This Week in Anime
The Fog of War Thickens in Vinland Saga

by Michelle Liu & Steve Jones,

Vinland Saga ramps up in gore and angst as young Thorfinn comes of age on the bloody battlefield, waiting for his chance at revenge. This week, Micchy and Steve discuss their favorite moments and characters in this rapidly expanding saga.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


You can read our weekly coverage of Vinland Saga here!

Micchy
So Steve, I can't say I ever paid more attention in European History in high school than I needed to pass the class, but lately I've been wondering if I missed out on the good stuff, by which I mean the bits of history that involved throwing axes and decapitating five guys in succession. Vinland Saga is hella metal.
Steve
That is pretty rad, but my opinion about 11th century Europe remains intact: would not want to live there. The last thing I need is an entire culture of burly blond bros trying to smoosh me with boulders twice their own size.
I'm fairly sure that wasn't the norm, but just to be safe, you'd probably want to avoid standing colinear around these guys.
Anyway, so much has happened since last we checked in on our good lad Thorfinn, and unfortunately all of it has been terrible.
Well, your life changes a lot when you lose your innocence so hard you start murdering your way to a chance at revenge.
That pretty much hits the nail on the head, but Vinland Saga has made sure we bear witness to every moment of brutality, stripping his innocence away one drop of blood at a time. It's rough stuff.
Baby Thorfinn, sneaking onto his dad's ship: "aww yeah I'm gonna own some pirates!"
Baby Thorfinn, getting owned by pirates: "...Oh."
It's one thing watching your mountain of a father die right in front of you, but Thorfinn's got the added trauma of feeling responsible for his death. And the sad part is that this both spurred his early progression into manhood and kept him from ever truly maturing. His thoughts and dreams keep coming back to this scene over and over, never able to move past what happened. It's pitiable.
Not only was he already living in his father's shadow, he gets the additional perk of reliving the trauma of Thors' death over and over for years! Fun stuff!
And thus Thorfinn is thrown into a world of violence that he's in no way ready to handle, which Thors tried to keep him away from altogether. When he decides to avenge his father in a duel with Askeladd, he can barely manage to pick up the sword, and actually using it is out of the question. This revenge is one hell of a responsibility he's decided to take on.
Yeah, that's the tragic and ironic thing. For all of Thors' efforts, Thorfinn's immaturity and anguish led him down the path of revenge and violence that traditional Viking masculinity champions above all else. We as an audience can see how much this corrupts him, but it's all he has to hold on to in this society.
And Vinland Saga doesn't pull any punches in depicting this descent. He's maybe eight years old in this scene.
 
 
It's such a powerful moment the first time he kills a wolf - not even a person - and realizes just how messy and ugly he's left feeling. Thorfinn's been told all his life that violence is about honor and glory, but in reality he finds warfare much more draining than he was promised.
But the ultimatum Askeladd gives him is to either earn recognition in battle or let his father's legacy die with him; in respecting Thors' principles to protect what he holds dear - his family - he has no choice but to also denigrate them. And that paradox tears this kid apart from the inside out.
To me, this is what makes Vinland Saga special. You can find hyperviolent stories about Vikings pretty much anywhere, and this series certainly doesn't shy away from embellishing the gory details. But it's nevertheless thoughtful in the way its characters approach their lives and their relationship to violence. I think this is also where the anime's restructuring helps things, because we get to know the root of Thorfinn's character before we see him as a small dual-wielding killing machine.
Correction: he's a triple-wielding murder machine.
I think the point is that he has far too many daggers for a child.
He also does the Naruto run, which is how you know he's really losing it.
The Naruto run knows neither time nor culture: only angst.
It's interesting to me that Thorfinn's backstory wasn't up front in the original work; it flows so seamlessly in the anime that if you hadn't told me, I would've thought it was a straight adaptation.
You do eventually get it (although the anime does expand on some parts for the better), but imagine if, instead of focusing on Thors' quiet efforts to build a life for his family away from the horrors of constant war, the first episode had this guy instead.

Oh, that explains why that character felt so incongruent with the preceding material. A little tonal weirdness makes sense for a series just getting on its feet.
Yeah, I honestly haven't read too far into the manga, but it's my understanding that the thoughtfulness I mentioned earlier becomes more and more pronounced as Vinland Saga becomes more certain of what kind of story it wants to be, so the anime's restructuring makes a lot of sense.
That's not to say Vinland Saga isn't allowed to have fun, because there's nothing wrong with a little Viking battle absurdity now and again. The land boat gambit
is just amazing.

Preemptively spooking your enemies with a cryptid sighting is one viable strat, that's for sure.
Askeladd is a bastard, but he's a clever bastard.
The dynamic between Askeladd and Thorfinn is also interesting. You've got the schemer who's totally willing to play dirty to get his way and the disillusioned but nonetheless principled kid in a kind of pseudo-mentor relationship.
Yeah, his worldliness bounces off Thorfinn's naïveté super well, to the point where their strange arrangement makes an odd amount of sense. He's also that specific flavor of smart and shitty scoundrel that a deep dark part of me can't help but love.
Askeladd couldn't care less what happens to Thorfinn, but he always offers him harsh truths, if not actual advice. He's mastered the art of violence and directing the flow of a battle, so he knows how quickly people can get swept away in it. And lacking any better role models, Thorfinn has no choice but to learn from him, if only as preparation to kill him.
It sucks when the closest thing you have to a dad is the dude who killed your dad.
A dude who makes a point of pretending not to care that he killed her dad, no less.
LMAO that was so savage. My dude is immediately caught off guard by how much of a swordsman Thorfinn has become, so he just trolls him into losing. It's despicable but masterful, which is just how Askeladd makes his living. I also love how Bjorn is in the background rolling his eyes, like "here he goes again".
You either cut yourself off from empathy or you break under the weight of your guilt; that's just how it works when you survive off committing murder. I also love how Bjorn is like "I don't care about getting paid to kill; I just like killing".
This week's episode also offers insight into what makes Askeladd tick. He's smart enough to know that everything, even the Vikings' conquest, will eventually end. All empires eventually fall. So instead, he seems to be driven by the nihilistic hedonism of doing whatever he can while he can. If you can't change the future, you might as well enjoy the present. He's free from the hypermasculine pride that a lot of his men obsess over, but in a way that makes him even more dangerous.

It definitely makes him much more unpredictable. With the other men, you know how they're going to act and why, but Askeladd is largely a wild card, even refusing to stick with the main Danish forces.
He's mentioned before that everyone is a slave to something, and I think Askeladd is a slave to his own sense of boredom. Admittedly, I don't think we know him well enough to say for sure, but he seems to follow whatever will be the most interesting path to him—close to danger but not enough to put him at great risk.
Even if he doesn't make history—like his men clearly want to do—he's cool so long as he gets booze and gold out of it. Glory is secondary to trolling the shit out of his enemies and allies alike.
He's a real piece of shit and I love him.
The look on the French guy's face when he realizes Askeladd made off with all the booty is just priceless.
Just don't ever make me look at the inside of his mouth again. Please.
In that case, you can look at my pure son Thorkell, who by golly just wants to thrash some guys.
Look, I know it was in vogue for a while to poke fun at moe anime for having sameface, but I can't believe the gall of Vinland Saga for expecting me to parse these two big blond Viking boys as different characters.

One of them has bigger hair, so they're different. They're probably both full of fleas though.
Thorkell is definitely a piece of work. Along the lines of Askeladd's theory, I'd call him a slave to war. At least, I don't know what else you'd call a guy who purposefully allies with the losing side because he wants to fight the stronger enemies. I guess it's important to make your own fun in life!

Look, he names his attacks, which include such foolproof gambits as "dropping a rock," "dropping a log," and "pitching a really big rock REALLY FAR."
Thorkell is good.

He's also the logical endpoint of a society that finds honor in war above all else: just a very large lad playing with his toys (that kill people).
Meanwhile, back with Thorfinn:
Yeah, the emotionally broken angstboy and the large murder toddler did not get along.
Thorfinn may be a twisted lad, but he still has his father's sense of goodness in him.
Whatever "good" means in a society that values conquest over empathy, I guess. Though the women in this show might give us an idea?
Vinland Saga has been almost exclusively male-dominated so far, but I've heard that its female characters get more focus as it goes on, which is good to hear. Especially because it seems so thematically invested in critiquing the Vikings' masculine ideal. That episode definitely hurt to watch, though.

I'm glad we at least got a quick scene of Thorfinn's mom and sister back home trying to continue with their lives. It was still heartbreaking, but their story is important too.

While the men are off killing themselves over pointless disputes between powerful figures, it's the women who have to keep things running for the survivors and the next generation. They're the backbone of their civilization, even if the men are the ones who go down in history. I'm glad Vinland Saga never quite forgets that for all Thorfinn's suffering, the enslaved women have it worse, struggling to even imagine a better world where things don't suck.
 
 
I appreciated this timely rebuke of the sadly common sentiment of "if things are so bad here, why don't you just leave?" Things are never that simple. Everyone's fighting their own battles, even if they're not the ones that will supposedly get you into Valhalla.
Pretty much! Vinland Saga obviously has its priorities (Thorfinn's revenge and following the war campaign), but it's so careful to empathize with a variety of characters and worldviews. It's a good series!
Yeah! It's a great story, with great characters, adapted smartly, and with Studio WIT's familiar level of polish. Plus, that Aimer ED, am I right? It continues to be an exceedingly easy series to recommend.
It'd be even easier to recommend if it weren't stuck in Amazon jail!
Well, pobody's nerfect!

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