AKA: Vinrando Saga ヴィンランド・サガ
Genre: Adventure, Historical, Seinen, Epic
Studio: Wit Studio
Do you like Vikings? How about revenge? What if I said you can get both in one animated show? The time has finally come when I can share one of my favorite Seinens of all time. You’ve probably heard of it and if you haven’t that’s okay too! I want to be able to introduce this to those who are unfamiliar. I’m currently reading the manga but I also wanted to review the show.
It was this time last year when I was browsing anime to watch on Amazon Prime (which by the way has a small but decent selection of free shows to watch), and I’d seen a show called “Vinland Saga”. I’d heard sparingly about it on Twitter and saw a few manga panels which were highlighting its illustration and storytelling. That was it; no specifics just how it was a must-read.
When someone says that I couldn’t just ignore it. I had to know what was so special about this show.
Wit Studio is a familiar name even though it hasn’t been up and running that long. It’s managed to produce some really good shows, (Attack on Titan, The Ancient Magus Bride, Great Pretender, Ranking of Kings, Spy x Family) but the only problem is they seem to have a habit of dropping projects to other studios (MAPPA is the one I see frequently) even though I personally like their animation styles for certain shows better than MAPPA.
The main selling point of Vinland Saga is the story and the gray characters. As I was watching, I noticed how hard it was to explicitly say “This character is bad, this character is good, etc” they do such a good job at creating polarizing figures. By the end of it all, you’re left wondering, “Were they really the villain/hero?” and that is what made me enjoy it so much. When there are characters that by definition are considered the antagonist but you find yourself relating to them and wanting them to win, that to me is great writing.
We start with the main character, Thorfinn, who is growing up in Iceland. They have bitter, cold winters (and every other season) so he dreams desperately about reaching a paradise called “Vinland” where it is always sunny and overflowing with fields of golden wheat having fertile land. Unbeknownst to him, he had much more to worry about. His father, Thors, is a legendary warrior who deserted battle in order to live a more peaceful life with his wife. You can guess this doesn’t sit well with everyone and one of the main antagonists, Floki, considers him a traitor now.
Fast forward some years, Thors is now living in Iceland with his wife, Helga, and his two children, Ylva and Thorfinn. Their happiness is ruined once Floki visits his village and asks him to help in battle once again. Thorfinn, who grew up listening to war stories about his father and idolizing him couldn’t just sit idly and snuck onto the ship when Thors left. A few moments into battle, it’s become pretty obvious this was an elaborate trap. Thors holds his own to the shock and amazement of everyone but it is Askleadd who deals the final blow by taking his son hostage. Thorfinn, consumed with rage vows to avenge his father’s death. This is where the story begins.
I’d say it is a typical story about revenge and death but I’d be lying to you. One of the things that stood out to me the most was the depth of Thorfinn’s anger. You have to understand, this boy was so mad that he decided to travel, yes travel, with his father’s killer in order to get stronger and one day kill him. That is his main driving force for surviving. He refuses to die until he accomplishes his task. Because of this, we get to go on this emotional, violent, breathtaking journey.
We get to see a boy literally grow into a man, with the assistance of trauma. The most interesting part of the story to me is not the politics (and expect a lot of it) but the dynamic between Thorfinn and Askeladd. I mentioned on my friend Rob’s podcast [Core Reviews talks about How Godly Vinland Saga is] how by the end of the show, I was really pro Askleadd, regardless of what he did. Yes, he got his hands dirty, but when you see what he goes through himself to get to this point, you realize he too is just trying to survive. It’s a common theme in the show.
Most of the characters are suffering in some way but it makes them experience some type of “growth” in one way or another. In the beginning, I wholeheartedly believed the show would focus on Thors so when he died, I was shocked like “Who else will we focus on?” and then Thorfinn was thrust into our faces. And this is where the problem lies; Thorfinn as a whole was pretty weak as an MC. Don’t get me wrong, revenge being your fuel is great and everything but other than that? He was a one-trick pony.
By that I mean he didn’t have anything else going for him other than wanting to grow up and kill his father’s killer. His strength over the years was interesting to watch develop. Remember, Thorfinn was still a child when he went with Askeladd and his crew. He learned how to survive in the wild and Askeladd, on the other hand, had layers. We get into how he became ruthless and then we also see his loyalty to his home country. He was playing politics because he knew that was the only way to get anything accomplished. As much as he enjoyed violence, he knew that just brute strength wasn’t enough to rule.
Now, I honestly thought the show was going to focus on him and was kind of sad he was killed off in like 2 episodes. Even after he is gone, we see small snippets of him as Thorfinn is constantly reminded of his morals and teachings. He’s Thorfinn’s father and a former great Jomsviking warrior. After seeing the war firsthand, he grew tired of it and feared for his family. So, what better way to get away than fake your own death and go live peacefully with your wife and children?
Next, is the actual main character of our tale. Son of Thors (and they never let us forget) Thorfinn is the youngest son of Thors and Helga. He is driven by hate and revenge to avenge his father’s death. When we first meet him, he’s just an ordinary boy who loves to hear tales about fights and battles. We slowly see him change over time as he becomes more cold, malicious, and cunning. He also starts to become more skilled as a fighter with his signature dual-wielding knives.
Ahh, my dear Askeladd. Without a doubt, he was the MVP of the season. He was the main antagonist and the reason for Thorfinn to get stronger and TATAKE! Sorry, wrong anime 😆 This interesting and complex character was pretty much pulling the strings on so many important people. He is a genius and it shows. The FLAVOR of this character is why I enjoyed it so much. Going into it, I thought I’d be focused on Thorfinn but I wasn’t.
Without spoiling too much, he had one of the “best” endings. If you watch and pay close attention, you would realize that it probably couldn’t finish any other way. Plus, his “ending” is impactful to Thorfinn’s true beginning. It’s almost poetic.
I will be 100% honest here, Canute’s development throughout the series is an example of “lazy writing”. To me, it wasn’t believable. When we first meet him, he is just a very, very handsome guy who gets mistaken as a female often. He had no experience with battle and was mostly sheltered. After some events, he suddenly becomes this cold-hearted tactician who wants to play the game of politics (even though he’s not that great at it). Mind you, he is one of Askeladd’s puppets so most of the things he accomplished it was because of the former’s planning. Maybe we’ll see more of him but for now, he’s one of my least favorite characters.
You know how there’s always this character who is a monster? They have monstrous strength, they tower over everyone, they have this light-hearted attitude and just enjoy a good fight? So this is Vinland Saga’s Goku basically. He was so funny to watch. The man has 1 total brain cell but cares about fighting, eating, and his pride. When Thorfinn meets him, he actually realizes he’s Thor’s son which makes him his great-uncle. The two were once great friends and he considered Thors to be a great warrior so he respected him immensely. He is considered to be the strongest Viking and is one of Canute’s allies. Also, this man punched a horse. Just process that.
- Lots of action-packed sequences
- Storytelling is important
- VIKINGS (and not one of them had a box braid or cornrows, go figure)
- A lot of historical content for history buffs (like myself)
- “Lazy” writing for some characters
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the show and would suggest it to anyone interested in action and storytelling. I’m so excited we are getting a season 2. I’ve started reading the manga and am interested in how the actual story is going to go since it turns out the first season was just a prequel. With that being said, I am going to give this a rating of
As I have stated before there is no “perfect” anime and Vinland Saga doesn’t get a pass either. The only thing keeping me from giving it a perfect score is a fact that it’s only 1 season. I just need more to work with and if the second season follows along with the manga then I might be singing a different tune next year.
Once again, thanks for reading! Please like, share, subscribe, and/or leave a comment!