“A True Warrior”

「本当の戦士」 (Hontou no senshi)

Zaiden’s Take

Was this an incredible episode? Probably the best episode so far within the summer season. How do I rate the adaptation of this episode? Not to be a pessimist or manga elitist or anything of the like, but I felt that while the first three episodes were a masterful expression of the original work, the fourth episode fell quite a bit short of what I’d hoped it to be. Of course, this episode was still amazing. That is something I could never take away from it with the sheer amount of quality animation coming from Wit, to properly back up the outstanding narrative that Yukimura has painstakingly crafted. But maybe it’s the curse of a manga reader to perpetually struggle in finding satisfaction, because I was left wishing it had been more. I suppose there was no issue with how they approached the intriguingly complex mannerisms of Askeladd, as well as Thorfinn’s subsequent descent into darkness. Those were conveyed with much emotional gravitas. But it was always going to be difficult, perhaps impossible, bringing to life both the martial prowess and dignified regality of Thors the Troll.

Seriously, from my perspective and based off how the manga went about business, Studio Wit certainly could have established a more formidable imagery of Thors in the minds of anime viewers that wasn’t so limited, impressive as it may seem. In the manga, Thors had a much more menacing and calculating poker face in the manga, keeping his worries buried deep beneath the surface without leaking hints of desperation like he did in the anime. You could feel it edge into him on the screen, whereas flipping the pages, you could see a much more stoic man who possessed nerves of steel. In the manga, Bjorn went at Thors a second time after getting knocked down by that hefty uppercut, with Thors putting him down yet again in an even more emphatic fashion. This was left out for some reason. And what disappointed me the most was that they didn’t animate what I would have considered the most iconic spread from the chapter which best encapsulated Thors’ personal philosophy – an all in one frame that showed him tossing the sword away without any trace of hesitation or fear or anger, fully accepting the cruel outcome that fate had prepared for him without complaints. Instead, this was all we got. Which begs the question from me, why focus on a shining sword, when its wielder had a far brighter resolve? I wanted us all to see Thors face as he threw it away, not the sword itself, if people understand where I’m coming from.

Askeladd respected Thors not because he sacrificed his life for the sake of others, he would have viewed that as foolish. It was because he realised that Thors had transcended earthly desires that was so typical among vikings, and faced death as an equal with such a proud and dignified demeanour. Offering over the leadership of his mercenaries, on top of being genuine awe at Thors inspirational strength and attitude, was hope that he didn’t have to kill such a great men who he respected. In fact, despite having only met Thors for this very brief moment in which their lives intersected, I would actually say that Askeladd already had a better understanding of Thors than both Floki and Thorfinn (who’ve known Thors more closely for a much longer time), representing something of a middle ground when it comes to the polarising spectrums by which they perceive Thors. I felt like the anime could have done more to hammer this home, because while Thors’ superior combative skills definitely played an important role in gaining Askeladd’s respect, it was ultimately his maverick outlook that permeated through to the otherwise remorseless and roguish mercenary leader.

Thors is dead and will no longer appear in the flesh ever again. Yet the examination of his legacy, specifically the emotionally substantive core of his philosophy and how it influences the other major characters, will continue being fundamental to Vinland Saga. We’re already seeing it. Askeladd heavily brooding – whereas he didn’t even spare a moment of conscience for any blood shed or lives previously lost at the hands of his men. And Thorfinn spiralling into a bottomless pit of anger, hatred and revenge upon those who cowardly conspired to kill his father. Guilt too with heaps of self-blame, because his father might have prevailed over the odds and not have died so unfairly had he not been taken as hostage. This turn in belief and personality surely can’t be what his father had in mind for him, but it’s certainly a natural reaction that can’t be helped and it may take him that journey of a lifetime to overcome this trauma which understandably seems to be defining his very being — to eventually comprehend what his father truly meant in saying that a true warrior needs no sword. After all, Vinland Saga will be the story of Thorfinn, son of Thors, and how he struggles and strives to come to terms with the pacifistic legacy his father tried to leave behind, in light of his own burning desire for revenge.

Guardian Enzo’s Take

Sometimes, you know, you look for the words and they just don’t come easily. That’s what I feel like after this episode of Vinland Saga which, while it may have ended in a poetically predictable manner, executed the journey with a grace and dexterity you seldom see in anime or any other narrative art form. This series is very, very special, there’s no two ways about it. Nothing revolutionary or avante-garde – just brilliant traditional storytelling at its most breathtaking.

Given that we were looking at a three-week wait between Episodes 3 and 4, I did a staggered re-watch of the first three eps. Obviously because that layoff felt like forever, but also because I wanted to as closely as possible simulate the experience of going into this episode after a normal interval (like a starting pitcher doing side work when he has to skip a start on his regular rest). Honestly it wouldn’t have matted – as soon as #4 began I was immediately right back inside the story emotionally and intellectually, and would have been whether I’d rewatched the first three of not. The storytelling here is so articulate that it’s always crystal clear what’s happening at any given moment – and not having to scramble to keep up, your mind is free to grind on all the subtext (and there’s a ton of it).

In effect, this show is executed so eloquently that there’s not much left for me to do, really. I can gush of course – I’m good at that. And speculate. I’d heard over and over how the first part of the manga is – while still excellent – the weakest. I know some things were re-ordered for the anime but it’s hard to see how much better Vinland Saga can get, really. As I said last time I would gladly line up to watch any series with Thors as the protagonist – he’s an incredible man and an incredible character. But in some sense I think Yukimura Makoto intentionally embraced the much tougher task of writing a series with Thorfinn as the protagonist, because while Thors would have allowed him to deliver riveting drama, Thorfinn allows him to ask the questions he really wants to ask.

This was riveting, tense, exuberant and shocking from start to finish. Thors takes out an entire ship of Askeladd’s men – 28 in all, without killing a damn one of them (he even throws an oar to one man he knocks into the water). And that includes right-hand man Bjorn (Yasumoto Hiroki, not really that cool-headed here) who’s eaten a “berserker mushroom”. Yet all the time Thors is aware – and we are too – of the odds stacked against him. If he were alone he could take out as many men as Askeladd threw at him – he might need to resort to killing some, but he could do it. But he has two ships worth of farmers and green farmer’s sons – and one little boy – to protect.

No, this is only going to end one way, and I think it was Thors’ endgame all along even if he did try and miraculously avoid it. The challenge and the duel (which was a beautiful thing) was a desperation play, and Askeladd accepted because he knew he held all the cards either way. And because he’s too much of a badass himself to pass up the opportunity to feel the might of someone like Thors (as if there were anyone else) in battle. Even if Bjorn hadn’t roused himself and taken the dirty way out by holding Thorfinn hostage, Askeladd still wasn’t going to let Thors walk away with his ships and crews.

The funny thing, though, is that when Askeladd asked Thors to become the leader of his company, I feel absolutely certain he meant it (and his look when he realized that the answer would be what he knew it would proves it). The idea of serving under a man like Thors – to be in the presence of a warrior so strong and inspirational – was a once-in-a-lifetime shot for Askeladd, and he took it. A mercenary yes, but he’s neither a fool or a philistine. He knows greatness when he sees it and has the sensibility to want to be a part of it. But it was never meant to be, and he knew that.

Thors lived – and died – by the philosophy that came to govern his life after he fled the Jomsvikings. “A true warrior doesn’t need a sword” – these words confuse Thorfinn, naturally, and all the more as his heart is broken by the fundamental lack of justice in the world. What we see in Thorfinn is a boy who’s in the process of rejecting his father’s way and following his own. He’s always seen the way of the Vikings as the true path, and now that he’s seen his father struck down in cowardly fashion, his bloodlust has a firm and specific target.

Even if Thorfinn were to kill Askeladd in revenge for his father’s death (which it’s hard to imagine him doing as a six year-old, even if he did manage to stow away yet again and his sheer force of will commands their attention and Askeladd’s respect), his bloodlust isn’t going to be sated. But surely Thors’ words will forever be at the back of his son’s mind as he walks his own bloody path – a nagging presence he can never quite shake off, no matter how many men he kills and how many battles he wins, asking the difficult questions Yukimura wants to ask. And that struggle inside Thorfinn will, I suspect, be the spine of Vinland Saga through its entire narrative course.


  1. Sorry Thors, but your philosophy is flawed and brings injustice to yourself and others. You refuse to kill those who deserve death like the corrupt pirates who only serve to cause harm if left alive.

    1. Even though it’s a flawed philosophy, I still think what he did was the best decision he could have made on that situation. Yes, he could have killed everyone there and even got everyone home safely (kirito style), but Thors knew all along that by the time he was found alive after leaving the war, he was a walking dead man. Refusing to die would also put everyone he loved in danger.

      1. No question about it. There was no way Askeladd was leaving without his prize – he had all the cards in his favor. Thors’ knew this and the entire conflict was basically him trying to extract the maximum value for his own life.

        Thors managed to get 15 years of peace out of his flawed philosophy and provide a good home for his family and the other village children. If he’d left for the new world with Leif he might have managed to do so for the rest of his (and their) life.

      2. Did you forget he had archers? Askeladd could have ended that match long ago if he wasn’t playing around. How exactly was Tors going to protect everyone from those arrows shooting straight down?

      3. Archers or no archers, having read the manga of Vinland Saga, I think these fighters are definitely depicted beyond the human limits that anime watchers are imagining. And by that, I mean to say that Thors, Askeladd, Bjorn verge on superhuman.

        We’ve had chapters in the manga where characters fight their way and survive in the middle of getting pincered by two opposing forces hailing arrows down upon them, and these people aren’t anywhere near as prolific as Thors. One even vertically runs up the side of a fortress with just his legs (think Sonic running against gravity), dodges arrows, reaches the ramparts where the archers were firing at him and slaughters them all.

        Not to say Thors could have scaled a whole cliff to deal with the archers. But if the feats of other weaker characters from later in the manga are considered, I reckon Thors easily had the speed to dodge the arrows or slice them out of the air and the resourcefulness to use chunks of wood as a makeshift shield. He could have singlehandedly taken out their entire groundforce in my opinion. The only problem for him was that Thorfinn and the other inexperienced teenagers were also there, which forced him to account for their safety too, then Thorfinn got taken hostage. It was also hardly Askeladd’s plan to have Thorfinn taken hostage. Rather, Bjorn reacted impulsively and Askeladd capitalised upon it.

  2. i mean… it was pretty obvious how that was all going to turn out based on the OP… so I was sort of intruiged to see what would actually kill Thors… without being cheap or uncharacteristic of the development so far,

    in the end… Thors killed Thors.. and that makes a lot of sense.

    This has been very enjoyable so far,definetly a early contender for one of the best this season.

  3. Those who live by the sword die by ranged weapons…
    I think Askeladd recognized in Thors a similar quality transcending that of mere warrior, a leader of men.
    I think he has only half-joked about offering leadership of his merry band of pirates.
    In the end though he understood that Thors was not the kind of man that would accept pirate lifestyle.

  4. As another manga reader, I do get what Zaiden’s saying about it not living up to the manga. For me the moment of realization was Askeladd’s reaction to Bjorn taking Thorfinn hostage. In manga I got the impression that Askeladd was disappointed that Bjorn resorted to that, and that this was how his duel with Thors was going to end. His reaction (full-face) shifts over two panels in the manga, while in the show the shift is his expression is limited only to a shot of his mouth. The anime also omits his initial shock.

    Of course, this was just my interpretation of two dialogue-free panels. I have no idea what Yukimura’s intentions were, or how others read it. Yukimura is incredibly talented at drawing nuanced facial expressions, and I never expected that to translate fully to animation. This is a great adaptation either way.

  5. I kinda find it hard to believe that a cunning, cutthroat Viking mercenary like Askeladd would be so moved by Thors’ martial prowess, honor and valor. But Thors having the willpower to stick to his belief to the end is still something admirable.

    That being said, the anime-only viewers (myself included) will now have to take a big leap investing in Thorfinn’s own character development, as his “break the cutie” moment begins with Thors’ passing. And unless I miss my guess, this will be a long journey.

    On a different note, I do wonder what happened to the rest of Thors’ party after that. Did Askeladd let them go?


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