Vinland Saga – Mid Season Anime Review
Synopsis: Around the end of the millennium, Viking, the mightiest but atrocious tribe, had been outbreaking everywhere. Thorfinn, the son of the greatest warrior, lived his childhood in the battlefield. He was seeking the land of reverie called Vinland. This is the story of a true warrior in an age of turmoil. (Official Amazon Synopsis)
Mid Season (12 Episode) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Vinland Saga is Summer’s ‘looker.’ Based off the 2005 Manga, The Vinland Saga anime offers incredibly crisp, well-animated, highly detailed visuals that bring real weight to the violent battles between the Danish Vikings and their enemies. The series, set in the early 11th century, follows the story of a young boy, Thorfinn, who loses his father, Thors, after sneaking aboard his ship when heading off to battle. From there Thorfinn is raised by the very band of ruffians who killed his father, swearing revenge upon their leader, Askeladd. But appreciating all Vinland Saga has to offer comes with a strong caveat: Thorfinn himself.
Vinland is often compared to other classic, long running manga titles like Vagabond, the story of a famous Japanese Samurai’s journey to great hood, or Berserk, the story of a powerful swordsman haunted by cursed betrayal. While Vinland Saga is similar in its depiction of a harsh, unfeeling world where brutal acts of violence are but common occurrence, Vinland struggles to offer the same kind of sympathetic lead. Without getting into too many spoilers for these other, epic titles, just know that both Vagabond and Berserk offer up leads steeped in misery. They often find themselves on the receiving end of punishment from their harsh, unfeeling worlds, and that gradually crafts them into tough, unfeeling men, who are then challenged to come out of their shells again and soften to a degree. In the case of Vinland Saga, and Thorfinn himself, he is the master of his misery.
It’s Thorfinn’s presence, against his father’s wishes, that leads to his dad’s demise and his commitment to revenge that sets him as a pseudo-ally to Askeladd’s pillaging. Considering Thorfinn’s just a child at the beginning of all this, it’s a tragic development all the same, but the trouble comes into play with how long it takes Thorfinn to show any signs of real, emotional growth. Twelve episodes in and Thorfinn has taken part in all kinds of horror, and responsible for the deaths of at least two innocents, yet he’s shown no significant signs of remorse, or guilt, or what have you, making him a tough lead to like.
Part of the trouble might stem from how the anime has not only rearranged the manga’s content but also visualized developments skimmed over in the source material. Vinland Saga has readjusted events, setting the story in its proper, chronological order. But by doing so, as well as adding additional material, has dragged out Thorfinn’s character to the point where he feels stagnant. With no real developments in his stand offish, muted personality it makes it hard to feel like Thorfinn’s character is moving in any direction, let alone a positive one.
That said, it’s not as if Vinland Saga is entirely ruined by such a prickly main character. Not only does the series offer an excess of realism in its depiction of these brutal, war-torn times (Save for certain, insanely over the top characters) but also mystery and political intrigue in the form of a building plot centered on Askeladd, Thorfinn and the rest of their band attempting to protect the future king of the Danish for hopes at significant personal gain. They’re pursued by Thorkell, a big brute of a man who smiles from ear to ear, who is absolutely in love with battle. Thorkell makes for a nice change from the more grounded characters, offering a villain who’s a bit more aloof, jovial and so honest in his love of combat that you can’t help but enjoy every minute he’s on the screen. At least in the confines of this brutal time period, he’s a pretty stand up guy.
Ultimately Vinland Saga is still a solid watch for anyone who’s seeking a brutal, violent world where abrupt and unexpected death is just a natural part of life or if you’re looking to ‘learn’ a bit about Vikings (Liberties have been taken quite far concerning certain characters though) then Vinland Sags still has all that to offer. But if you need a main character to really sympathize or empathize with, you better be ready for a wait because Thorfinn is taking his sweet time on developing into even half the man his father was.
Vinland Saga is available for streaming via Amazon.