38), tempt (Matthew 4:1-11), enslave (Luke 13:16), deceive (2 Corinthians 4:4), and murder (8:44). They are opposing us and trying to pull us away from our relationship with Christ. True demons are not on our side.

They’re clever, too, similar to how they’re portrayed in the world of Frieren. Though often at war with humans, the demons of Frieren are sometimes able to fool people into thinking that they have compassion and can show love like humans do. Despite Frieren’s warnings, Himmel, the party member who had the most profound influence on her life, shows mercy to a young demon at one point. That decision ultimately culminates in others’ deaths. Later, Frieren—known to demonkind as “Frieren the Slayer”—shows her unwavering determination to destroy her enemies without any such mercy.

While I admit that I enjoy stories about demons that present them as being redeemable, I have to be careful not to equate my thoughts about those characters to the real-life danger that surrounds us. The New Testament (and much of Jesus’ ministry) focuses quite often on how we must be on our guard against these evil beings. Like in Frieren, we must remember that they are the enemy; let’s fight against them with the power of scriptural truth.

Beyond Journey’s End

If the invisible world of demons is hard for modern Christians to conceptualize, so, too is the idea of the kingdom of God. Ideas about the kingdom too easily devolve into life focused just on the future, on the hope of Heaven. But the kingdom of God is both in the future and here now; a life focused on the kingdom should inevitably be about the future and about God’s will being done here “on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is structured in a way that brings that now-and-eternal-view to mind. With Frieren’s long life at its forefront, the story reaches both to the past and to the future. In fact, it’s events from decades and even centuries ago that fuel the quest for her current party. Frieren, Fern, and Stark are seeking to find a place where one can meet their former comrades, though long-departed. The hope of seeing her friends once again is the prize at the end of their travels; but the journey itself is where transformation begins to happen.

Frieren, having already taken this same route once before, could lead her party to their destination the quickest way possible. Or she could go at the pace she desires, which would perhaps take up Fern’s entire lifetime. But instead, Frieren stops to help people everywhere she goes—she fight demons to save villages, takes on requests given to her by townspeople, and offers mentorship to those that join her party. In fact, the final destination is barely mentioned in the anime; more often it’s the day to day that we see, so much so that it’s easy to forget where Frieren’s journey is meant to end.

And shouldn’t our lives be like that as well? The hope of Heaven drives us to worship him in the here and now. We are on our way to that eternal destination, but we do so by loving people along the way. 

What an unexpected message of grace that is! As Jesus opens eternity to us through forgiveness, we, too, share that love with others as we make our way toward our heavenly home. We build friendships and model Christ to those in our lives as worship to God and to be more like him in his love for us. There is so much for us to partake in on our own sojourns. Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End reminds us that indeed, we’re living out a story and that it, too, is grace-filled, party-building, evil-shunning, and destination-focused. What an epic tale! And who wouldn’t want to live a life like that?

All photos courtesy of Crunchyroll.

A husband, dad, and child of God, Twwk has resided on Planet Otaku since 2000, through his nerd and popcult origin story began in the 80s and played strongly through the 90s. He enjoys Star Wars, ASOIAF, LotR, and Meg Ryan movies, though these days you'll mostly find him with his face buried in manga and light novels. He frequently posts on Beneath the Tangles, a ministry he founded that bridges the gap between anime fans and the church.

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