Based on the manga by Makoto Yukimura, Vinland Saga tells the stories of the Vikings of early-11th century Northern and Western Europe. Considering that Vinland Saga is an anime/manga, the story has its own unique approach with how the fights are executed, and how the characters are portrayed with the original author giving it that anime/manga flavor. Vikings tend to be romanticized for their conquests, fashion, and religion, but Yukimura also provides an atmosphere reminiscent of samurai with its cast. In this list, we analyze which ten characters from Vinland Saga embody not just the Viking spirit to get into Valhalla, but the Samurai spirit that is romanticized in Kurosawa movies.
While his presence was only brief through flashbacks, if he was the chief of the Jomsvikings, then that means he has to be the cream of the crop. Considering how organized, disciplined, and excellently trained they are, Sigvaldi has to be someone who embodies the warrior spirit in his own way. When you take into account that Thorkell (yes, we’ll get to him on this list) is his brother, Sigvaldi probably has to be a great fighter in his own right. What we know about him through Thorkell is that Sigvaldi was a truly respected leader and was someone who respected the strength of his warriors.
He respected Thors to the point that he let him marry Helga, one of his own daughters! In a sense, Sigvaldi is a traditional kind of warrior knowing that he wanted someone great to inherit his position and recognized that through Thors’ strength and achievements. The fact that he can recognize talent and put together an elite unit should be enough to show Sigvaldi has a warrior’s spirit.
9. Leif Ericson
Based on the actual Eric the Red, we have to admit that Leif Ericson is a very unorthodox choice for this list. While he may not be an accomplished soldier like Thors or a killing machine like Thorkell, Leif’s passion for sailing across the world and facing dangerous tides makes him a warrior in principle. He’s a man that has stared death in the face more times than he can count and managed to conquer every adversity thrown at him and thanks to those experiences, he manages to look at life in a positive way.
What ultimately makes him a warrior in spirit is that he is a man who keeps his word as he spends almost a decade looking for Thorfinn after being separated from him. After reuniting with him in a town distant from Iceland, Leif says he’ll stay in that town when Thorfinn is ready to go home.
While Floki hasn’t been shown much in action, the fact that he’s a commander of an elite Viking unit shows he is a true badass but in the one scene where he crosses blades with Askeladd, he shows he is a force to be reckoned with. Beyond his position as a commander, what makes him a great warrior is how he is loyal to the code of his unit.
Floki has dedicated his whole life to being an elite Viking commander and takes his position seriously. While he contracts Askeladd to kill Thors in a rather cowardly manner, Floki was only demonstrating his principles that a Viking never abandons his fellow warriors and those who do such a thing should be punished by death. For that, we feel we should acknowledge he’s a warrior in the traditional sense.
Ragnar may not have been the strongest warrior in strength, but he certainly had the strongest spirit as it applies to his loyalty to Prince Canute. Not only did Ragnar serve as the prince’s retainer, but he was also his foster father as he taught Canute everything he knew such as cooking and living a normal life. Due to his paternal instincts, he had quite a temper and Askeladd exploited that. While he may not have equalled Askeladd in skill, when it came to lesser men, he was capable of holding his own in a fight. It was the fact that he showed not only loyalty, but love to Canute as if he were his own son is why we think of him as a great warrior, but his very presence was seen as a hindrance to Askeladd so he decided to off him to motivate Canute into being his own man.
Based on Canute the Great (a future King of England, Norway, and Denmark), Canute, upon the climax of the Vinland Saga anime shows why he’s a force like no other. When he’s first introduced, he’s cowardly, quiet, and often bullied for his timid personality and feminine appearance. In order to make him into a man, Askeladd kills Ragnar, Canute’s retainer, and blames it on enemy soldiers. With Ragnar gone, Canute is in a better position for Askeladd to take advantage of him in fulfilling what he thinks is his rightful destiny. After that event, things start to go crazy for him.
In addition to losing Ragnar, Thorfinn’s tough love towards him also provides the motivation for him in becoming a more assertive leader. After growing tired of all the fighting and the carnage, he shows a different kind of warrior spirit by putting himself in harm’s way to prove he can be a leader by example. He shows he’s not afraid of Bjorn in his berserker state by standing face-to-face with him. Thanks to his sudden courage, he had Bjorn in shock of his spiritual charisma. Due to his Christian upbringing, Canute wants to be more of a pacifist by turning the other cheek and when he does, no one dares strike him. Canute is a true warrior in a different sense because he embodies the art of fighting without fighting, a quality that a warrior should have.
Bjorn, or “bear” in a handful of Northern European languages, is probably the equivalent to wrestling legend The Ultimate Warrior in the world of Vinland Saga. Just like the Ultimate Warrior, Bjorn has muscles that only the right supplements, genetics, and training can provide. In the case of Bjorn, he gets his boost from mushrooms. When that happens, he’s in a berserker mode and can squash a majority of his opponents in seconds (and spout nonsense like the Ultimate Warrior)! In addition to enjoying the thrill of battle, he loves to feast and he takes crap from no one!
A major quality that defines Bjorn as a warrior is his unquestionable loyalty to Askeladd. They’ve been together for over a decade and he never hesitates to put himself in harm’s way for Askeladd. While Bjorn does ponder if certain things Askeladd does are necessary (such as keeping Thorfinn as a soldier), he goes along with it knowing something will eventually work out. While Bjorn always follows orders, he also wants to be seen as a friend to Askeladd because he values his relationship with Askeladd, and his drive to see him as an equal are what makes him embody the warrior spirit.
While Thorfinn is the main character, we still put him at number four. While he’s a teenager for a majority of the series, he is shown to be a ferocious warrior who embodies the Cobra Kai motto of strike first, strike hard, no mercy! While he may not be as big and strong as his father, he has naturally fostered his speed and agility by fighting on the battlefield since when he should have been in kindergarten. Due to his upbringing after the loss of his father, Thorfinn has also lost every sense of innocence left in him now that he is driven by rage and vengeance. At his age for most of this part of Vinland Saga, he’s a master assassin that nobody wants to mess with and the only ones capable of stopping him are Askeladd and Thorkell.
In addition to his skills with his father’s knives, he demonstrates an undying sense of loyalty to his father’s memory and whenever he fights Askeladd, he wants to fight as honorably as his father. While he is naturally gifted, he’s still at an age when he still has lots to learn about the ways of the world beyond the battlefield. With his interactions with Prince Canute, the audience can learn how crude he is with people his own age showing how disconnected he is from who he was as a child. When you take a body with the skills he has with the experience he’s going to gain, he’s going to be unstoppable. All he needs is to fully embrace his father’s morals to become that warrior that his father was.
Many of us can agree that Askeladd is the most complicated character in Vinland Saga. When he’s first introduced, he challenges Thors to a duel, gets beaten, and admits defeat. Due to Askeladd’s introduction as an assassin who was hired to take Thors out, he breaks his oath to the Norse gods by ordering his men to fire their arrows at Thors. He was paid to do a job, and some can reasonably argue that’s what he did. Behind Thorkell and Thors, he’s probably the third strongest warrior in the series. Despite his advanced age and smaller frame, what makes him scary is that he is the pure definition is how he’s mentally strong. Every time Thorfinn tries to challenge Askeladd, Askeladd wins by exploiting Thorfinn’s emotions and teenage hormones. When a person is consumed by rage in a fight, they’re more inclined to telegraph their moves and Askeladd effectively wins in such a manner.
However, Askeladd is willing to show that he can be honorable by showing that he cares about Thorfinn in his own twisted way. He even tells Thorfinn in the middle of their fights that he shouldn’t let his emotions get the best of him and doesn’t bother killing him when he easily can. While he may have broken his oath to the gods, he shows a sense of loyalty to his Welsh heritage on his mother’s side and truly cares about Bjorn, the only man he ever acknowledges as a true friend.
Introduced halfway into Vinland Saga is Thorkell, an elite Viking leader who lives for the thrill of battle. As a matter of fact, he happens to be a maternal uncle of Thorfinn. When it comes to his size, he might as well be an ancestor of MMA and pro-wrestling icon Brock Lesnar. Like Lesnar, he can easily throw a full-size log with ease. However, this size and strength are only small parts of what makes him a Viking. In addition, he loves to enjoy feasting and drinking like there’s no tomorrow just like the Vikings did in those days!
What makes him embody the warrior spirit is that he can be honorable in battle when it comes to the right opponent. He doesn’t bring personal emotions as he fights his opponents (unless they’re cowards) and when the time is right, he really likes to be friendly with them, most especially with Thorfinn. Even when he loses an eye and two fingers against Thorfinn, he takes it like a good sport and acknowledges him as a worthy opponent. When Thorkell learns that Thorfinn is the son of Thors, he fights him out of respect and not for glory, which is something more that is portrayed in Samurai media.
At number one, we have Thors. If anything, he is the very essence of what it means to be a hybrid of being an elite Viking and master Samurai in the world of Vinland Saga. As a Viking, not only does he have the amazing strength that makes Mark Henry (aka The World’s Strongest Man) look like a wimp, but he also has the speed of Usain Bolt and the agility of a luchador wrestler. In his prime, he was only one of a few men who could beat Thorkell in a man-to-man fight, and he easily beat Bjorn in his berserker mode (and he fought Bjorn 10 years after retirement!). In a fair fight, he also beat Askeladd rather easily.
What makes him like a Samurai is the way he conducts himself goes along with the principles of Bushido. He doesn’t want to fight for the sake of fighting, and he wants to fight for something that’s worth fighting for and that’s obviously family. When he first fights Askeladd’s men, he instantly takes out 10 of them (with all of them armed with swords) without having to draw his own. He knows he can easily kill people but he chooses not to. The fact that he can show such restraint despite being the strongest character is what makes him number 1.
Through our selections, we get a feel of what the world of Vinland Saga is like. Yes, it’s visually about Vikings, but it masterfully also finds a way to sneak in the Code of the Bushido in some of its characters as well. When it comes to morals, they’re obviously a very broad thing in both the 11th and 21st centuries. Floki may have been dishonorable by wanting to off Thors, but he was trying to uphold tradition. Thors may have broken the rules and he obviously has to face the punishment of the society that he was brought up in, but for his time, his reasoning for what he did was rather progressive. He found value in having a family and he knew that he could die at any time despite his reputation. The fact that he sacrificed everything for his family shows a different side to what it’s like being a warrior.
A lot of these conflicting values can apply to modern Japan. With the regular working man, what is more important? Loyalty to your family? Or loyalty to your company? Thors and Floki’s conflict in the first few episodes could be interpreted as something like that. Of course, it all comes down to how morals can be defined and applied in a very broad sense, and all of these characters we have selected are an effective demonstration of that. What do you readers think? Do you think that Vinland Saga does a great job of showing traditional Japanese values in a Viking setting through its characters? If so, please leave a comment on what you have to say about it!