Late Review: "Vinland Saga"
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*Review may contain SPOILERS, so go ahead and watch it on Amazon Prime.*
**Also review only covers the anime. Manga reviews for another time.**
"A true warrior doesn't need a sword".
As 2020 is still on pause due to a global pandemic, it's time for to look at the pieces of media that released in the past year or so.
Vinland Saga follows the story of Thorfinn, a Nordic boy as he attempts to get revenge for the death of his father at the hands of a Viking pirate (they call them pirates in the series, but I'm not historically too sure). What entails the boy is a life of war, death and mental abuse. Themes of grief, sacrifice, and redemption all circle the arcs of multiple characters including Thorfinn.
Based on actual historical figures and events, Vinland Saga weaves a tight story that allows for great character development. Though I'm sure that the manga allows for more time to flesh out backstories, the series packs so much information in just 24 episodes.
"Actions speak louder than words." This sentiment holds true even when it comes to film and TV. Character's actions reveals so much about their mindset and their true intentions. In this very way, Askeladd becomes one of the best written characters in anime, maybe even television. Askeladd is one of the main antagonists (could be argued that he's one of the protagonists though) as he is responsible for the death of Thorfinn's father. He starts off being a source of hatred for Thorfinn. Akseladd returns the animosity yet he pities Thorfinn at the same time. Thorfinn (he's around the age of 6 or 7 at this time) challenges Askeladd to a duel to the death yet Askeladd spares him and tells him "to prove himself on the battlefield". He provides food for the young boy and gives him advice many times during their duels yet Thorfinn (understandably) refuses to take it. Later on in the series, it is revealed that Askeladd is half-Nordic and half-Welsh. For this very reason, Askeladd hates the Vikings and yet he leads an army of them. In addition, his one true friend is a Viking. It's the minor details and his actions that give insight into Askeladd's psyche. He cares about himself most of the time yet he is sympathetic to those around him.
Thorfinn is not a one-dimensional character either. Behind Askeladd, Thorfinn is the second best character in this series. We see Thorfinn grow into a sweet boy who loves his father, to a merciless killer who only wishes to kill Askeladd with his own bare hands. Though some may say that his character arc is a bit simple, it is the moments in which we catch Thorfinn alone that make him such a relatable person. In these fleeting moments, we see Thorfinn reminisce about his father and think about the words of advice he gave. He struggles with the life he lives and the peace his father preached. There were multiple times where Thorfinn has the chance to finally kill Askeladd or betray him yet he never does it. This inner struggle is never really resolved until the very last minute of the series. The wait is definitely worth it but it is clear that Thorfinn's journey does not end there.
These are just some of the character arcs in Vinland Saga. There are several more compelling characters: Thors (Thorfinn's father), Prince Canute, Bjorn, Thorkell, Leif Erikson (yes, that Leif Erikson), and Ragnar just to name a few.
I will admit as great as the writing is, this series is not for everyone. There are a couple parts where characters are supposed to speak/switch to other languages such as French, Nordic, and English yet everyone speaks Japanese. This can get a bit confusing to say the least.
In addition, there are not as many fight scenes as it could have for a series based off of the Vikings. It is not for the faint of heart though. There are multiple gruesome death scenes where heads and blood flies everywhere. There is one particular scene where Thorfinn fights with an English soldier that can be especially hard to watch.
The story gets a bit stale about midway through the series. The show starts with Thorfinn's revenge quest against Askeladd. Around episode 6 or 7, it switches stories to the overarching narrative of the Danish Invasion of England. Thorfinn's story takes a backseat for much of the later episodes until the very end where both stoires intertwine.
With that being said, the animation is phenomenal (the same animation studio behind Attack on Titan) in the fight scenes that do happen. Each character has their own facial expressions that come to life during intense scenes. The ending is a bit subpar but only because the manga follows Thorfinn all the way to adult-hood and the anime series only covers his childhood up to his teen years.
Since the global pandemic is putting everything on pause, there is no news on a second season. Though when it finally does happen, you can count on me watching.