Young Thorfinn grew up listening to the stories of old sailors that had traveled the ocean and reached the place of legend, Vinland. It's said to be warm and fertile, a place where there would be no need for fighting—not at all like the frozen village in Iceland where he was born, and certainly not like his current life as a mercenary. War is his home now. Though his father once told him, "You have no enemies, nobody does. There is nobody who it's okay to hurt," as he grew, Thorfinn knew that nothing was further from the truth.
The war between England and the Danes grows worse with each passing year. Death has become commonplace, and the viking mercenaries are loving every moment of it. Allying with either side will cause a massive swing in the balance of power, and the vikings are happy to make names for themselves and take any spoils they earn along the way. Among the chaos, Thorfinn must take his revenge and kill the man who murdered his father, Askeladd. The only paradise for the vikings, it seems, is the era of war and death that rages on.
Vinland Saga is a bloody tale of revenge, in 11th century England, the brutal and barbaric age of Vikings. Vinland Saga surprisingly has a brilliant adaptation in spite of being a seinen historical epic – a genre cursed for having an anime adaptation reminiscent of titles like berserk, kingdom, and Vagabond. You can see the passion and care Yabuta Shuuhei, and the staff has for this adaptation. From the gorgeous background art to an incredible direction, WiT studio deserves every bit of appreciation.
Set in the 11th century Europe, Vinland Saga tells a bloody epic in
an era where violence, madness, and injustice are inescapable, providing a paradise for the battle-crazed and utter hell for the rest who live in it. Thorfinn is a Viking who witnessed the brutal death of his father by the hands of a mercenary leader, Askeladd. As a young boy, driven by pure hatred and a desire for revenge, he joins the very mercenary group in the hope of killing Askeladd in a one-on-one duel. If this looks like an edgy action fest, then you will be disappointed. Vinland Saga is like an onion because, at the core, it is a much more than revenge; it’s a multifaceted tale, with brilliant characterization, with themes like anti-revenge and pacifism. It tells you a lot about human nature and culture through war and violence.
“Everyone is a slave to something. A man, slave to his gold, holds a whip and beats the slave he bought with that gold as if to claim he is the master.”
The story itself is reasonably accurate with the events that underwent. Almost every character existed in our history, which makes it even sadder. There is no veil of fantasy to avert your eyes to the atrocities you see – there is no right or wrong, everything was a part of life during that time. There’s a beauty in its storytelling – it’s a son so far off the path that the father desperately tried to teach him, from being an innocent child to being a miserable teenage seeking for vengeance just to be manipulated by his enemy for their personal use. It’s a story about a kind mother shown betrayed for showing love and compassion towards a stranger, and a priest teaching about love to war-loving Vikings. It’s a story that tells you that a true warrior needs no blade, and its true meaning is the beauty of comprehending an art – because it is something that is not explicitly mentioned, but you have to think and discover your conclusions and “truths.” For what I believe – “true warrior” is an unreachable ideal, someone who can solve anything by words alone.
While being a story centered about war-loving one-dimensional warriors, Vinland Saga has a rich characterization. Askeladd took the spotlight for me during the War arc of Vinland Saga. He is a murderer, schemer, strategist, manipulator, warrior, and philosopher all at once. He ultimately wants to protect his homeland and searches for his “Artorius,” a leader who can purge the scourge of the Vikings from the world. Basically, during his life, Askeladd goes from waiting for Artorius to actively searching for him, to making an Artorius for himself.
Thorfinn, however, feels very bland as a character – which is intentional from the writer’s perspective. His whole character arc over the entire part is an embodiment of the anti-revenge theme of the story. He doesn’t think, has no emotions, got manipulated his whole life by his enemy, and lived a miserable life just for the sake of revenge. The thing is, you are not supposed to root for his character.
Canute’s development throughout the series is incredible. His enlightenment made him a fascinating character – when he understood that God never made humans perfect, and we are unable to love everyone without discrimination. Unlike Thorfinn, when he lost his father figure, he took charge of his life and stepped forward with his ideals in hand.
The direction for Vinland Saga has been incredible. Still, there were scenes where the anime failed to create tension that the Manga had – a good example would be where Askeladd was desperate to find a solution to protect his people when King Sweyn ordered to attack Wales, where the anime switched between Thorfinn’s filler scenes and Askeladd. The anime, unfortunately, couldn’t get to the level of art that the Manga had, but it’s not a bad thing because the Manga’s art is one of the best you’d find in the medium. The soundtrack has been good, the animation has been consistent, and the background art is visually brilliant.
In conclusion, Vinland Saga is the berserk adaptation we deserved. It is a story that will have a deep imprint on anyone who finishes it. Personally speaking, Vinland Saga is refreshing when most anime coming out nowadays are either isekai crap or fetish bait shows. It is a damn enjoyable show with deep and beautiful storytelling.
Final Score: 9/10
“From the distant north, beyond the frozen sea… They came, bringing with them the black clouds of war.”
As the struggles between English and Danes grew worse each passing year, calls for peace had diminished, and death became commonplace. In the wake of these restless times were Vikings; violent raiders who reaped the spoils of war and marched to the beat of their drum. Brutal, merciless and unfeeling, they pillaged whoever they pleased and left only wreckage behind them. And raised by the band who murdered his father is Thorfinn, a young boy driven by hatred, longing to cut down the one responsible and avenge his
This is the tale of Vinland Saga, a sprawling epic penned by Makoto Yukimura that thrusts you into a world drenched in bloody violence and battle-hungry warriors. At least, that is what the manga first introduces readers to. Whereas the anime, produced by Wit Studio with director Shuuhei Yabuta at the helm, decides to take a different approach with the saga by telling its narrative chronologically. Aside from a short battle sequence, viewers aren’t subjected with carnage outright, but a calm and tranquil village on the coast of Iceland untouched by the remnants of war. In doing so, it trades the fast-paced feel of its original story for a more methodical slow burn that fortunately retains enough intrigue and uneasiness to keep it from becoming a tedious watch.
Such a change carries significant implications for the remainder of its runtime, altering the show’s focus in such a way that brings more light to the world at large. Yukimura is often praised for his passion of technical realism as displayed in his previous work Planetes. Vinland Saga is no different, taking inspiration from Nordic tales that combine elements of culture, family and overarching philosophy into an engrossing plot. Here these features are given slightly more consideration, with early episodes providing a greater representation of the lifestyles embodied in this realistic setting. The nameless faces we encounter, though unimportant to the story at large do feel like real people, with their own goals, families and livelihoods. This level of realism is also found through various anime-only scenes later in the series, that both maintain the steady pace of the show between key events and help in conveying an appropriate air of verisimilitude for its interpretation of the saga at large.
With a more methodical approach comes a better understanding of Vinland Saga’s characters initially. Some may be inclined to point out how this comes at the cost of cast members losing some degree of subtlety, feeling forced in the process. But what is important to note is that characters early on lay the foundation for the development of our protagonist. Thorfinn is easily impressionable and holds a curious eye from those he admires, most notably his father who he learned the concepts of honour and courage from. His actions when his morals are tested, and more importantly Thorfinn’s reactions aim to give viewers a clearer look at the bigger picture – a story of personal and global discovery. It is more than happy to let viewers dwell on the tender moments and melancholic scenery before the story inevitably shifts gears. As a child, Thorfinn sat at the feet of the great explorer Leif Erickson, captivated by his thrilling tales and in turn longed for adventure of his own. However, those youthful fantasies are soon shattered in a raid that leaves the boy craving revenge on the band’s leader, Askeladd.
Vinland Saga thrives off the dichotomy between Thorfinn and Askeladd. A child’s innocence ruined with only vengeance left in its place, and a man that epitomizes what any Viking would want in a leader: strong, intelligent, calculated and charismatic. One wears his deadened heart on his sleeve, unfazed by the “comrades” around him and content with watching the world burn, while the other holds a silver tongue and laid-back demeanour, masking his desire for influence by any means necessary. Thorfinn is willing to take part in whatever atrocities asked of him if it means bringing him closer to killing his commander, even though he’s just a pawn in the greater game Askeladd is playing. Their relationship is one that walks on thin ice, giving each of their interactions a hint of uncertainty. Not only is it hard to predict how the plot will progress and subsequently where it'll take this band of misfits, but also how Thorfinn will be able to achieve his revenge, if at all.
Consistent characterization is almost certainly the series’ greatest strength, as within a story so epic in scope lies a profound study of character archetypes. The source material knows that historical stories often require authentic characters and the adaptation does not forget this. Vikings are neither vicious by nature nor are they depicted as idealized figures of legend, just men hardened through tough lives with dreams of making a fortune. The raids are done less out of malice but rather from the need to survive in a landscape where winters are long and resources are scarce. These warriors are humanized to an extent that prompts questions on the nature of war and those who voluntarily take part in such. The world and its inhabitants are considered for with a more holistic perspective than what anime normally offers, delivering on its rare setting that warrants a mature audience. There have been criticisms lobbied at the anime regarding some of the exaggerated feats of power and use of clichés found in shounen stories, which I find ironic given the manga was originally published as a shounen before being moved to a seinen magazine. Being a relatively faithful adaptation, the anime incorporates these parts but gradually grounds them into the plot, convincingly enough to where it slowly but surely no longer requires as much suspension of disbelief from the viewer.
While Vinland Saga is rich in depth and subtext, it is still a story steeped in action and combat. Unfortunately, this is where the anime suffers most. It’s worth pointing out that this show does have its merits visually; art director Yusuke Takeda and his staff at studio BAMBOO boast some astounding digital background art that capture the gravity in times of mourning and sorrow. The voice acting performances – Thorfinn’s especially – are excellent in bringing the struggles and emotions to life. Character designs by Takahiko Abiru do well to imitate Yukimura’s artwork – albeit not with such excellent attention to detail or graphic displays of savagery, but still quite serviceable enough for a TV anime. There’s this myth that Vinland Saga is among the likes of Berserk, Kingdom and Vagabond as manga considered impossible to adapt. This is hyperbole, as apart from Vagabond’s aesthetic, these can all be realistically recreated in anime depending mostly on the staff and budget. Fixating on atrocious efforts in the last decade only soils the standards that fandoms will have for future attempts. Thankfully, this adaptation is generally effective in transforming the majority of the manga’s illustrations and panel compositions to animated form... Expect for one key aspect: the action.
The battles in Vinland Saga look about as disorderly as the computer-generated ocean that our cast frequently sail over. Of course, that isn’t the say that water is the only thing that is CG: the boats are always CG, the foot soldiers often turn CG, the entire environment in long-shots end up being CG, and all these examples of CG integration look especially jarring. It’s reminiscent of Shuuhei Yabuta’s work overseeing the 3D animation on Attack on Titan Season 3 Part 2, with short yet often noticeable faults. The direction overall is still an improvement over his last directorial effort on Inuyashiki, even holding flashes of excellence as the different animation styles, models and digital effects merge into great action sequences. But these moments are few and far between a multitude of scenes looking as though they were haphazardly worked on and do not coalesce well in comparison.
Even the more experimental cinematography such as first-person perspective shots that appear great in concept pale in contrast to other anime that pulled off the same technique far better in the same year (Mob Psycho anyone?). By the time it finishes airing, there will be those eager to shower this series with immense praise for the art and animation, whilst forgetting to mention the inconsistent nature of its visuals. It’s tumultuous. There are great screenshots you can take of the anime at its most expressive and colourful – most of which are found away from the action. Likewise, there are short clips that highlight the visual blandness and worse portions that barely look as though they belong to the same season. The action still holds tension and weight when watching, but half the time you are probably better off glossing over them.
These action scenes do gradually improve over the season, even if simply by not being as ambitious as before. However, there still lies various issues within the script that are worth mentioning, if only for their lasting effect on the project. Earlier I pointed out the importance of historical accuracy in Vinland Saga that pervades every corner of its setting. For the most part, the anime remains accurate in its portrayal of 11th century Northern Europe. But the screenplay is where most of its discrepancies exist. The staff in charge of writing such altered sections from the source material that acknowledge proper cultures, only to have such be overwritten for what I can only surmise as for the sake of localization. This furthermore muddles the various languages that characters are meant to speak throughout the story. There were never complaints about the manga including morsels of lore into the plot, and all these changes do is needlessly break immersion and consistency. This dialogue is also laden with telling the viewer actions that are clearly shown seconds beforehand. These could easily be brushed aside as nitpicking, but when these instances happen time and time again, it’s no longer a nitpick; it’s a recurring problem.
But nevertheless, these problems do little to take away from the overall experience that makes Vinland Saga such a special piece of fiction in the realm of manga and now anime. While the premise does tell a tale of revenge, there is a balance ever-present. It rides a line which avoids getting too heady for its own good, but at the same time follows a linear path that realizes its potential to be intellectually stimulating. Drawing you in with its copious amounts of violence, before peeling back the layers to reveal something truly meaningful. Look beyond the strokes of bloodshed from mere pawns and see what caused these acts to occur. Vinland Saga casts a mirror over this time in history, on both famous figures and those forgotten overtime and simply asks us to think over what is shown. Consider if Thorfinn really has any enemies to justify his pursuit for vengeance. Ponder over the musings of a priest that fall on the deaf ears of most Vikings. And imagine if there were a land somewhere, far from slavery and the flames of war.
Of all the clashing ideals of love, war and pacifism at play, the most fascinating comes from Prince Canute. Hard to fathom at first, being introduced as timid and weak, even drawn with a bishounen appearance. His inexperience in times of conflict and inability to function without his servant make him wholly unfit to rule over anyone, as demonstrated once held hostage by Askeladd. Every man is a slave to something: Thorfinn to his anger, Askeladd to the past, Thorkell to the battlefield and Canute to his own comfort. But it is once he loses the person closest to him when the shackles around him are broken. His preconceived notions about the world are shattered, leading to a startling epiphany where he is born anew as the strong leader history remembers. Canute’s ambition to spite God and create a utopia on Earth is chilling to watch develop, with heavy piano music accompanied that while ill-suited for the setting, hits all the emotional beats. His motivations not only serve as a compelling transformation of his character, but bring into question basic tenets of love and freedom with an intriguing yet complex philosophical framework. If Thorfinn’s story represents the struggle of Vikings to maintain their independence, Canute symbolises the first steps toward a nation state, where freedom is forcibly exchanged for stability – and the Prince is more than willing to cut his father down to achieve this dream.
‘Every action has a consequence.’
Behind the brutality and political scheming lies this constant message. They are felt by each character and echoed through the narrative. In part, this is what makes Vinland Saga such an unpredictable journey. Thorfinn’s past catches up to him and tries to sway him from the existence he chose after seeing his father slain with his own eyes. Askeladd’s craftiness and quick decision-making for years has brought him to serve under Canute as his right-hand man. And the Prince’s circumstances caused by the King’s order has resulted in the emergence of his greatest threat to the crown. From the beginning, the series has prepared its stage for an inevitable impasse, with each piece carefully positioned for their own personal growth. But despite all the planning and deliberation possible, the world may decide to deal you a different hand. The nature of the world is unflinching, with unexpected endings sometimes being peaceful, tragic and even undeserved, for better or for worse. After everything being built up to this moment, we are given more questions than answers, and left in shambles, unsure of what awaits these characters in the saga’s next entry. The prologue concludes. Such is life, and such is history.
- - - - - - -
For years, Vinland Saga has been proclaimed as a must-read classic manga, and here the anime does it justice. It’s a powerful tale with realistic, palpable characters all living in a harsh yet beautifully-captured world brought to life by rich colours, stellar landscapes and a varied selection of melodies that help convey a specific tone. Presenting the narrative in a different medium where it does falter on occasion, but essentially stays true to the heart of Vinland Saga, even providing original content that compliment the core material with a strong directorial voice and impressive execution. Some may be concerned for where the series can go after such an ending. But let me assure you that Vinland Saga knows what kind of story it’s telling, and it is nothing short of remarkable.
Revenge, betrayal, murder, warrior’s pride, loss of innocence, and the quest for the biggest bounty. This is what it means to be a Viking in Vinland Saga. All of these themes are presented in one solid package. What this series lacks in narrative depth, it makes up for with an authentic depiction of the eleventh-century European war.
Many of this season’s flaws can be attributed to a slow start. This first arc is considered the prologue to the rest of the saga. For one, the main character Thorfinn slowly—and frustratingly—grows over the course of the season. From the beginning, he is just a kid, and his
immaturity is prevalent throughout the series. His father—the great Viking general Thors—raised him to be a compassionate person, until hs death. Stay out of the life of a pirate, don’t kill. These were the values Thors taught him. None of it mattered though when he was murdered right before Thorfinn’s innocent eyes.
Instead of growing up, Thorfinn survives through his childhood by learning to kill. Years pass, and he grows into an angst-ridden killing machine. Enduring the bitter frost of northern Europe is the least of his problems; he needs to prove himself on the battlefield for a chance at revenge. The power that drives him is a hunger to seek revenge against the leader of the mercenaries, Askeladd. This is where he shines, his perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds because he has a strong motivation. Thorfinn’s immaturity is intentional if frustrating to watch. What kept me caring about his hero’s journey was knowing he would one day evolve. I told myself that even if he doesn’t grow up this season, it will come. His arc is a slow one, but I don’t doubt he will improve in later seasons. Thorfinn’s prevalent immaturity extends to his duels with Askeladd too. He makes the same mistakes over and over, desperate to win only to lose his way again. Once Thorfinn loses his temper waves his sword like a maniac and gives up strategy. As Askeladd points out, he is predictable. Although frustrating to watch, the fights are still entertaining. He critiques his fighting techniques and gives him a purpose in life. To grow and one day take his life.
Over time, Askeladd becomes the closest thing Thorfinn has to a father. Witnessing their complicated duality throughout the show is genuinely intriguing. I’ll admit it was quite frustrating to see Thorfinn try to kill Askeladd in duels, yet he was always eager to save his life during battles. It allowed for their relationship to be dragged on for as long as possible, hindering Thorfinn’s growth. Thankfully, Askeladd more of a protagonist of this season. He is the best character by far. He leads his army of mercenaries, but there’s more to him than meets the eye. He is the wild card of the cast. He has the deepest backstory; throughout the show, his motivations grow more complex as we learn about him. The strategies he concocts are amazing to watch play out, he’s without a doubt a villain, but a clever one.
Despite all the characters being from different European countries, all of the dialogue is voiced in Japanese. Normally I wouldn’t be bothered by this, it’s done in movies/TV all the time. You’re expected to suspend your disbelief. It would be unrealistic to expect a TV anime to use multiple languages, but it led to some unfortunate issues. There are the jarring moments when someone needs to translate different languages and they’re all speaking Japanese anyways. A language barrier is an integral part of war stories between different cultures. The lack of understanding for each other fuels prejudices, which sparks hatred between either side of the battlefield. Vinland Saga misses this. I wish they would have hired some actors who spoke a little bit of the languages. Norsk, English, Danish, Icelandic, all absent. As it is, one of the main components of the series lacks authenticity. The script addresses this somewhat by using different Japanese dialects and honorifics between social classes. A better fix would have been to fix mix in certain words or phrases from the actual languages.
There are times the violence gets so unrealistic you might mistake it as an ultraviolent schlockfest. It’s far more believable than WIT Studio’s other blood-soaked action anime like Attack on Titan, and less ridiculous than Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. Dozens of people get chopped in half, decapitated, and dismembered throughout the show. Some of the gore bends the fabric of reality with how absurd it gets. You’re not meant to be that shocked by it. Rather you are placed in the bloodthirsty mindsets of the savage killers. Violence is commonplace to Vinland Saga. It’s just as thrilling for the Vikings as it is for the audience. When the giant warrior Thorkell the Tall decapitates five people AND takes down a ship mast with a throw of an ax, I laughed along with him. However, it is not all fun and games. Once you realize that action you’ve been enjoying was done by the hands of evil psychos—you start to question your own morality too. In stark comparison to the entertaining battles is the real shock factor.
Men, women, and children are murdered in droves. To show a loving family for five minutes only to kill them all right after is horrible, senseless, but yet it is part of the world. Even though it felt like shallow shock factor at first, I realized it is true to the historical setting. The mass murders were part of history and the characters, Vinland never shies from the truth. There is one instance where a sole survivor of a murdered family is left behind to hear the sounds of their kin being slaughtered. The camera hovers around the sole survivor until their final moments full of despair. You will remember the real lives the Vikings brutally stole. It’s horrible being on the side of villains like these, yet brilliant.
Most of the screen time in Vinland Saga is either fights, arguments or dialogue. Politics of power struggles, contemplating morality in war, and conjuring clever strategies. When the script integrates true background information into the story, it shines. In one scene Askeladd tortures a man while arguing that both sides of the war are savages by detailing the history of their land. To prevent the plot from seeming predictable they use plenty of paranoia-inducing foreshadowing. The script suffers from a common anime adaptation issue where characters over-explain what we can see for ourselves. A manga compensates for a lack of animation by describes the movement; these lines were left in the adaptation. There were many times when fights would be interrupted by cross-cutting to people talking, halting the pace.
Rather than always focusing on the main characters, the script often follows various mercenaries; they discuss their past and future battles and share their opinions on other people. The slow pacing made room for a well-written script, but also for it to meander. Men would banter about heaps of money and women being the meaning of their lives. While a drunken priest would mumble about ale being his only God now. It fit the show so well; none of them had meaning in their lives other than drinking, killing, fucking, then dying a warrior’s death. Then Canute entered the show. He is the timid prince, so timid that I wasn’t sure if he was a woman or not. Rejected by his father, the king, he is sent to war in order to grow into a man or die trying. His arc writes itself, yet he’s one of the most compelling characters. His firm Christian values are mocked by the Vikings. With an earnest dream of creating world peace—spurred by his religion—I found myself rooting for him. The themes are pro-religion; the devils are the Vikings because they’ve forsaken God, and every Christain is innocent. Compared to the devils, the Christians are led like lambs to a slaughter. We see the story from the devils’ perspective; they reject God’s path and forsake him for letting horrors happen. Instead, they choose to pave their own path in blood. Over time the themes are discussed by characters like Canute and the priest, but despite their relevance to the plot, they are not well developed. The themes and discussions of morality in Vinland might come off as pretentious and convoluted to some viewers. The art carries much of the weight in making these ankle deep philosophies feel profound.
There are moments the art looks manga quality. To emphasize the importance, certain close-ups are drawn with incredible detail. Deep shadows beneath wrinkles and strained muscles, showing the weathered souls of the characters. Those are the faces you will remember them by. There are a number of clever storyboards used to convey the conflicting motives between characters. Boundaries separate them, trees divide them in the frame to symbolize their unspoken hatred. The radiant light of hope shines emanating from behind the compassionate people shines down on the tormented savages below; on the nose perhaps, but powerful nonetheless. Backgrounds are drawn beautifully much of the time. The lighting is cool because the sky is always shrouded with clouds. Warm red sunsets radiant beautifully just beyond the horizon through white skies, contrasted against the horrible blood splattered across the snow-covered forests redder than ripe tomatoes. Harsh snowstorms whip across the screen; gorgeous, but sometimes distracting because the CGI weather is disconnected from the picture. Speaking of which, the egregious use of CGI is jarring. Cannon fodder soldiers and ships are rendered at a low framerate. It is reminiscent of the ugly schlockfest Inuyashiki, the director’s previous adaptation. The use of CGI is not in vain, it allowed for 3D dynamic camera movements during fight scenes. However, the camera lingers too close to the eyes-searing animation, and for way too long.
If you take away the CGI, add more interesting storyboards, and maintain the strong background art, the visuals would be great. As for the music, it’s fine. Nothing I would seek out on my own, even though it fits the show well. The opening songs are both light metal, closer to metalcore, and they are OK. For an anime opening, they are great. I love it when anime try something different with their theme songs. As metal songs, they are fine. For WIT Studio’s standards, this anime isn’t quite on the level of Attack on Titan or Kabaneri of the Iron fortress. Thankfully, it has a stronger narrative than both.
After a full season, Vinland Saga has only just started. If this is representative of what’s to come, I’m thrilled to see where this story goes from here. Perhaps it moved too slowly for a lengthy prologue; nevertheless, it was engaging. With beautifully drawn artwork, a well-realized setting, and clever writing, this adaptation impresses in many respects. With this simply being a prologue, a sequel will be promising if it mends the flaws of this season. Hammy action sequences, an annoying main character, cliched plotting, and redundant themes weight it down. Although it struggles along the way, it sticks the landing with a fantastic finale.
There is a profound feeling to this story, whether or not the events depicted are entirely accurate. Vinland Saga rises above its flaws to become an authentic piece of historical fiction.
Tales of Vikings pillaging and plundering have always been exciting in my eyes, so the setting of Vinland Saga really grasped my attention. An anime produced by Wit Studio featuring a more historical take on the adventures of Vikings? What could possibly go wrong? A lot apparently. While it started off really promising, Vinland Saga got increasingly worse as it went along. And just like the pure English maidens that the Vikings violated and messed up, the Vikings did the same to the quality of this anime. Though it was primarily one Viking in particular.
This dude is apparently the protagonist of the story,
but he does absolutely nothing to deserve this title. No wait, he runs like Naruto and is OP for some inexplicable reason after receiving absolutely no adequate training throughout his young life, so I guess he does check off most of the boxes for "generic anime protagonist." Unfortunately, he has zero semblance of development until the very end of the anime. And I don't care if he evolves much more as a person in the much longer source material. I'm basing everything off of what I see in the anime, and what I see is a poorly written character whose total stagnancy is astounding. Also, Vinland Saga is considered to be a historical anime and boasts a more realistic take on Vikings. Now no one, least of all me, expected this anime to be entirely realistic. I mean come on, it's an anime after all. But when Thorfinn can accomplish feats like Naruto running through hundreds of arrows, leaping 12 feet in the air over a moat, climbing up the side of a castle, and running through dozens of trained soldiers while making abrupt slashing motions with his knives that decapitate all of them with one slice, then I start to have a problem with the "realism" factor. Moments like these had deleterious effects on the quality of the anime in my eyes, and Thorfinn's inexplicable demigod-like feats of strength and skill caused a disconnect with the historical direction that the anime seemed to be aiming for.
Yes, I believe Thorfinn failed spectacularly as a character. But thankfully, there's Askeladd. He's honestly much more of a main character than Thorfinn, and is actually quite compelling and given a believable reason for his actions. He's clearly the deepest character and most entertaining part of the show, and despite my issues with many aspects of the anime *cough* Thorfinn *cough* he kept things interesting. He's the type of character that you initially want to hate but then grow to appreciate as time goes on, and I have to commend Vinland Saga for writing him in such a compelling way. But even Askeladd couldn't save Vinland Saga from falling into mediocrity. And that's thanks to the inclusion of another certain character.
Canute is a Norse princess waifu...but he's a dude. The entire arc surrounding Canute can be summarized as Askeladd's vikings with Canute in tow march through all of England in fear of Thorkell's vikings who are in pursuit. It's terribly boring and is worsened by Canute constantly whining to his cone-headed adviser until even Askeladd gets annoyed by his character and tries to make a man out of him. Canute remains stagnant for many episodes until he has this incredibly pathetic and laughable epiphany about love that doesn't really make any sense and his character suddenly does a complete 180. His voice proceeds to drop an octave and his eyes get smaller and sharper to visually imply that yes, Canute's balls have finally dropped. His character transformation is so abrupt and nonsensical that I can only describe it as a monumental failure when it comes to development. This is especially sad because I know that the author of Vinland Saga has the ability to write quality characters. He did it with Askeladd after all. It just feels like he sort of gave up on trying to realistically develop Canute over a proper period of time and was just like "Screw it, he's a badass now!" Which is honestly quite unfortunate.
I also find the narrative to be quite weak and lazily written. Sure, it shows on multiple occasions how harsh and cruel Vikings can be, but in reality it just depicts a bunch of dudes traveling around accomplishing not much of anything for like 20 episodes with a few "dark" moments sprinkled in to remind viewers that they're watching a medieval fantasy. And the whole revenge plot surrounding Thorfinn and Askeladd had about as much substance as the revenge plot featured in Masamune-Kun's Revenge. Which is to say that there's practically zero substance. And when I can draw parallels to frickin Masamune-Kun's Revenge, you just know that Vinland Saga done goofed up somewhere along the line.
Despite my harsh criticism of Vinland Saga, I don't actually despise the show or anything. It does have some great visual and sound work, courtesy of Wit Studio. I'm just disappointed that it squandered so much potential. While it starts and finishes strong, the rest...unfortunately isn't the best.