Based on the manga written and illustrated by Makoto Yukimura, Vinland Saga is a historical anime that takes place in Dane-controlled England during the 11th century and follows a group of Vikings. One of them is Thorfinn, the son of an ex-warrior who was killed in front of him and he’s on a quest for revenge. At the same time, we also see the rise of Canute, a prince who would eventually become king of the Danes. This story is based on historical events that actually happened and it’s grounded in reality for the most part, meaning that there’s no supernatural elements involved. The studio behind this anime is Wit Studio, who also worked on Attack On Titan and you can tell in the animation. It manages to hit that fine line between gorgeous and raw. I’ve seen people compare it to Game Of Thrones, which I thought was a stretch since Vinland Saga isn’t a fantasy series. But I eventually understood that wasn’t why the comparisons were made. Mainly, it’s because the world being presented, like our own world, views morality in shades of gray rather than black-and-white. It does makes sense since this is about Vikings after all.
Most of the characters, if not all of them, are based on historical figures, be it more loosely. In terms of anime protagonists, Thorfinn isn’t one of my favorites. In the beginning, he starts off as a wide-eyed kid who idolize his own father Thors, a former warrior who grew tired of combat and decided to settle down and raise a family in Iceland. After Thors’ death, Thorfinn becomes an angsty teen obsessed with revenge. I get why he’s become the way he is, but he’s so blinded by anger that he makes dumb decisions, which is a shame because when he’s calm, he is a capable warrior, using his small stature to his advantage. He ends up joining the group of Vikings led by the man responsible for his father’s death, Askeladd, in the hopes of killing him in a duel. Speaking of, Askeladd became one of the more interesting characters in the series. He’s shown to be a capable leader, a masterful tactician, and a nasty manipulator. The relationship between Askeladd and Thorfinn is an antagonistic mentor-and-apprentice one that shows a weird contradiction where Askeladd seems to not care for the kid, yet he does at the same time. Another major character in the series is Canute, who starts off appearing like a timid wimp who wouldn’t hurt a fly. In the events of the series, he goes through a radical change where he becomes more of a stern leader type who seeks to make the world a better place by becoming king.
You know who’s my favorite character in this series? Thorkell. He’s a hulking giant who just enjoys fighting and is a beast. This dude punched a horse in its chest to stop it. He was throwing giants stakes at motherfuckers like it was nothing. And he’s just having the time of his life. I enjoyed the two fights he had with Thorfinn because it’s a great show of strength vs speed. There’s a whole bunch of other characters that are interesting in their own ways.
Before watching this series, I heard a lot of people talk about it and how it was Anime Of The Year. This was when the first three episodes were released at the same time. So I gave it a watch and I initially thought it was just okay so far. The first three episodes are focused on a young Thorfinn and his family living in Iceland and it’s a slow beginning, which is not uncommon for a lot of anime series. Usually, the first couple of episodes are used to establish the world and the characters. Even with that, I kept watching because I was at least interested in seeing where the story goes. If you’re going into this anime looking for nonstop action, you will be a bit disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of action here and they don’t hold back in terms of violence. But a good chunk of this story is more driven by dialogue and history. If you’re a history buff, you’ll appreciate the attention of detail being brought into the series to make it closer to reality. Going back to action, Wit Studio did a brilliant job with the action. I mentioned that it was brutal, but it’s not for glorification, but to show the grizzly reality of the times. The final episode ends with Askeladd killing the king and Canute’s father and he ends up dying at the hands of Canute, setting the stage for the latter to take the crown. Thorfinn, meanwhile, is spared from the death penalty after attempting to kill Canute and is sentenced to slavery.
And that was Vinland Saga. Despite a slow beginning, I found myself invested in this anime. Great animation, plenty of brutal action, and an interesting story that shines a light on the dark reality of war and faith. If you want to watch something more mature, then this is the anime for you. All 24 episodes are available to watch on Amazon Video. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, well, there’s other ways to watch it. If you’re a dub person, bad news: there is no English dub of this anime yet. One last thing: this entire season was a prologue, which means that the next season is when the story of Vinland Saga really begins. That second season can’t come soon enough. In the meanwhile, I’ll be checking out the manga and you should as well. Next time, …