I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had an affinity towards Viking culture. Judging by the Vikings hit TV show on the History channel a lot of people agree. There’s just something so interesting about a culture focused on tradition and solidarity and yet is totally cool with raping and pillaging wherever their boats can take them. It almost seems like a mysterious culture too since they were sneaking around America long before any Pilgrims showed up. Mix that with a manga format and you have me hooked as I take a look at Kodansha Comics series Vinland Saga.
Vinland Saga Book One (Kodansha Comics)
The first thing you’ll notice about this series is how damn thick it is, running in at 466 pages. That’s a good deal of manga to consume in one sitting and damn near triples most manga lengths. This series was originally published in English in 2013 but before that published in Japanese in 2006. It’s set during the 11th century when France was still ruled by a number of princes and kings and vikings ruled over most of what we now call Sweden, Finland and Norway. The main characters in this book are from Iceland, which is a hub of sorts. The main character is named Thor-Finn who is a young man and the son of a great warrior. His father is unfortunately dead and in this volume you find out why. The manga opens on a great battle, introduces the time and setting and by the end you’ll know why Thor-Finn wants Askeladd dead. A strange thing when you consider Askeladd is his commander.
The hero has a grudge…
The second thing you’ll notice is Makoto Yukimura’s incredibly detailed art. He’s clearly done his research as the setting is expertly detailed and incredibly well rendered. From clothes to the design of the forts, everything looks exactly as it should. There is a slight cartoony nature to the characters’ faces but the environment and setting is so damn detailed you’ll hardly notice. You’ll get a good sense that Yukimura is influenced by anime as certain panels sometimes come from a perspective familiar in film, and emotional reactions are reminiscent of the big emotions in anime which tends to give everything a more familiar and energetic feel.
..but not for long!
Soemthing Yukimura does with the story might upset some, but in a way it’s a compliment. That’s because the first 130 pages introduce a very compelling young man in Thor-Finn who wants revenge and is an incredible fighter in his own right, but can’t seem to get it. You want to see if this guy will get what he wants, but also want to learn more when it comes to the dynamic between him and his rival Askeladd. As these elements culminate into a climactic end, the book cuts to ten years earlier. For the remaining 300 pages you’ll be stuck reading about Thor-Finn as a young boy and the focus turns to his father. The fact that this flashback lasts so long is frustrating, but fortunately for Yukimura the story of Thor-Finn’s father is incredibly compelling too.
That is one badass dad.
This is a fantastic manga with incredible action, compelling characters, but most of all a sense of dynamic intrigue due to the characters. You’ll be drawn in by the art, but you’ll stay for the cultural elements and heroic characters.