I was feeling pretty bored so I binged all of Vinland Saga on Sunday. I had a lot of thoughts on the show so I felt compelled to make this review. I’ll just go straight into it.
To start with, I’ll give a very short summary of the series. I’ll leave a lot of details out but this review will still contain spoilers so consider yourselves warned!
Vinland Saga is set around the year 1000 and the central story takes place around the Danish invasion of England as seen through the eyes of the vikings.
The anime centers on a young lad named Thorfinn, the son of a mighty warrior named Thors. As with most animes, the father is killed off summarily, setting the ground for a tale of revenge for the young Thorfinn.
Thorfinn follows around a Danish pirate leader named Askeladd, who Thorfinn holds responsible for the death of his father. Thorfinn becomes obsessed with killing Askeladd but will only do so in honorable combat via a duel This is to honor the memory of his late father. Askeladd takes advantage of this and uses Thorfinn by telling him to prove himself in battle and earn the right to duel him.
Enter training montage. Thorfinn trains, becomes a vicious killer wielding dual daggers, and proceeds to challenge and lose to Askeladd over many duels while accomplishing many feats in battle.
From here, the story’s focus shifts from Thorfinn’s quest for revenge to a political drama. As it turns out Askeladd is actually is half Danish and half Welsh, and a descendant of Artorius (upon whom the legend of King Arthur is based on). His mother was a slave to a Viking lord and was mistreated severely. Turns out Askeladd was also on a quest for revenge, in addition to having a deep conviction to protect his homeland of Wales from the fires of war.
To this end, Askeladd planed to use the seemingly timid son of the Danish king, Prince Canute, in order to ingratiate himself with the king, and in doing so, create an opportunity to protect Wales.
To keep things short, things happen, Prince Canute turns into a reliable leader, and they make plans to overthrow the king of Denmark. They form a merry band and things seem to be going their way. However, Askeladd’s luck runs out and he is forced to kill the king and sacrifice himself in order to protect both Prince Canute and Wales.
Thorfinn is both enraged and has deep sense of loss at having his revenge stolen from him and so season one ends here. Don’t worry though, season two will be coming out around 2023 or you can read the manga if you’re curious.
Next, we’ll move on to the tones and themes of Vinland Saga. This anime presents itself as a pseudo historical documentary. Obviously things are exaggerated, such as Thorkell being able to throw an entire log at boats, but overall it tries to create a feeling of watching documented history. Things feel a bit more grounded in reality via a narrator providing dates, locations, and backstory as well as being loosely tied to actual historical events, persons, and locations.
The anime takes itself pretty seriously. It does have humorous characters, such as the battle hungry Thorkell (there so many guys named after Thor, he must be a popular guy), but the overall tone is very serious.
Also a lot of graphic violence and I do mean a lot.
Along with the serious tones are some serious themes as well. The anime tackles the brutality and ugliness of war, and the purpose of existing in a cruel world seemingly devoid of hope.
As for the animation quality, it’s pretty darn solid! The action sequences are very fluid and the art style is pretty consistent. There are a few weird outliers, such as the one count who looks like a frog man straight out of a Studio Ghibli movie. There are some transitional scenes as well that rely on 3D graphics that do seem a little bit hokey. Overall, the art looks well done.
As for my take, I did enjoy the series and would rate it as being a very solid anime. It’s well done but it didn’t really stand out to me as being top tier on my personal list. This is just my opinion guys so please don’t set your torches on fire just yet.
I did have a few personal nit picks in regards to the narrative logic of the series. To start with, the whole crux of Thorfinn’s revenge saga starting was him being not being found after Thors was killed.
I don’t really understand how this was possible as they were on two relatively not so hard to search boats in the middle of the ocean. Where is Thorfinn going to hide? And why would Lief leave without him? You can see Thorfinn just chilling on the boat! How did Lief miss that?!
It’s kind of funny to think that this could have all been avoided if Lief just spent five minutes to look for Thorfinn and took him home.
Also some things don’t really make sense if you take a second to think about it. For starters, why would Floki spend fifteen years looking for Thor, and how would he know where to look. It would make sense if they needed Thors’s strength in the war but it looked like they did just fine without him. Also Floki just straight up had Thors assassinated. Why? Thor is just living a life as a nobody and had no interest in the outside world. Maybe season two will clear that up, as season one implied something of note did happen in Thors’s past.
These plot points feel a bit half baked to be honest. Normally, I would overlook things like this but since the anime is taking itself so seriously, it becomes harder to suspend disbelief. This is why I personally do not enjoy movies or TV shows that are too serious because the writing is usually flawed in one way or another. It becomes ham fisted in trying to prove a point and the plot ends up feeling a bit too contrived. It’s OK to be serious but also have a sense of self awareness. I’m not saying you need to inject humor everywhere but having a little bit of levity is not a bad thing.
Also, I did enjoy the writing behind Prince Canute’s transformation but the pacing felt way too rushed. It didn’t feel natural for a shy, peace loving guy to suddenly change into a confident leader that quickly. It made sense on a meta level and I appreciate the writing behind it, but realistically speaking a person would take longer to undergo that change. It didn’t feel as hokey as the Tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise but it definitely could have been paced a bit better. A transformation scene that felt more powerful was Griffith’s scene in Berserk. In Berserk, it felt like everything was culminating to that point and you knew something was going to happen but not what exactly. I still remember that scene to this day because it felt so impactful. That scene had more weight because it was more developed.
Also, while I understand where Prince Canute is coming from, his reasoning for creating paradise himself is pretty flawed for one simple reason. Humans suck. There will always be that one person ruining things for everyone else. You just can’t avoid it.
That said, I did enjoy the anime providing a bit more mental stimulus even though it did feel a bit ham fisted and contrived at times.
Even with my complaints, I overall enjoyed Vinland Saga. There is a lot done well in this anime. That’s it for the review, hope you guys enjoyed it. I’ll make another one randomly whenever I decide to binge something.