Vinland Saga Season 2
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Vinland Saga (TV 2) ?
Community score: 4.4
This season of Vinland Saga has had me thinking about how rare it is in anime to see characters grow in the way that Thorfinn has. Oh, sure, we get time skips all the time, and you have legacy sequels to fan favorites that give us a glimpse of characters' lives years down the line, but there's something about the process of Thorfinn's transformation that has felt so visceral and all-encompassing. When you compare the boy we met back in 2019 to the man we see in “Cursed Head,” it feels almost impossible to recognize them as the same person, and that's exactly what's so moving about it. To see Einar and Thorfinn fell the last tree and near the end of their long road to freedom, to see Thorfinn smile so earnestly, is a moment that a longtime viewer of Vinland Saga cannot help but treasure dearly, because we have seen our hero grow not only in stature and muscle mass and facial hair length but in his capacity to live his life as a free man (in spirit, if not yet in the body). This kind of character development makes a man like Thorfinn feel real.
It also helps that the visuals have been so rock solid, this season. Sure, the vocal performances and music are good enough that the pathos would probably still be flowing if the show were nothing but a static series of stick figure drawings done up on a bunch of sticky notes, but the lovely art direction and character animation are certainly appreciated, all the same. When Thorfinn is quietly but confidently articulating his dream for his free future—to somehow rid the world of war and slavery—it would be easy for the scene to fall into unflattering schmaltz, if the direction were poorer. The way the show focuses on Thorfinn's meticulously animated and detailed hands, though, makes you feel the core truth of Thorfinn's dream, no matter how lofty or naïve it might be. It makes you want to make that world a reality just as bad as Thorfinn.
All of this transformational growth can be channeled for less than wholesome purposes, though, as our ambitious King Canute so clearly demonstrates. Not content with simply reigning over England, Canute has arrived in Denmark to visit his ailing brother Harald, whose oh-so convenient imminent death will just so happen to place the country under the younger brother's rule. We saw back in Episode 5 the path of blood that Canute has been willing to carve in his pursuit of power, but while this latest addition to Canute's growing body count doesn't feel as revelatory as Thorfinn's conversion to a life of pacifism, it's just as indicative of a determined man's power to shape his destiny. For better, and for worse.
Vinland Saga does an excellent job of establishing Canute as Thorfinn's true foil. Where Thorfinn was a violent and lost child who has grown into a more compassionate and whole adult, Canute has willingly tossed aside whatever innocence or chivalry he possessed in his youthful days, all to be sacrificed on the altar of power. The very obvious and cruel murder of Harald is made all the more tragic when Canute reflects on how much he loved Harald as a boy. His big brother never paid any mind to the gossip and power struggles that defined the royal experience; all that mattered was that Canute was given the opportunity to be loved, and to be taught. To grow.
Does the dying Harald feel like all that effort to help his brother grow into a fine young king was worth it? It's hard to say, and it isn't like what he thinks will matter for much longer. Is Canute satisfied with the ruthless path he's chosen? I'm sure he'd tell us, “Of course!” The visions of his father's severed and sardonic head would have me calling the King's bluff, I think. As the former King points out, the ambition that Canute embraced is as much of a curse as it is a useful tool, and the trouble that Canute is inviting is never simply going to cease. Thorfinn has found peace by seeking a life of self-sustenance and kindness, even if it robs him of the power he could once wield over suffering strangers. Canute is seeking peace through power, as if more land and more subjects will someday fill the void in his heart. Far be it from me, one of the common folk, to decide whether or not that plan is doomed from the start, but it's plain enough for us to see how Canute sinks into himself as he reflects on what he's done. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, after all.
Vinland Saga Season 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.
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