A story of war, intrigue, and vengeance. We start following Thorfinn on his quest for vengeance, yet with each step forward, his goal continues to elude him
Distributed by WIT Studio (Attack on Titan, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress), Vinland Saga is a brand-new tale featuring a setting that many of us would be familiar with - the story is centered on Vikings. However, what immediately stands out to you is that the story isn't your typical Hero's Journey as you'd come to expect from western takes on the setting. If anything, it takes the standard story progression for this setting and turns it on its head. Vinland Saga is among the most interesting recent anime to hit the screen, but does its impact stop at its art style, or is this worth binge-watching the twenty-four-episode first season.
We follow Thorfinn, the son of a legendary Viking warrior Thors, as he attempts to gain revenge on the man that was responsible for his father's death. Throughout the series, Thorfinn encounters several places where he must make difficult choices, and we're left wondering, even as the season proceeds, whether he might have been better off doing something different. He becomes a bit of a lackey for his father's killer, Askeladd, and eventually, both Askeladd and Thorfinn fall under the direct influence of Prince Canute. Askeladd tries to use Canute to fulfill his own ambitions while Thorfinn now finds himself trying to protect and guide the young prince while looking for an opening where he can deal with Askeladd once and for all.
The central theme that spans through the entire series is that of revenge. Askeladd is painted as an ambitious and ruthless antagonist, and Thorfinn, despite his choices, does connect with us. However, if you're a regular consumer of anime, you'd realize that this goes against what we've come to expect from anime in general. While revenge is central to the story, the narrative spends a long time showing why vengeance is terrible, even erecting blocks in Thorfinn's way to make it even less desirable to kill Askeladd. War also features heavily in the thematic elements (we ARE watching Vikings conquering a new land here), but the creator takes great pains to point out how devastating war can be.
If you're looking for something substantial on the gore but light on the ethics, this isn't your jam. However, if you're looking for a new take on the old revenge trope, you'll likely be pleasantly surprised by what WIT Studio offers here. The story is intriguing and deep enough to keep you interested for well beyond the point that you'd have given up on a hack-and-slash anime. That depth is what gives this anime it's personality.
What you realize very quickly is that each of the characters you meet has a story. That story intertwines inexorably with everyone else that you meet, making the world feel alive and real. There's a lot of unexpressed feelings going on in this anime, and much of it comes from people hiding things from each other. The dialog is expository to the point where not only the main characters but also the secondary and tertiary figures reveal something about themselves or the world they're in. The storytelling is emotional and strikes a chord with watches in a way most other stories within this setting fails to do.
Vinland Saga is a fantastic anime. Initially, when I encountered it, I was taken aback by the style and crispness of the art style, but this is more than just about its drawings. Every single part of this series, from the characters to the music resonates with the watcher. It does so to such an extent that it'll have you wondering where your last twelve hours disappeared to. This anime gets a strong recommendation.