For a thousand years, the Vikings have made quite a name and reputation for themselves as the strongest families with a thirst for violence. Thorfinn, the son of one of the Vikings' greatest warriors, spends his boyhood in a battlefield enhancing his skills in his adventure to redeem his most-desired revenge after his father was murdered.
After Wit Studio's incredible job with Attack on titan, they are back this time to tackle a manga who is often compared with the likes of Vagabond and Berserk and was once thought unadaptable.
Are you interested in Vikings and Norse mythology? you want stunning animated action scenes? Good world building? Great character development? If so, then wait no more as you are bound to enjoy this series.
The very first scene of the series sets you in the mood and gets you immersed in the story.From the stunning visuals, gorgeous artwork to the ruthless,merciless and outstanding action packed scenes and astonishing directing. The plot is based
on real historical events and so far it does a fantastic job narrating it, with careful world building and character development. The series depicts Vikings very well, that is, they pillage villages for goods and are not hesitant to kill anyone who tries to stop them from doing so, even if you are a child or an old person.
Not only Wit studio is doing justice for the manga, they also did anime original episodes, to develop the main protagonist's Thorfinn's character furthermore. So far Thorfinn is a very interesting character. At first he is just a normal and innocent little boy but after a certain event we can clearly see how and why he is continually becoming more revenge-driven and violent. On the other hand we have Askeladd whom is a perfect representation of a leader. He is very tactical and even when he seems defeated he can pull out a last trick up his sleeve, even if it is dirty to come out victorious. He garners respect from his men and was undeafeated in battle.
Concerning the animation, it is absolutely engrossing and goes perfectly well with the medieval setting of the series. Moreover some of the background arts are astounding. Yes there might be CGI here and there but Wit studio usually utilize it very well and it is not as bad as in some other anime.
Apart from that screaming part at the end of the opening which was kind of edgy, both the latter and the ending is great visually and musically and they fit perfectly well with the series.
Wit studio are doing an incredible job with the series thus far and you can easily tell that they really care about the source material. Without exaggerating, if they keep it up and stay faithful to the adaptation while also adding things to refine the anime from the manga, then this might just be one of the greatest adaptation ever.
Conclusion: No moe bullcrap, stunning artwork, consistent and solid animation, characters you feel strong about. This is exactly how an anime should be produced.
Anime series that are exclusively aimed for adult audience have been disappearing from this medium faster than top anime lists on the Internet have been overtaken by overrated seasonal garbage. That's quite a tempo. Long gone are those days when maturity meant more than throwing in couple gore scenes and tagging the production with an R. Vinland Saga is not a blast from the past. It won't automatically please every soul that mourns for what anime once was. Nevertheless, Vinland Saga is already one of the most successful series from this ongoing decade when it comes to combining maturity with mainstream appeal.
[Story and characters]
story of Vinland Saga may be very frustrating to some viewers because some of its characters are naive moral soldiers whose pseudo-noble ideals and philosophies do not go hand in hand with how the world works. "Chaotically good" men figuratively shoot themselves in the leg. Their very way of thinking is their cause of death. Personally, I find this to be very satisfying, because it is fair representation of survival of the fittest. You get what you deserve. In shonen series, those who yell their nakama bs out in the air and plead to "what is the right thing to do", are usually called main characters. In Vinland Saga, they are called soon-to-be-corpses.
The core idea is very much the usual Viking story. Exploration, culture, dawn of the new age, fights and violence. Manly men, strong female characters, philosophical wits and inventions that were relevant during this time. All of these sides are very well implemented inside its own story line which is build around the characters in a manner that yells high quality. Since our main character is a growing child who is influenced by different people, we get to see lots of contrast, and even such things as how the living environment affects the growth of a child is not left unnoted. I am personally huge fan of this concept and that's yet another thing which is dealt masterfully here. Minor flaws are present. Some unrealistic power-levels distant the series from realistic feel to new-long-jump-world-records-in-full-viking-gear ehhs. It's not a perfect story that does nothing questionable, but it's very strong and splendidly polished.
So far, the main points from story department fall under respectable quality, and the characterization has surpassed my critical expectations. Strong build up phase has created one solid foundation for rest of the story, leaving lots of room for improvement in future episodes. On top of that, it only seems to be going for better. It's linear, logical and coherent. Something which seems to be an impossible task for so many modern series is absolutely nailed here. Vinland Saga has chosen the golden path which can, realistically, realize its potential. Characters-wise, entirely new, anime-exclusive story events have been added to fill in missing links and add substance onto these personas and their reasoning. Basically the opposite of filler content that can be found in source material. Respectable decisions regarding this anime adaptation have been made, and I salute Wit Studios for showing that they do care about their anime.
The values are high no matter how it's looked. Not heavenly since sloppy CGI reminds of its existence once in a while and character movements come with copy-pasted frames to a point that it stands out, but to this medium standards', these values are nothing less than high peak. Episode 05 time stamp 3:19 (Amazon). I mean wow, has even Ghibli managed to create such stunning forest backdrops? These stills are wallpaper-tier, probably drawn by Japanese Bob Ross. Simply mind-blowing work. However, I will focus on commenting on its approach and presentation instead of praising the raw audiovisuals. Some people will really not like what i will say here, but I have decided to say it anyway because I don't think anyone else will and because this is my honest opinion. Do keep in mind that the following is not "why the art sucks 101", but rather "how the series could've been better".
When people talk about anime art, their judgement is almost without exception limited to the technicality and fundamentals of drawing and animation. But one important factor tends to be forgotten; its message. The content of Vinland Saga does not go in harmony with its audiovisual presentation. There, I said it. The manga offers layers of maturity that are invisible in this adaptation. The art style does not resonate with the world of Vinland Saga very well. You cannot tell this story with rainbows and unicorns and expect it to present itself flawlessly, but this is what was more or less done. If the series was exclusively about human co-existence with nature, I wouldn't complain, but this is also about human conflict, war, societal structures, and characters who are enraged and too angry to die. The content can be dark, gritty and very adult, but it surely don't look like it.
This is truly unfortunate because it shows us to what extent maturity is avoided in the modern industry. Even the world building is greatly lessened due to the series feeling more-or-less like an AOT clone instead of its very own thing. It's not a direct copy-paste by any means, but you really don't need to be a genius to see the similarities either. It's clear that Wit Studios chose this art approach solely to build mainstream appeal and enter the shekels game. Even the character design is way worse than it should've been. Just compare it to the tv series 'Vikings' or newest GoW game. How awesome are some of those celestial bodies compared to whatever you want to call an entirely yellow anime beard that looks the same as bishojo hairs from Kuroko no Basket. What I meant to say here is that the production feels unfitting, out of place and very teenager. It's simply not ideal. This happens when popularity is chosen over art.
To sum my point up: There is this saying that goes like this: "Art matters, visuals are secondary." Scarce is the amount of series that present this philosophy as strongly as Vinland Saga. The production does not ruin this show by any means. It can be overlooked and forgiven, but, nevertheless, it requires the viewer (or at least myself as a viewer) to adjust: accept a compromise - and blocks Vinland Saga from entering the tier of Godly anime, and I think this is a very important factor to acknowledge. Since pros and cons are a thing, some decisions that are improvement over source material have also been made, such as the lack of caricature-like comedic reliefs, which honestly no one needs to see in this anime and I am glad they have been left out.
We have light novel adaptations and guilty pleasures. Most modern anime is only watchable ironically. The chances for ground breaking anime series vary from slim to nonexistent based to production year. Must watch titles from current production years are counted with one-hand fingers. When looking back into anime history with historian-goggles, this is not priority nro. 1, but regardless, this is quality time and I cannot recommend it enough for seasonal watchers who seek relevance and modern high-points instead of past gems.
This could have been an OG Berserk-tier masterpiece if it was made by dedicated studio such as Geno Studios, which have made the most mature anime series seen in several years (at least in my opinion), Golden Kamyu. Wit Studios have simply never dealt with anime that is mature in the way Vinland Saga is, and perhaps that's why the outcome is far from what I personally thought was possible. Some better decision could have been done to please the core target audience of the manga. But none of the things I criticize Vinland Saga for are enough to make me think that it's not a good anime. In fact, it's already among the better things from 2019. If you do not enjoy this anime, please consider reading the manga instead, especially the parts that this anime will cover are phenomenal. In case you do enjoy it, that makes two of us.
You hear a ton of hype for a series, assume it must be good, check it out - and it’s a “transitional” (aka midwit) shlock. Meaning, a series that 15 y.o. think is really smart and mature because its themes are more complex and nuanced than the kids show they’ve experienced so far, yet at the same time is familiar (read: cliched and primitive) enough to not alienate its target audience. Which in the end makes it the same juvenile cheese-fest anyway. Here is a bunch of its massive flaws:
1. The title would make you think this is a story about vikings. Yeah,
sure, it technically is - the same way Marvel’s Thor is about vikings. In truth, it’s a dime-a-dozen battle shounen featuring an edgy teenage boy that shouts a lot, and also superpowers. No, not like My Hero Academia, where superpowers are incorporated into the story, no, sir, that wouldn’t be dumb, and we can’t allow that. It’s just the supposedly normal people in a supposedly historical setting doing nonsensical shit that is the definition of “cheese.” Now, I know what the counterargument here is - “it doesn’t have to be realistic.” Which is true, a story doesn’t have to be realistic - it has to make sense within its own established rules. Let’s use another series, Berserk, for contrast - because that’s a series that Vinland Saga has absolutely nothing in common with. In Berserk’s chapter 1 we see Guts cut a dude in half with his BFS. It’s not realistic at all - “that thing was too big to be called a sword...” etc. But it is believable - if someone is strong enough to swing that (which Guts is for plot reasons), it totally would cut a dude in half. And it actually looks cool, thus passing under the Rule of Cool. Meanwhile, here in Zombieland Saga we have Axe Guy, a regular human who cuts four people and a mast with a single axe swing. Four people standing in a square formation 2 meters away from each other and the mast in the middle of the square - with a single swing of a regularly-sized woodcutter’s axe. Which does NOT make sense. Unless it’s a magical 4-dimensional axe that cuts through space-time continuum. Which wasn’t established at any point. Which makes it cringy bullshit. I know, I know - “just turn your brain off...” No.
2. The so-called “vikings” are blatantly 21st century Japanese culture-wise. Quoting Sun Tzu, doing ninja moves, Naruto-running - it’s surprising they aren’t eating yakisoba with chopsticks, that would fit right in. This is actually an example from quite a bit further in the story, but at one point a character says “I like playing on hard mode.” Yes, these are the actual words. For anyone not seeing a problem - videogames with difficulty modes weren’t a thing in 900 A. D.
3. The “if you kill your enemies you’re just like them”-level moral preaching. I’m not even going to dignify it with refuting. There is one of the main characters, let’s call him DIO (you’ll get it soon) who preaches this sort of 21st century first world pacifism, despite it being literally insane in his cultural context. Same deal, the problem isn’t that character having insane morals isn’t realistic - the problem is that it isn’t believable. If a character acquires morals that contradict his environment (contradict not being dead in his environment), there is gotta be adequate development showing how this would happen. Of which there is jack shit. No, the “tell, don’t show” exposition that even knows itself that it’s a damage control attempt does not count as an adequate development.
4. Godawful, I-threw-up-in-my-mouth, CLANG-level CGI. It’s not bad looking in the same technical way as CLANG 2016, it’s just on the same level of incompetence. Just to rub it in, we’re treated to this eye-rape from the very first scene of the series - you know, the scene that is supposed to be literally the best looking part of the show to entice the audience. There we meet DIO and Axe Dude who casually slaughter two (historically inaccurate) longboats worth of people. DIO is DIO because he uses ZA WARUDO - i.e. 30 people stay frozen in time while he moves between them, cutting people vertically in half with movements that have so little weight behind them, realistically he wouldn’t cut paper. Like, completely frozen in time - that is, they are non-animated 2D stills slapped right in the middle of a 3D background that is doing all sorts of dynamic camera movements. The result is so jarring, the dudes look like they were photoshopped in after the fact, with zero effort put into making it look seamless. It’s literally a textbook example of how not to animate. Yes, literally, they teach this in animation courses. Axe Lad somehow got it even worse - he moves. That is, his 2D still moves through 3DCG, the result looking pretty close to poorly done paper cutout animation. Also 3D environment is what makes his hyperdimensional slash stand out in such a bad way, cause you clearly see distances between objects and how geometry-defying his superpower is. I could continue, I just really don’t want to.
A wonderful piece of work. Vinland Saga is without a doubt one of the best anime released in recent years.
The story speaks of Thorfinn, a guy who joins Askeladd's crew of Vikings only to be able to kill him in revenge for the death of his father "Thors". Every time the boy completes an Askeladd mission, he gives him a duel, Thorfinn's only way of killing him because, by winning him in a regular duel, he can honor his father's memory and carry out his revenge. This basic plot is followed by many battles full of dead characters and blood, many new characters who will
also join the cause of Askeladd to oust Sweyn King of Denmark (which will be seen later).
Fights, action, history of the Vikings: everything is well mixed which managed to create a fabulous and intriguing mix. The characters are all well characterized by the protagonist Thorfinn to Askeladd, unscrupulous and very astute man. Therefore, the secondary characters are not simple contours to the story, but with their actions, motivations, strengths, defects, weaknesses, they contribute to build and make the story much more interesting. Vinland Saga immediately struck me for its realism and its crudeness, there are no half measures. Everything takes place following an ancient custom and lifestyle that has now been lost in the sands of time.
The anime is very enjoyable, as it knows how to dose the calm sequences, full of strategy and intrigue, and those of combat, really made in a good and very splatter. The characters change often and are very thick. The events of the time are made good and above all they are really engaging. Each issue is better than the previous one and the story, episode by episode, becomes more and more beautiful and fun. Very interesting is the overview of the religion of the Vikings, who have as their main aspiration to die with weapons in hand in order to ascend to Valhalla, something that is modern to us almost inconceivable.
10/10, undisputed the best anime of the year if not the best in the last decade.