After 14 years, Vinland Saga, the award winning hit manga by Makoto Yukimura, has finally hit the air waves as its anime adaptation made its debut in July 2019. Just like its original manga, the anime to Vinland Saga tells the tale of Thorfinn, the proud son of a Viking who becomes a pirate under Askeladd, his father’s killer, in order to avenge him. Beyond being its tale of vengeance, what is it that truly defines Vinland Saga? Read our edition to Vinland Saga Explained to find out!
It’s The Harshest Coming of Age Story
Coming of age stories is common throughout the literature, art, and cinema of every nation, culture, and background, and a Japanese anime/manga adaptation of a classic Viking tale is obviously no different. As portrayed in the anime upon the initial drafting of this article, the audience sees Thorfinn grow from a little boy to becoming a pre-teen, and if some of you readers have been keeping up with the manga, he’s an adult by now. Throughout the first arc of the series, most of his motivation is avenging his father so he chooses to be a pirate under Askeladd so he earn the right to face him in a duel like his father did.
Unfortunately, things ultimately don’t go his way as he gets older. While Thorfinn does get a chance to fight Askeladd, despite how his skills have tremendously developed, he’s still no match for him but good enough to earn his respect. Since there are certain story arcs that have yet to be featured in the anime, we wish to refrain from spoilers for those who haven’t read the manga, but without giving too much away, what makes Thorfinn’s journey the harshest amongst good percentage of coming of age stories is how in the end, we can’t always get what we want, and/or makes us re-evaluate what we want.
Vinland Saga takes the notion of family in a very twisted sense. Before we get into that, we need to look at the basics. Thorfinn obviously looked up to his father, who was an honorable and respected man. After the birth of his first child, the notion of possibly never seeing family again overwhelmed him to the point that he deserted his army. He provided for his family, and was a pillar to his community in Iceland. Askeladd may have killed Thorfinn’s father in a very dishonorable manner, but he goes out of his way to treat Thorfinn like he’s one of his men. He doesn’t really see him as a surrogate son, but as a valuable soldier who has tremendous potential.
As the story progresses beyond what has been portrayed in the anime, you see Askeladd go out of his way to protect Thorfinn in the most paternal way possible. Despite the circumstances of what leads Thorfinn to Askeladd, it shows that when you spend time with certain people, they can be the only family you know and when that time comes, they’ll be there for you when it counts the most.
Starting Over/Moving Forward
This is a theme that is first emphasized with Thorfinn’s father in the first few episodes, and has been a recent theme with where the manga is presently. As stated before, Thorfinn’s father was just a regular family man and that’s how he knew him. Before that, he was the most elite Viking warrior that ever lived, but he gave that up. Years later, his former unit finds him and they (allegedly) want him back. When you see Thors in action, he’s still fighting like he’s still in his prime as he can take out an enemy platoon with relative ease. He beat a berserker Bjorn like a rag doll, and made a fool of Askeladd.
When you briefly see Thors in action, it comes to possibly show that maybe we can’t change the nature of who we are. Was Thors always meant to be a warrior? Or was he truly meant to live as a family man in an isolated village? Unfortunately, his untimely death doesn’t afford us that luxury.
With Thorfinn, especially as it progresses in the manga, we get to see more of that. When he’s first introduced, he’s just a regular kid. Then when he’s with Askeladd’s crew, he’s a motivated sociopathic killer. After some events which have yet to be portrayed in the anime, his life takes him all over the place and it gives him and the audience a chance to re-evaluate who he is and where he can go. In the end, he chooses to take control of his life, move forward and not let vengeance consume him. If Thors could change under the right conditions, so can Thorfinn. Even when you put behind certain aspects of your life, the fact is they’re always going to be there but it doesn’t mean you can’t move forward.
Compared to the anime, the manga to where Vinland Saga now is a good indication of what is to come. For this article, we wished to mostly explore it from the perspective of the anime, but use where the manga is as an indication of things to come. Vinland Saga is certainly one of those unique titles that takes something from a different culture, and gives it a unique flavor that you can see from the creative flavors of anime and manga. No, this isn’t what some people would call “cultural appropriation,” but telling a story from a unique perspective hat still makes it universally appealing.