Hanging over these two episodes is the impeding death of Thors. Vinland Saga isn’t nearly as violent as I anticipated. Of course it is a bloody series. However, I’m surprise how much this series “doesn’t” have violence. That can all change as war has been declared. This is especially true considering that Thors has gone to great lengths to avoid the violence he was once stepped in. In episode 2, Sword, the war between England and Denmark begins. The Jomsviking, a band of powerful Viking warriors, arrive at Thorfinn’s village. They hope to get Thors to return to war. Floki the commander of the Jomsviking, threatens to destroy the village if he doesn’t join. He provides Thors with a boat for the other villagers.
The first thing that’s questionable is why Thors would take the clearly inexperienced “soldiers,” from the village. Obviously, they need to fight to gain experience but they haven’t been training very hard for war. Thors heads off to war and surprisingly Thorfinn sneaks on board. A common theme of this series so far is how little the villagers take war and violence seriously. The only way to change that is to see it. However, it seems clear that most of Thors fellow villagers are likely going to get killed. Askeladd, the leader of a Viking army is given orders to murder Thors. Floki claims that he was given orders to do so by the king for Thors desertion 15 years ago. Askeladd is able to deduce that he was lying.
He concludes that Floki was unwilling to risk his men against Thors. Once again the series manages to balance the serious tone with moments of humor. Ari (and the rest of the group) try to proposes to Ylva. She doesn’t seem to care as she’s sleepy. It’s a subtle moment of humor that makes their potential deaths seem sadder. Thors and the others are ambushed by Askeladd and his men. Forced into a corner, Thors begins to fight the men alone. So far he’s unwilling to shed any blood, at least not yet. It might be possible that Thors kills off enough of the men that the others survive, but I doubt it. I’m dreading the next episode but I also can’t wait.
If you watched Game of Thrones then you may have felt some instant similarities in this series. Generally, I don’t watch a lot of Historical Seinen anime. Actually, Vinland Saga is my first. This episode begins with Thors (everybody seems to be named after the god Thor) daydreaming in a wheat field. Turns out he’s on the battle field. We get a glimpse of the stunning animation and brutal violence. Thors dominates, killing enemies with ease as he travels from boat to boat. In a fury of slashes and blood, Thors appears to be unfazed and unafraid. At the end of this scene he washes up on shore, leaving the burning boats behind.
We move forward to years later on Iceland. Thorfinn is doing chores. We hear a likely false or exaggerated story from his Grandfather, Leif Erickson. Thorfinn lives with his father Thors, his mother Helga and his sister Ylfa. The next morning Ylfa and Thors begin shoveling the snow off of their room. Ylfa falls off and lands on a slave that was under the snow. The man is malnourished, badly scared and seemingly has frostbite on his limbs. Thors tries to save him from death. Meanwhile, Grandpa Leif tells Thorfinn a probably true story of being marooned on ice and having 6 of his crewmates die. He also explains why they left the warm Norway for the freezing Iceland.
They fled from a strongman named Harald. Thorfinn calls him a “lair,” and runs home. The slave begins to speak and explains that he’s from Halfdan’s. Halfdan arrives to collect his slave. When one of his men steps out of line, Halfdan wraps his chain around his face and pulls. The man is severely disfigured as a result. The slave talks about his family as he becomes delirious. When Halfdan comes to get him, Thors offers ewes for the dying slave. He ends up trading eight for the slave. He quickly dies, leaving Ylfa distraught . . . over the sheep. It was a dark moment but a funny one. Finally, we see a boat with a blond man with a scar approaching what we can assume is Iceland.
Like many of the series I’ve review this summer, I really liked Vinland Saga. I’ll review the other two episode released in the coming days but this episode was well done. The animation was amazing, and so far I like the characters. It’s hard to know the tone of this series just yet, but it feels like there will be a combination of dark themes (slavery) but also humor. I already know that Thors isn’t going to live very long. That’s why I referenced Game of Thrones before. The warrior with a heart of gold dies early in the series. The characterization of Thors had such an powerful effect on me I’m already dreading his death.