WIT Studio is known for banging out from great-looking anime such as Attack on Titan and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. Their latest offering takes us back to the days of the Vikings, of Leif Ericson, and the primal days of war! It was a 2-cours anime that looked to bring much hype and excitement to your weekly offering of anime but did Vinland Saga sink or swim? It is a dog eat dog world after all so let’s find out what (if anything) went wrong.
(Okay, that’s the best I could do to incorporate the lyrics to the first opening in my intro!)
Thorfinn is a little emo bitch.
There, I said it. Plot over.
But seriously, Thorfinn, son of legendary Viking warrior Thors, grows up and seeks revenge on the man who killed him, Askeladd. The story of Vinland Saga is simply Thorfinn’s journey on his quest for revenge. Sure, there are many other stories woven in but at its heart and its purest form, Vinland Saga is all about revenge and nothing else.
After Askeladd ambushes and kills Thors through an assassination order given by Floki, a former friend of Thors who was sent to bring him back to join the upcoming war only to use that as a front to assassinate him for turning his back on his brethren in order to live a peaceful life, Thorfinn swears revenge and leaves his home behind. Thorfinn actually joins Askeladd, using the “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” adage to his advantage. Askeladd thinks it’s cute and simply ends up using Thorfinn for a bunch of crap work and miscellaneous jobs as Askeladd schemes for his ultimate destiny. Everything Askeladd does, from plundering villages to communicating with other lands is all leading to one defining moment for him.
Thorfinn, on the other hand, only agrees to help him so he could hone his combat skills to the point where he can challenge Askeladd in a duel with the intent to kill him and take revenge for his father. These simple plans change when we meet Canute, the prince and son of King Sweyn. Sweyn sends Canute out to battle in hopes that he would die on the battlefield. A lot of things happen and Canute becomes the centerpiece in which Askeladd looks to use to carry out his own selfish desires.
I don’t want to get too much further into the plot because I don’t want to dip my toe too deep into the spoiler pool but all of these stories eventually intertwine with each other and create a deeply-layered show that captivates your imagination. The characters are all diverse and their individual stories carry a lot of weight to the point where Thorfinn’s story seems like it takes a backseat from time to time, only to be brought forward to remind us about the core reason why this show exists. Still, it’s not a bad thing because the other stories are so good, you almost stop caring about Thorfinn’s revenge!
If Dororo didn’t exist, Vinland Saga could have won my Anime of the Year just based on the story alone. It really is that good!
Son of Thors and a bright-eyed scamp of a kid… until his father dies. Then he just becomes this uncaring ball of rage that can only think of one thing: killing Askeladd, the man who killed his father. Thorfinn is a very simple character to figure out because he is very one-dimensional. Eat. Sleep. Scream out in Anger. Lose to Askeladd in a Duel. Repeat. That’s pretty much the formula for Thorfinn and it’s not until the very end of the series that we begin to see some variation in his character.
There are certain moments where he’s given something to think about and that something helps cause a bit of a change to his personality… albeit… not that much. Usually, one-dimensional characters often fail but Thorfinn just works in this situation and works well. Thorfinn is a great example that you can do so much with so little. Just make Thorfinn a badass fighting machine, give him as few lines as possible, and watch him just interact with the world and the other characters. It’s very hard to pull that off but they did pull it off here and they did it well!
Okay, has there ever been any other anime villain in history as awesome as Askeladd? Well, yeah… probably, but it’s been a long time since I’ve personally seen on like him. Cocky, arrogant, yet fully in control and confident. He is a mastermind at formulating plans and he’s as spontaneous as they come all at the same time. I have never seen such diversity in a main villain. It’s almost if Askeladd can do it all without even thinking twice about it. He can manipulate you, overpower you, rob you, care for you, respect you, betray you, and more all on a whim. His attitude and dialogue make for a great compliment to his personality. His words are smooth when he needs to negotiate, respectful when he’s commanding the men under him, and sharp when he needs you to realize the harsh reality of things. Hands down, Askeladd is my favorite character in this show and he’s my favorite of ANY show this year. Even though Dororo is my overall favorite anime of the year, Askeladd himself just outshines every character I’ve personally seen!
Then we have this goofball. Thorkell is comedic relief but don’t say that to his face. He is a former brother-in-arms of Thors and loves to fight… like REALLY loves to fight. Did you just slice his face with a sword? No bother. Thorkell will look at the cut and just be like “Oh! I was cut!” before grinning and chopping you in half with his battle-ax. The tougher the fight, the happier he becomes. He has an insatiable bloodlust and will go wherever the best action is. You think he holds an allegiance but as you will see during the course of the show, that is not always necessarily the case. Thorkell doesn’t respect people easily, either. If you can’t put up a fight, he just disregards you as common trash. However, if you’re able to go toe to toe with him, you will get a warrior’s respect and honor from him… you’ll also draw his interest to the point where he’d probably fight you forever until one of you died.
Here was a very diverse character! Canute, son of King Sweyn, is a meek and timid individual. Afraid to speak and, at one point, thought to be a woman, he ends up getting captured and becomes the object of Askeladd’s personal schemes. Canute has an amazing turning point in this series and proves he has a set between his legs! So much so that he ends up persuading some people you’d never think would follow him. Canute was really fun to watch grow. His story goes much deeper than this but it ends up ruining the entire back half of the show. If you check this show out, you’ll see what I mean.
Lastly, I’ll touch upon our main antagonist. Sweyn is a mastermind tactician who can manipulate you to his will just by simply investigating and using personal knowledge against you. Because as such, he is respected for his tactics but also known for his cold-hearted brutalism. He will not take any prisoners and commands respect. Any who defy the King or disrespect him or the crown will be put down immediately without question. Still, behind all of this lies a fat, sloth of a man who is disgusting from head to toe. He’s the kind of villain who, like Askeladd, remains calm, cool, and calculating but you just want to see someone run a blade through his heart.
Of course, there are other side characters such as Floki, Leif Ericson, Bjorn, Ragnar, Thors, Willibald (who is the best drunken priest character I’ve ever seen), and more which have smaller parts but all have MEANINGFUL smaller parts. This series takes great care of their characters and makes sure that no character ever truly goes to waste! They all help tell the story as a whole and with a large supporting cast, that’s hard to do but Vinland Saga makes it feel effortless.
Art, Animation, and Sound
It’s WIT Studio. You’re going to get that authentic WIT Studio style with seinen-style attributes, thick black outlines, and the oddly-placed CG scene every now and then. If there is one place that WIT Studio shines, though, is in the animation….
Which is what I’d like to say except that there were a few episodes that missed the mark. I believe it was Episode 18 in particular that called out for having really sloppy animation during one of the most pivotal moments in the series. It’s not like WIT Studio to underdeliver like this but, apparently, it was not up to fans’ expectations. The director, Shuuhei Yabuta, took to social media to even apologize for the episode! Still, that one episode aside, there were still a few instances where we had a single animation cell being dragged across the camera with some action lines over top. When that wasn’t happening; however, everything looked pretty top-notch as you would expect from these guys.
The soundtrack… oof… here’s one of those instant buy OSTs whenever it comes out. Everything in there was just music to the ears (obviously). It brought the show to life and offered up great ambiance whenever it needed to. The tracks during some the battle scenes as well as some of the more emotional moments of the show really helped enhanced what you saw on screen… something a phenomenal soundtrack does. On top of that, there were several key songs that were recognizable as they were strewn about the series. If you can remember the music, that means it’s not only good but it’s doing its job correctly.
Just simply phenomenal from beginning to end. The series does take a few episodes to get started but it’s all worth it. Once it hits the gas pedal, this series takes off like a WIT Studio chopper in the show’s signature cold open! Everything from the multiple stories, the characters, the soundtrack, and the artwork hit it on all cylinders. My only complaint lies within the animation as it was a rare miss at times for the studio but it wasn’t a glaring issue throughout the entirety of the series so it does its job well enough to be forgiven and I don’t think it was bad enough to where any points need to really be subtracted from it.
This is a show with high rewatch value but no word of a second season. We do know that there is more story to be told but, for right now at least, we were only left with a teaser video that is getting mixed messages thrown around the internet. Some say that it’s a confirmation for a second season, some say it’s a promo video for a future manga arc, some say it’s just a teaser with no information attached to it. Whatever it is, it has fans talking and it’s got people hyped. Whatever the future may bring, I sure hope another round of Vinland Saga is in it because this is one series you cannot afford to miss!
Vinland Saga weaves multiple tales in with its overarching plot of a boy seeking revenge for his father’s death. Everything from the art, story, characters, and soundtrack fire on all cylinders to bring to you one of the most epic shows of 2019!
- Lots of emotion and drama
- One of the best villains I had ever seen in Askeladd
- Only a couple of hiccups with animation