by Rebecca Silverman,

Vinland Saga

GN 7

Vinland Saga GN 7
King Canute is determined to make Ketil's farm his own, but his manipulation of the farmer, plus Arnheid's defection, destroy Ketil's mind. Sickened by the violence erupting around him, Thorfinn tries to explain to Einar what it has done to him and why he feels the need to stop it before he finally decides that the future is ultimately more important than the past...and that it's time to go home.

The phrase “move on” has many connotations, ranging from a simple shift in the topic of conversation to a much more drastic lifestyle change. In the seventh omnibus of Makoto Yukimura's Viking tale Vinland Saga (comprising volumes thirteen and fourteen of the original Japanese release), to move on signifies a will to leave the past behind and to finally grow up in an emotional sense. When we're children, oftentimes impulses can rule our behavior, as we saw with young Thorfinn, who allows the trauma of his father's death to send him into a violent spiral, leading to his winding up a warrior. Where at the beginning of the series we were allowed, and possibly encouraged, to see this as a question of his strength of will, in this volume Yukimura makes us reconsider that decision made in the heat of the moment as one that was easy and weak. By going with the knee-jerk reaction, Thorfinn was swallowed whole by a life of revenge that ended with him in slavery and brought him little happiness. Now as he sees Ketil, and more personally Einar, going down the same path based on the same “you hurt me, now I'll hurt you” mentality, he (and we) can see that all he really did was take the path of least resistance.

Yukimura has previously talked about how he wanted to more closely examine the standard of shounen manga that says that the strongest fighter is the strongest all around character, and this volume of Vinland Saga really brings that to bear. We pick up with Ketil returning broken from his ill-fated trip to Canute's capital, the king's ships not far behind him. All Ketil wants is Arnheid, but as we know, last volume she helped her husband escape from the farm after he, scarred by PTSD, tried to take her back. When Ketil learns of Arnheid's betrayal, he goes mad – you can practically hear his mind snap. Instantly he becomes blinded by his own selfish need to hurt her as he feels she wounded him, presaging both the end of his sanity and the overall theme of the omnibus.

Ketil and his sons form interesting foils to each other in this section. Where Ketil is driven to violence as a means of revenge (both on Arnheid and Canute), his older son Thorgil simply loves fighting for its own sake. Meanwhile younger son Olmar, who loved the idea of violence until he experienced it firsthand, comes to the realization that sometimes it is better to simply not fight. How Yukimura ends these three characters as this section of the story comes to its close says a lot about his feelings on the subject, as does the continued evolution of Thorfinn. Thorfinn – who amusingly comes to the horrified realization that he doesn't actually know how old he is – is a distillation of Vinland Saga's overall themes. Drenched in violence, he eventually realizes that no matter how good at it he is (and Yukimura goes out of his way to show us that if he wanted to, he could do serious damage), ultimately it leaves him feeling empty. Sickened by his world, he tries to find a “first resort,” a different way to resolve conflicts that doesn't involve someone trying to push his intestines back into his gut cavity. To this end he attempts to end the fight during a lull in the battle between Ketil's forces and Canute's by simply talking to the king, even though to get there he must submit to what he once would have seen as humiliation.

There's another good juxtaposition here between Canute and Thorfinn, as the two have essentially reversed their roles from when they first met. Now a king, Canute will do anything he feels he needs to in order to solidify his hold on power while Thorfinn will go out of his way to avoid violence. But where Thorfinn's new resolve is genuine – as we clearly see in the scenes leading up to his discussion with Canute – the king's is more forced. He's at risk of becoming a Macbeth, listening to his own version of the Wyrd Sisters in henchmen like Floki and the nobility, but his heart isn't truly in it. This means that the old Canute is somewhere just beneath the surface, and his talk with Thorfinn reveals that he still has a lot of humanity left – the scene where he bursts into laughter is a powerful reminder of it, as well as a welcome moment of levity in a tense situation.

The volume is very dense in terms of art, plot, and philosophical content, so it's very nice that Yukimura ends the book on a lighter note as Thorfinn takes the next steps on his journey. Yukimura intersperses humor (Thorfinn's puffy face, Ylva) with more heartwarming content, such as Snake's final words to Thorfinn and where he goes after leaving Ketil's farm. It's an upswing after a long lull in the valley of blood and death, which is not to say that the grimmer parts of this book aren't excellent, because they are; it's just nice to end things hopefully for a change. It's also representative of Thorfinn's new goal: to form a Thomas More-style Utopia in Vinland. That voyage looks like it is about to begin and hopefully we'll be able to follow Thorfinn when he sets sail.

Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-

+ Sweeping story with lots of interesting parallels between characters, Thorfinn's evolution comes to a climax. Art spares nothing and crowded scenes are fascinating. Hopeful ending.
Will be too graphic for some readers and not enough for others, as the violence feels a bit toned down. Ketil's transformation is a little too fast, as is Olmar's. If the story is anti-violence, why is Ylva's violence played for laughs?

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Makoto Yukimura

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