I may have been wrong about Vinland Saga Book One when I reviewed it last week. No, the grade is about right, but it’s probably too low. The fact is I was annoyed that what appeared to be the main protagonist wasn’t given any time beyond the opening pages. Instead his father took over and Makoto Yukimura never looked back. Book two however proves Yukimura never intended one character to be the lead, but for there to be many leads. Book two focuses on not only Thorfinn–the most likely “main character” if there ever could be one–but delves deeply into two other characters. That’s a good thing for readers who are patient and like to be rewarded, but it’s all about balance. Lets see if Book Two can keep up the spectacular work, shall we?
Vinland Saga Book Two (Kodansha Comics)
Book Two opens with Thorfinn much like the first book did, about where we left off…or so it seems. He’s young and seemingly innocent and running for his life. He is however a bit older than when his father valiantly died in battle and we soon learn he’s working for the very man that led his men in killing his dear old dad. As we know from Book One Thorfinn will grow older and continue to want to kill Askeladd in a duel. This series jumps in time again and away we go into the main story of this volume.
Thorfinn is still the right hand of Askeladd as they attempt to take London. His Viking compatriots are deep in what is now known as Britain and want to take the whole island for themselves. They’re having a bit of trouble taking it all, but a plan is afoot. Thorfinn takes a step back from the main story here; still present, but more of an onlooker. He does get one exciting action sequence, but for the most part he’s set aside to reflect on the proceedings. He’s still of course the main thread that this story is following, but Yukimura strays from this story to tell more stories.
He wasn’t using the eyeball anymore anyway.
Frankly it’s a surprise this manga goes this route when you consider the last volume at least focused on Thorfinn’s family. Here we get much more backstory on Askeladd, historical moments concerning the kingdom of Britain and the very important inclusion of Christianity at the time this story takes place. You could split this book into two sections, the first mostly about Askeladd and his character and the second half about Christianity and a monk who has joined their group. These elements flesh out the series very much though, and make Askeladd an even more villainous character at the same time. Those are very much welcome additions!
Since Yukimura never gives us too much on how Askeladd is thinking, we the reader are just as lost as the characters who follow him. This allows for many surprises and a sense of suspense as to what might happen next. We do get just enough info to realize this guy isn’t just Thorfinn’s enemy, but an enemy of entire countries and cultures. Luckily Yukimura never dehumanizes him like so many manga and other stories tend to do. The character is very much a living, breathing character who isn’t evil or villainous just because. That helps keep the reader’s attention and even root for him from time to time.
Then again, the things he does to the Christians is pretty abominable, which is awful but also greatly appreciated as a reader who’s interested in history. I wouldn’t call myself a history buff by any means, but when a story sugar coats history it’s easy to lose interest and stop caring. Yukimura keeps it real though. There is one rape sequence that’s awful, but as we all know the Vikings did a lot of that in their time. Yukimura doesn’t do anything gratuitous and instead uses it to give us a bit of character development from Thorfinn. When violence does come upon the innocent, Yukimura does so off page. This makes it almost more violent, but keeps the gore away so it’s not grotesque.
Vinaland Saga never hammers you with history by any means, but touches on it here and there for those who are interesting. It gives the story more weight, and also importance. Thorfinn entering Wales means something when you know who he’s kidnapped and where they’re going. The Christianity elements are also interesting since as we all know that lasted and the Vikings did not.
You wouldn’t think it from reading this manga though, as the monk is a horrible drunk and the Christians aren’t given any reprieve from the Vikings. Yukimura does a fantastic job with the monk in all his depressing wallowing. He introduces the Vikings to the concept of love, something they’ve never heard f nor do they understand. Yukimura plays around with this for a good deal of time and actually increases the horrible acts they enact on the Christians later.
A little less history focused than you’d think. Not in a bad way though, it just doesn’t force it down your throat.
There are many other smaller elements involved in Book Two–an old friend of Thorfinn’s father, how his sister is holding up back in Iceland–that all add up to one robust and enjoyable read. Oh and if you’re a new reader (why you’d start a manga on volume 2 is anybody’s guess) you’re covered as well. Thorfinn’s father and his demise is recounted as well as Thrfinn’s reason for revenge.
What can I say about the art I didn’t say in my review of Book One? Yukimura always impresses when it comes to scenery and environment. Forests are in hyper detail, mountains clear as day and wooden ships and battlements covered wood grain. Characters aren’t as photorealistic, but this is most likely because they are animated and have distinct features to characterize them. The equipment and horses, however, are again captured in great detail. I often wondered while reading, “how long did this guy draw this one page?!” This is clearly a labor of love and you can see it in every panel.
This is the primo source for Viking entertainment you’ve all been missing. By developing a robust set of characters, the villain and developing historical elements with Christianity, Yukimura has built what is the most epic historical manga to date.