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Thoughts on Vinland Saga (First half - Episodes 1-12)

In preparation for the new season coming out in a week, I've decided to finally watch Vinland Saga. Several friends have recommended it to me, but I never got into it before because I'm not terribly interested in historical fiction and I easily tire of revenge stories. Anyway, over the past 2 or 3 days, I watched the first 12 episodes of Vinland Saga (there are 24 episodes total). Today's posts contains some rambles about my thoughts thus far.


Episodes 1 through 6

Vinland Saga starts strong, with the first few episodes indisputably attention-catching. The pilot episode was very engaging and the fight scenes looked good. The intro song and ending song are both memorable and emotionally evocative. The history this show incorporates helps with the realism. This early on, Thorfinn is only six, so you can't exactly be interested in his character psychology. However, you can focus on Thors, who is psychologically fascinating and extremely morally admirable. His daughter Ylva is also a great character to focus on in the first few episodes. I absolutely love her.

I have a few notes specifically about the second episode. Even this early in the story, Vinland Saga is already exploring profound and classic themes. With Thors' character, the show is proposing the idea that war and violence are terrible. Thorfinn will learn soon enough that these things are no joke, but unlike his father, he embraces the carnage. Revenge and the cycle of violence play major roles as themes. I enjoyed this episode, especially the iconic scene where Thors talks to his son in the storage room about having no enemies.

Now let me say a bit about general production. The animation is excellent most of the time in Vinland Saga. An example is the duel between Askeladd and Thors in episode 4. The OST music is great and, as I already mentioned, the opening songs are wonderful and emotional. I'm also impressed with the voice-acting in this anime. The seiyuu who voiced child-Thorfinn did really well with her ability to yell in rage. Yuuto Uemura, who voices teenage Thorfinn, is a familiar voice that I like a lot. There are also some big names, like Akio Ohtsuka, who voices Thorkell.

Besides audio-visual, Vinland Saga is also fairly strong on story and characters. In terms of plot, it's a simple and predictable revenge story, but the pacing is so good and there is so much action that it stays entertaining. Plus, there are a few deeper themes here and there. The historical aspect also helps with strengthening the story by filling in the world around our characters. The story succeeds in being emotionally powerful at the right times, like when Thors dies. Speaking of the characters, once Thors is dead, the interesting character psychology for Thorfinn begins almost right away. Though I don't find him personally relatable, I am keenly interested in this boy's psychology. Other characters like Askeladd and Thorkell are well-written, too.

(Thors is killed by arrows)

I'll say a bit more about Thorfinn's psychology later, but for now, I'll share my thoughts on the memorable sixth episode. During this installment, Thorfinn kills someone for the first time after getting involved with a battle with English soldiers. It was grim watching a child become a fighter. His skills are very impressive and I can't help rooting for him, but it's really sad. Sometimes, I wish we could hear more of Thorfinn's thoughts- for example, what was he thinking when he killed his first man? All we saw was him screaming. A little bit of commentary would have been nice.

Episode 6 was also heartbreaking because Thorfinn signaled the Vikings to attack the English village where the old lady protected him. Thorfinn clearly wanted the old lady to survive, but he shook off any feelings of guilt. The old lady was so kind to him, and he knew it. But not even this was enough to make Thorfinn doubt his path of carnage. Commenting on his psychology again, he's extremely stubborn and aggressive by nature. He showed those tendencies even when he was six, and by this time, he's thirteen or so. Despite his obstinance and quickness to anger, Thorfinn doesn't enjoy violence. That's an important thing to note.


Episodes 7 Through 12

Vinland Saga is highly realistic for an anime. Even so, there are still unrealistic things sometimes. For example, Thorfinn used a dagger to cleanly decapitate a man in episode 7. Also, in episode 10, Askeladd is well-versed in history despite being an uneducated Viking as far as we know. One man capable of throwing multiple enormous rocks across the Thames River is also doubtful (I mean Thorkell). But overall, this anime stays fairly close to life. The history included continues to help with that. It was strange to see London as a small merchant town with a wooden bridge, but that's probably what it looked like a thousand years ago.

Episode 9 was interesting for two reasons: 1) the character of Thorkell, and 2) the contrast between Thorkell and Thorfinn at the end of the episode. Thorkell is insane, but I do like him for what he brings to this show. He makes it feel more like an anime. Psychopaths are always interesting from a psychological standpoint, and adrenaline addicts can be fascinating as well. Thorkell is both. As for the end of the episode, we saw that Thorfinn is very different from Thorkell. He doesn't think battle is fun at all. Apparently, though, he still views it as necessary for him.


I like it when the characters talk about religion, especially in episodes 11 and 12. It shows some differences between Norse and Christian belief systems at the time. I must add, however, that the way they represent Christianity is somewhat skewed. Regardless of how loving a character Jesus was, Christians in the 1000s were not "a people of love." They forced their religion on many other cultures and started many wars: killing, pillaging, and oppressing people in the name of a "loving" god. It might be true that Christianity was slightly more humanistic than Norse, but it really depended on the nature of the individuals wielding the religion.

There is a slight narrative shift beginning around episode 10. It starts to focus on Thorfinn and Askeladd securing and protecting Prince Canute. I do appreciate androgynous characters, but so far Canute's character is boring. I don't have any thoughts about him right now other than wondering what he's thinking about when he's so quiet all the time. Going back to our discussion of the narrative, the plot was pretty exciting for episode 11. However, episode 12 was a little boring for me. I expected a more intense, exciting cliffhanger or something to mark the first half of the series. Oh well.

(Prince Canute)

What I'm most looking forward to in the second half of the series is further development on the strange relationship between Askeladd and Thorfinn. Although Askeladd is using Thorfinn for his own ends, he also seems to trust and admire the boy in a way. He spared the kid's life so many times. As for Thorfinn, he despises Askeladd and wants to kill him. But there may be some other feelings mixed in since Askeladd and his men helped Thorfinn survive and become strong. It's an interesting dynamic.

And that's about all for my thoughts on episodes 1-12. Thanks for reading. Look out for another post soon with my thoughts on the second half of Vinland Saga.


Thank you for visiting Mono's Anime Rants~

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