「級魔法使い選抜試験」 ( Ikkyuu Mahoutsukai Senbatsu Shiken)
“First-class Mage Exam”
I’m sure the charge of a self-fulfilling prophecy could be laid, but I confess I didn’t find this episode of Sousou no Frieren to be especially compelling. It was fine, but I already get the sense that the series is straying from the themes that made it click for me. Like Mahoutsukai no Yome I think Frieren tends to be better the less conventional it tries to be. And even if this is more a “Hunter Exam” than “Hogwarts” arc (Goc help up, may it not last as long as either) it smacks of conventionality from the moment it kicks off.
For starters, the Frierengumi arrives in Äußerst (thank Heaven for copy and paste), the great magical city of the north. Also arriving is Übel (Hasegawa Iukumi), though not before a meeting in the woods with our old friend Kraft. He appears to save her from a group of bandits, but it’s pretty clear from the start he’s actually saving them. If this is the hunter exam she’s Hisoka, disqualified from the last exam for killing the proctor. I guess the Mage’s Guild doesn’t prohibit someone from re-taking the exam for that any more than the Hunter Association does, so Übel is back and mugging for the camera.
The exam, as it turns out, is only offered once every three years (how lucky that it’s only two months off when Frierentachi arrive). The hitch is that one must be a fifth-class mage or higher to take it, and Frieren is officially no class at all. Initially she’s prepared to leave it to third-class mage Fern, who lacks confidence despite being the youngest ever to be third-class with a perfect score, but Fern’s argument that the cost of hiring a mage companion would eat into their snack money is persuasive. Fortunately one of the boffins at the guild recognizes the holy emblem pendant she carries despite it already having been outdated when she was traveling with the heroes’ party (that comment about the others dying so soon was pretty thoughtless, but that’s Frieren).
If you’re wondering about Stark’s role in all this, well, as expected it’s basically zero (him sleeping through their research/training was rather symbolic, I thought). As the exam kicks off we meet a few of the other entrants, most prominently Kanne (Waki Azumi) and Lawine (Suzushiro Sayumi), who get paired off with Frieren for the three-mage team alignment of the first test (Fern gets the sociopath in her party). Watching two characters I don’t know bicker about stuff I don’t care about for half the episode didn’t hold much appeal for me, but these two look and act like modern anime characters so I’m sure they’re fulfilling their intended role.
That first test is to capture a little orange bird called a stille, which unsurprisingly only Frieren from her party has heard of. And to do so with all three members being present at the end. The stille is more than meets the eye – strong enough to shatter a magical ice trap and fly faster than the speed of sound – but there’s not much drama about how this will turn out. Togashi certainly made this format work, but he did so at the beginning of the series when everything and everyone was new to us. And he was totally fearless in the way he went about executing the plot (and some of the characters). That’s a pretty high bar for Sousou no Frieren to clear to make this arc engaging, but maybe it will surprise me.