「じゃあ元気で」 (Jaa Genki de)
The new year anime hiatus is always an odd time of year for me as a writer. It’s really the only extended break I get from episodic coverage on the entire calendar, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy that. But by the time the winter season rolls around I’m always antsy to get back to the grind (until I’m exhausted again after about three days). Dungeon Meshi was the start of a trickle; now we’re basically preparing for the flood.
Sousou no Frieren kicks off its second cour (the only series I remember to do so with Episode 17) with an episode that could hardly be more Sousou no Frieren-like. Which is great in the sense that I’ve really started to vibe with it over the past several eps. But just as I’m really getting into it, Frieren is headed for big change – as evidenced by the faces prominent (and absent) in the previews of the second cour. And the new OP too, for that matter. My great fear is that on paper this looks like a Mahoutsukai no Yome-style Hogwarts arc, though a couple of manga readers have described it as being more like the Hunter Exam. Whichever, it’s not going to be business as usual.
This starts with Sein, and while his departure was hinted at in the mid-finale and effectively confirmed by the aforementioned PV and OP, it still sucks. I imagine we’re going to see Sein at some point in the future, but I felt that his was an extremely positive impact on the chemistry of the cast. Sein was blunt spoken and saw things from the perspective of a jaded adult. That meant he could call Fern and Stark out on their teen nonsense (“Start dating already!”, indeed). He could tell Frieren things she needed to hear, too, things which Fern and Stark would not either because they lack the experience to see them or the stature in their relationship with her to share.
It certainly makes sense for Sein’s character arc that he would leave to pursue Gorilla. Until he gets closure there, that relationship will always hang over him. But it still sucks (repeat) for the series, and his parting was mighty abrupt. His final act with the group was, in effect, mediating a dispute (at Frieren’s pleading) between Stark and Fern. As you’d expect it was over something silly (Stark reciprocating after Fern touched his cheek earlier), and went no deeper than Stark’s social clumsiness and Fern’s hypersensitivity. But Sein’s value to the dynamic is obvious here just the same. I think his absence is especially tough on Stark, who’s really the odd man out in the group without Sein.
At this point the focus turns to Fern getting sick as the trio continue on their journey. Hiking through the mountains in the winter it’s only surprising that doesn’t happen more often. Sein would have been more than handy here, but he at least left Frieren a sheaf of notes on medicinal herbs. Frieren loves to hold Fern’s hand when she’s sick, which Stark keenly observes she complains about only because he’s there to witness it. Frieren learned this behavior from Himmel, unsurprisingly – she learned far more from him than she realizes (and she realizes a fair bit).
There’s not much to be said about this sequence, really, except that it’s classic Sousou no Frieren. The “icicle cherry tree” was lovely, so was Frieren’s talk with Stark in its shadow, and seeing her play mother as best she can is quite impactful. She learned how to care from the ones who cared for her as no one else had. And while Frieren seems dispassionate and distant, it’s been obvious for a long time that those ten years changed her more than her other 990 (or however many it is) combined. This is a good mode for the series to be in – let’s hope the myriad major changes about to happen don’t throw it off its game.