by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Vinland Saga ?
It's only taken about a half-dozen episodes, but Thorfinn has officially settled into his role as a perpetually grim murder magician who communicates primarily through scowls and stabbings, like a little Norse John Wick. The driving force of this episode is blood simple: Askeladd sees an army of Franks camped just ahead of a well-guarded fort filled with treasure, and it's Thorfinn's job to figure out how to use the former to get to the latter. Thorfinn demands that once the deed is done, Askeladd must finally accept his challenge to duel. Askeladd agrees, but only if Thorfinn can bring back the head of a suitably high-ranked enemy officer, specifically one well-off enough to have a helmet.
So Thorfinn makes his way into the French battalion's camp, and he finds a translator to help him convince their general Jabbathe to lay siege to the enemy fort. Once everything is in place, the boy sprints head on into the battlefield, hacking and slashing his way through scores of men, all so he can get the one thing he truly wants. He's going to get the enemy commander's head so he can go after Askeladd's.
This episode isn't terribly concerned with hard-hitting character development, challenging themes, or even grand spectacle. There are a few choice cuts of animation to marvel at, including a particularly creative sequence where we seen Thorfinn execute a bunch of soldiers in first-person, but the episode on the whole is more subdued than what we've seen in the past. The entertainment comes from seeing a well-laid plan executed with bloodthirsty gusto, which Askeladd relishes with infectious glee. When his Vikings come rushing down the hillside carrying their boats on their backs, the image is at once ridiculous and supremely cool, nimbly toeing the line between the show's historical tone and the genre's penchant for insane badassery. The same can be said for Thorfinn's feats on the battlefield – the hefty animation of his fight scenes gives the violence on screen a tangible weight, though what the boy is actually accomplishing is nothing short of superhuman.
There are some instances where Vinland Saga doesn't fully bridge its conflicting tones, though. Thorfinn's slack-armed “Naruto run” is a minor detail to quibble at, and one of the instances where “Normanni” is maybe too goofy for its own good, because it feels totally out of place in an relatively grounded setting. The more significant fly in the ointment is General Jabbathe himself, whose design clashes with the show's general aesthetic in a bad way. To put it generously, he looks like a cross between Harvey Weinstein and a moldy Muppet; his monstrous gaping maw is so inhuman-looking that you might mistake him for a Titan from Studio Wit's other famous series about why angry teenage boys shouldn't be forced to fight in horrible wars. The general isn't even a bad character; I actually liked having more overt comedic relief to help contrast against all the murder and pillaging. He just looks so strange, and his comedy is played so broad, that I couldn't help but be taken out of the show whenever he was on screen. Also, his name is just the first two words of “Jabba the Hut” smushed together, which feels too silly for Vinland Saga.
This episode's whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and I'm invested enough in Thorfinn's character that the boy's single-minded goal of “Cut off head, then kill Askeladd” was enough to keep me invested until Askeladd made off with the General's treasure at the episode's end, promising that he's ready to allow Thorfinn the opportunity to avenge his father. This wasn't the most gut-wrenching or visually stunning chapter of Vinland Saga, but as a standalone link in the ever-lengthening chain of Thorfinn's revenge, it does just fine.
Vinland Saga is currently streaming on Amazon.
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