Apr 24

By Jack McDonough, 2021 prospective JET

Teenage Thorfinn wielding a sword. Art by Grace McDonough. You can find Grace’s art here!

Picture laying in a peaceful meadow with waving fields of wheat, the melody of chirping birds, and rays of warm light from the sun above. As you stand up to walk away, a voice calls your name and you step towards it; upon taking your first step, the meadow melts away to a seascape occupied by two Viking fleets. Hundreds of ships and thousands of men clash for control of the sea as you hear the clanging of metal swords, the crunching of wood splinters, and the cries of dying soldiers. You witness death and destruction until you are thrown overboard from your ship and everything goes dark. This is the opening of Vinland Saga.

Vinland Saga is an anime produced by Wit Studio which was adapted from the manga ヴィンランド・サガ (Vinland Saga) by Makoto Yukimura. Set in the early 11th century in Danish-occupied England, Vinland Saga follows Thorfinn and his quest for revenge against Askeladd: the man who killed Thorfinn’s father Thors. Thors, a legendary warrior and former leader of the fabled Jomsvikings, deserted his position after a decade of war so that he could live in peace with his family on the island of Greenland.  The Jomsvikings find Thor’s village and demand his return to command, which is a plot to kill Thors in an ambush. Thors accepts due to their threat of destroying his village. When setting sail, Thorfinn sneaks aboard Thors’ ship. Thors is ambushed and killed by Askeladd and Thorfinn vows to kill Askeladd in a duel, going against Thors’ dying request for Thorfinn to never kill anyone. As Thorfinn is young and far from home, he joins Askeladd’s mercenaries so that he can survive and become a warrior great enough to kill Askeladd. 

Vinland Saga is a rare anime in that it’s devoid of common anime tropes, making it a show that non-anime watchers can easily get into. The show also has a great soundtrack of epic battle themes and soft, melodic piano scores that contrast the scenes of bloodshed and the beautiful landscapes Thorfinn both sees and imagines throughout his journey. The animation by Wit Studio is fantastic and transports you to the various locations shown in the anime.  Vinland Saga also has compelling characters who all have clear goals, but most of those characters die in the pursuit of achieving their dreams. 

My favorite character is Askeladd, who serves as the enemy and the father of Thorfinn as he grows up on the march in war-torn England. Thorfinn and Askeladd’s relationship morphs from avenger and villain, to soldier and commander, and eventually student and teacher.  At first, Askeladd seems like the classic sell-sword: he follows the highest bidder to become as rich as possible; but as the story progresses, you find out his goal is much greater and his deeds almost seem necessary. In one scene, Askeladd remarks, “everyone’s a slave to something,” which sums up the major theme of the story: Thorfinn is a slave to revenge, Askeladd is a slave to his nation’s legacy, and Thors is a slave to his family and finding harmony in a chaotic world. There are other characters who fit this description, but I’ll leave that for you to discover. Vinland Saga is definitely a must-watch for both anime and non-anime watchers, especially if you enjoy historical fiction, which judging from the success of shows like Peaky Blinders, Vikings, and The Last Kingdom, there are plenty of fans of the genre. As long as you’re a fan of good storytelling, then you’ll be captivated by Vinland Saga from the opening battle to the compelling conclusion.

one comment so far...

  • Maureen Novack Said on April 25th, 2021 at 12:47 pm:

    Excellent writing and art work as always!!

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