First Look: Vinland Saga

Manga Adaptation by Wit Studio
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Premise

It is the dawn of the 11th century. Northern Europe is embroiled in conflict as Viking tribes, Danish kings, and English fiefdoms wage war against each other. Thorfinn is the son of a renowned Viking warrior. In a violent world, he only knows violence. But legend tells of a land far to the west, peaceful and verdant, known as Vinland. This is the story of a young man’s desperate struggle to escape the violence that has defined his entire life.

Gee’s verdict: Sturdy

As a long time fan of Makoto Yukimura’s legendary manga, I had some high expectations for Vinland Saga. At his core, Yukimura is a creator deeply interested in the human condition. Planetes was a story about how technology was undeniably awe-inspiring, but ultimately a tool of capitalist powers to exploit the masses. And yet, humanistic at its core, asked if those lofty goals were perhaps still worth striving for. Conversely, Vinland Saga looks back at a time when violence and ruthlessness were the norm of society and asks how much suffering must mankind endure before it forces itself to look for alternatives. And even when individuals have realized the shape of the violent cycle they exist in, how difficult it can be to escape centuries of animosity and social conditioning.

It’s also a manga where vikings run around cutting dudes down by the dozen in a single swing. So you know, best of both worlds. In all seriousness, Vinland Saga is a deeply fascinating and compelling work. Unlike some of its other peers in the Seinen genre, it has always shown a capability for growth and introspection in a way few others have. Because I know what Vinland Saga eventually becomes, it makes evaluating these early episodes so difficult in a ways. As a result, I find it both interesting and retrospectively bold of the anime to open up with its prologue, a section of the story that doesn’t feature into the manga until after its in media res introduction. In many ways, this prologue actually speaks closer to the core of the story Vinland Saga is trying to tell than the arcs that are soon the follow. I genuinely enjoy the first 50 or so chapters of the manga, but I’d be lying if I said it isn’t starkly different than both the story it is now and the story the anime has decided to lead off with. I fear this may lead to a case of contradictory impressions for mainstream audiences.

Nonetheless, the anime itself has done a decent job of adapting the story so far. Props to the absolutely excellent voice casting so far, they’ve truly evoked the characters’ personalities. The remorseful but unwavering Thors’ admittance of the grim acts he’s committed in the past. The way Askeladd plays the role of the fool while involved in a far grander game than anyone assumes. Thorkell, a fan favorite, speaks for himself. It’s all very well done. There’s some worrisome CG and of course there is Wit Studio’s own inconsistent track record, but I genuinely want to believe in Vinland Saga. It’s a story that resonates with me and I hope the anime can succeed in sharing its best elements with a wider audience. It’s a shame we’ll have to pick up from where we left off in about two weeks.

Iro’s verdict: Intriguing

Vinland Saga is one of those manga that I’ve heard people talking about seemingly forever, but never knew anything about. After watching the three episodes that Amazon dropped all at once, I’m… tentatively interested? It feels like a bit of a cheap trick to make Thors endearing simply by giving him basic modern moral values in a culture where violence and slavery are otherwise condoned, but it generally works out and I’m willing to give a certain amount of leeway for what appears to be a prologue to Thorfinn’s main story. My main worry going forward is that most of the things I’ve heard that sound like they’d really appeal to me seem beyond the scope of a single cour show, considering how long the manga has run. For now I’m willing to keep watching, but I might just end up skimming through the manga instead.

Artemis’ verdict: Seaworthy

I almost never watched this, having never gone through a Viking phase in my childhood. The official trailers for Vinland Saga didn’t do a whole lot for me either, being pretty action-heavy and in general focusing more on the fights than anything more detailed or grounded. The premiere though, while still featuring some of that action, turned out to be a lot more balanced in tone, with some real attention paid to the societal and lifestyle aspects of the story and its characters. As far as I can tell from some sketchily-remembered history lessons back in the day, Vinland Saga is to be lauded for its research and realism, and if it sticks more to the adventure and historical fiction aspects, I can see it being something surprisingly up my alley – especially if the production values remain relatively consistent, because there’s some nice artwork and animation on display here, even if some of the character designs aren’t really my thing. Plus, while I’ve watched plenty of historical-themed anime before, I can’t think of a single series centered predominantly on Vikings, let alone one that’s had any kind of historical accuracy. If for no other reason, that makes Vinland Saga well worth keeping an eye on.

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