Witness one of the most unique takes on war and violence in fiction ever.
I’ve been reading and reviewing Vinland Saga since September 2015 and have loved it from the very start. This historical fiction manga is photorealistically rendered and has taken its lead character on a journey that’s unexpected but also valiant. To see a badass hero cut up the baddies only to eventually find himself on a quest to make a world without war and violence is impressive. His quest continues with Book 10, and he’s finding it very hard to find a way not to kill while also not losing his friends or his own life.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
After months of hard labor as a farm slave, Thorfinn begins to realize what his father meant by the words, “A true warrior needs no sword.” Perhaps he can find a new purchase on life in the mysterious land he heard tell of in his childhood: the continent to the west known as Vinland.
Why does this matter?
It’s incredibly unconventional to have a protagonist spend most of his time avoiding conflict; it’s a fascinating element you just don’t see in any medium. It also puts a new spin on action scenes and the approach a hero takes in a land where life is war.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This volume does a few things very well starting with Gorm, the character displayed on the cover who is as quick and maybe even as good of a fighter as Thorfinn. Gorm has a lust for fighting and is a great foil to Thorfinn. He’s basically what Thorfinn was at a younger age, but a lot more crazy and a lot more joyous about fighting. He loves war so much he’s nearly suicidal, though he doesn’t seem to revel in murder so much as enjoy the thrill of living on the edge. He goes toe-to-toe with Thorfinn early on and plays a big part in Makoto Yukimura’s overall narrative of Thorfinn avoiding conflict whenever possible.
Thorfinn might have a harder time avoiding fighting in this volume than in any other, and this difficulty comes from a variety of sources. From direct conflict to being tasked with saving kidnapped friends, the odds are insurmountable. Yukimura does a good job reminding us that Thorfinn is probably as good as ever at killing, which makes his decision to be peaceful that much harder. If the easiest option is fighting, it’s bound to be the first one you’ll take. This conflict is further exasperated by this world’s killers and Vikings pillaging left and right. This volume is Yukimura’s first chance to show Thorfinn fight against war, resorting to peace with conflicts directly in his path and in the path of his friends.
Thorkell, the giant fighter who lives to kill and fight, ends up being a good comedy relief valve with all the seriousness going on. He’s the kind of character you hope will never die, and his cheeriness and desire for war even when given the option for peace are entertaining. Speaking of comedy, there’s also a funny chapter called “Dogland Saga” which focuses on Thorfinn’s compatriot who is also a dog. It’s very cute and it reminded me of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s character Lucky the Pizza Dog from Hawkeye. The dog’s point of view puts each of the characters into perspective and adds some levity to the otherwise super serious narrative.
The art continues to be marvelously detailed and well-researched. In one of the notes sections, Yukimura points out the limitations of technology at the time making his job harder when designing weapons or even making sense of a character pulling some money out of a pocket–there were no pockets at the time. This book stands as a historical replication of the time which adds to the realism, of course, but also the value of the story since you know everything you see is accurate.
It can’t be perfect can it?
There’s a chunk of story about a third of the way in that spends too much time setting up characters and getting them from point A to point B, and it’s also devoid of any action. You’ll be yawning and hoping things pick up. It’s only a small portion and it, coincidentally, doesn’t feature Thorfinn much. Seemingly important confrontations, like Thorkell confronting a general, end up not mattering at all. Maybe this section could work if a scene was moved here or there or the pace picked up, but as it stands it just slows things down.
Is it good?
This is yet another great collection in a series that’s historically accurate and deeply unique in its approach to war. We currently live in a society that glorifies violence and it’s works like this that are incredibly important and impactful with their message. So often we think a fight can resolve an issue, but if I’ve learned anything from Vinland Saga, it’s that conflict only conflates and ruins any resolution. Now, if this series could come out a little faster than once a year, I’d very much appreciate it!