No matter how accurate a historical drama is it still has to tell the story well. That’s why you always see “based on a true story,” because nobody wants to see the events unfold exactly as they happened. Who wants to see all those trips to the bathroom!?
Luckily there are no bathroom breaks in Vinland Saga, a fantastic story that takes place in 1013 England, although there’s plenty of action and intrigue. So far I’ve loved every volume more each time so chances are Book Three will blow me away too. Still, what happens, why is it good and more importantly why does this thing matter?
Vinland Saga Book 3 (Kodansha Comics)
The Danish and English are at war in England and the Danish Askeladd, bitter villain of Thorfinn, has captured the prince Canute to gain power of some sort from King Sweyn. It’s deep into winter and storms are bursting around them but Askeladd eats well after capturing a Christian town and taking the spoils for he and his band; he had to kill the entire village of course to keep his location a secret – a brutal act that saw him set Canute aflame – but the Danish maniac known as Thorkell is hot on his trail. Meanwhile the story continues its theme of fathers and sons as King Sweyn hopes to be rid of his son Canute due to his seeming physical and emotional weaknesses and Thorfinn wants to kill Askeladd for killing his father.
Why does this manga matter?
Makoto Yukimura is one of the best in the manga scene right now after creating the science fiction epic Planetes. The number of good viking stories is slim these days so someone exploring the genre with such epic and detailed art is noteworthy. On top of that there are multiple strong characters explored and more importantly a meaning behind everything. Yukimura chose this historical moment in time because he wanted to explore violence, its purpose and ultimately its misgivings in a culture where killing is revered.
Is that even possible!?
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
So far in this series Askeladd has been at the top of his game, always winning and always having luck on his side. Well, that is until now. With Thorkill on his tail we’re finally seeing Askeladd as a fallible human. For the longest time Thorfinn’s infatuation with beating Askeladd (in a duel he ostensibly can’t win) has been a major element of Askeladd’s character. Askeladd’s seemingly unbeatable, a skilled fighter and a master strategist, but that’s changing — here he’s running for his life and it’s fun to watch him squirm as he tries to maintain his confidence.
Though there is a lot of fleeing there’s also a huge chunk of fighting and it’s impeccably drawn and choreographed. From one on one duels to full on battles you get all sorts of fighting in this book. Thorkill gets plenty of time doing his badass thing as he impossibly cuts through multiple enemies at once. Sure it’s unreal how invincible he is – like a superhero really – but given his height and strength it’s believable he’d have no trouble taking his enemies out. On top of that we get a Thorkill vs. Thorfinn battle. Pound for pound this has to be one of the most action packed battle yet.
Meanwhile Thorfinn takes a bit of a back seat again, but a well timed flashback to his father and Thorkill keeps the reader interested. Clearly Thorfinn is the protagonist, but he remains a side character with the promise his story will be fleshed out later.
About all the Christianity you get is right here.
The most interesting element and the biggest surprise though is the rise of prince Canute. He gains a new sense of bravery you would never think he had in him. This bravery is tied to a realization of violence in mankind. It’s the strongest statement Yukimura has made on the subject yet and it’s gripping. He captures the stupidity of violence in a very poetic way. Top notch stuff.
I recently learned Yukimura has three assistants working 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday on this book. I think I know why. The amount of detail in Vinland Saga is jaw dropping and much of it is in the backgrounds, clothing and weapons. These assistants must be working these hours to build this world, from the detailed grain in wooden doors to the landscapes which all come together making this experience all the more real.
What is love?
It can’t be perfect can it?
It’s a bit hard to believe Askeladd can keep his cool through all of this even when death seems imminent. I guess that’s what pride will do to you.
It’s also surprising that Yukimura completely dropped the Christian angle he so carefully built in previous books. It’s slightly touched on early in this volume but appears to be old news by the end. Canute continues to be a Christian himself, but his new view on violence doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it. The idea of love was introduced in the last book – an idea the Vikings can’t seem to understand – and is brought up again here in a different way. It makes sense sure, but it’s not completely clear what the message is by books end. I suppose humanity itself is the opposite of love? I’m sure Yukimura will explore this more later, but it tonally jumps too much.
Witness a dude losing his mind.
Vinland Saga is a page turner you don’t want to miss. It’s the best kind of addictive reading because so many great things come together: art, character, story and meaning all collide.