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.
After Wit Studio's incredible job with Attack on titan, they are back this time to tackle a manga that is often compared with the likes of Vagabond and Berserk and was once thought unadaptable.
Are you interested in Vikings and Norse mythology? Do 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: they pillage villages for goods and are not hesitant to kill anyone who tries to stop them from doing so, no matter who they are; even children or older persons.
Not only Wit studio is doing justice for the manga, but 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 see how and why he is continually becoming more revenge-driven and violent. On the other hand, we have Askeladd who 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 undefeated in battle.
Concerning the animation, it is 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 is doing an incredible job with the series so far and you can easily tell that they care about the source material. 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.
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 a 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.
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.
First of all, this is an unbiased review from someone who hasn’t read the manga – so don’t expect a perfect score as of now.
Vinland Saga was one of my most hyped anime from the time when it was first announced, especially the studio behind one my favorite series, SnK. Currently as of episode 6, I have to say that this is the Berserk Adaptation we deserved. From the gorgeous background art to an incredible direction, WiT Studio deserves every bit of appreciation. Even the filler episodes didn’t feel pointless, it pretty much helped a lot in developing/setting up the characters especially Thorfinn.
Vinland Saga is
an historical series about Vikings in the 10-11th century Iceland. The name itself is an historical term for the collective stories of the Viking Journeys during the said time. Vinland Saga follows the steps of Thorfinn, from his desire for vengeance to seek for a settlement in Vinland. Personally speaking, this aesthetic setting is kind of refreshing when most anime coming out nowadays are either isekai crap or fetish bait shows. Although, six episodes in, there hasn’t been made much progress in terms of the basic plot. Although in a positive light, I personally dig the slower pace because it kind of allows the characters and setting to feel alive.
Another beautiful thing about Vinland Saga is the subtle moments that tell you a lot about the Vikings. There were some moments like Thors selling his sheep – which were already going to die in exchange of a slave, who, unironically was about to die or the scene when Halfdan literally cuts the face of a person with a fucking chain because he was about the break the law.
Thorfinn is so excited by the idea of war and thinks the knife is something wonderful. But Thors hates everything about war and all he wanted was for this village, and his family to stay out it. It is incredible that how Vinland Saga connects Bravery and Reality. It isn’t really bravery if you are ignorant to the situation. At this point, it feels like Vinland Saga has a pacifist approach towards War. And you know what? All those young men from his village have to face the horrors of war and his son wishes to as well.
While on the other hand, it does have some scenes I felt were a bit cliché, like the reveal that Askeladd was awake when Thorfinn was considering murdering him, or the self-defense murder of the wolf. I felt I've seen similar scenes so many times before that they didn't quite have any impact with me, although the context the scenes took place in where strong and it didn't detract from the overall experience.
Art and Animation have been consistently good throughout and the CGI was meshed perfectly with the background. Although one problem I personally felt was that the character designs were a bit bland. Another thing that is completely underappreciated about the adaptation is the brilliant voice acting, but also the VAs pronunciations were completely on point. They always hit Ls when appropriate as well as every single vowel as if was actual Icelandic. The music is made by the guy who did Tokyo Ghoul, so it was expected for the music to be great and it really was. I’m really waiting for the full OST release.
tl;dr Vinland Saga is the Berserk Adaptation we deserved. Currently it feels like it is setting and building up to the main part, where Thorfinn grows up. This is why at this stage I can’t give it a 10, but 7-8 seems feasible which would definitely go higher if it maintains the same quality. Sasuga Wit!