There have been a few notable historical fiction series that have risen to prominence in the last decade, “Kingdom” being the most popular of them; but in the second half of 2019, “Vinland Saga” received an anime adaption that had my jaw hanging open from start to finish.
I had been nominally aware of the “Vinland Saga” manga for quite some time but hadn’t picked it up, mostly out of laziness. However, back in December, I noticed that it had received an anime adaption that looked stunning, and since I had nothing to do, I figured I’d binge the season. I managed to pull this off in about a day, only having to wait two weeks for the remaining two episodes of the season to be released.
As I said, “Vinland Saga” is a historical fiction, but this one is rather unique in that regard. It takes place during the age of the Vikings, chronicling the invasion of England by the Danes and following a young boy named Thorfinn, as he seeks out a terrible and bloody revenge.
I have a lot of praises to give for this series, but the biggest one I have is for the absolutely insane character work, and there are two characters in particular that I want to highlight.
The first of them is the protagonist Thorfinn, a boy from Iceland who desires to go to war. He’s a product of his culture and idealizes the concept of brutal conquest. Thorfinn is a positive arc character, which means he believes a lie, and his story is about growing past that lie. In this case, his father who has gone to war and has already learned the truth is the foil for him.
However, this positive arc is framed by a deep desire for revenge, one that takes him far from his childhood innocence into a world of horror and bloodshed, the world that his father wanted to escape. In short, what makes Thorfinn such a compelling character is the twisted world view he’s developed, and the tragedies that burden his young mind as he seeks out his bleak desire to kill.
The second character I found captivating about the show is the Danish prince Canute. Without delving into too many spoilers, this character also has a positive arc but in a different way from Thorfinn. This character is burdened by fear and is portrayed as extremely timid and worthless to the people of his culture. But it is Canute’s internal struggles and visible growth throughout season one that made him so compelling.
The truth that Canute’s character pushes toward and the way in which this was executed was absolutely stunning in every way. It was this character, in fact, that made this anime so memorable and jaw-dropping, legendary even. And I’ll be entirely honest, I expected nothing as exceptional as this when I began watching this anime.
“Vinland Saga” also has stunning wide-shots of the environment of pre-modern England and the surrounding regions. There were many times throughout the season that I found myself thinking “Vinland Saga” might actually have some of the best establishing shots in all of its genre. This is all combined with fluid and oftentimes beautiful animation, as well as a diverse and atmospheric soundtrack.
For those who are a bit more hardline in historical accuracy, you may at first be a bit adverse to the series as the feats some of these characters perform are far beyond human, but all in all it doesn’t throw its genre totally out the window.
I’m hotly awaiting season two, and I’d definitely recommend this series as it truly is phenomenal. Take a look, tell your friends, and spread some hype!