Review of Vinland Saga (2019)

Moving picture, 20 hours

Seen in 2023.

This review refers to the first two seasons, although the second one aired in 2023, after a five-year hiatus.

When he is struck by tragedy and almost consumed by hate, an Icelandic boy still remembers what he heard from the explorer Leif Eriksson, the first European to land in North America, around the year 1000.

The gritty action of Berserk (1989) but with vikings and the humanism of Yukimura Makoto instead of the supernatural. As befits the historical setting, Vinland Saga is generally more attentive to detail. It has only a few of the classic flaws of historical action films: Swords are drawn with a “schwing” as if scabbards were all made of steel, and bows stay drawn without any apparent effort on the part of the bowmen. In a more intentional departure from plausibility, the writing marries the personal power-level disparities of real Icelandic sagas with those of shōnen manga; the two are highly compatible.

The second season stays on the same power level but otherwise departs from shōnen manga. It takes seriously the idea of an anti-authoritarian pacifist in an extremely hostile environment: The macho culture of Dark-Age vikings. The show has humour, but its ideology is sincere. The hero suffers for his convictions, not so much in a Jesus-like way as a Berserk-like way. Where Berserk’s Guts kills 100 men in one battle, Vinland Saga’s Thorfinn, now a slave, just takes 100 punches and lives with the PTSD. By the end, the main characters are all scarred adults. This is extremely unusual in popular anime, even for an adult audience. Unlike Guts, they are not joined by children.

moving picture animation Japanese production fiction series