「北人ノルマンニ」 (Norumanni)

I won’t sugarcoat it – that was a sizable step down from the first six episodes of Vinland Saga. That’s not a big deal, considering how good those were – they set a standard far above anything else airing this season. So not a concern – or it wouldn’t be, apart from the somewhat unusual circumstances. We’ve just finished a prequel that was to a good extent anime-original, and jumped in more or less at the beginning of the manga. From here on out I’m assuming everything or close to it is going to be straight from the manga.

So am I worried? At least a little, to be honest. I have faith in Yukimura-sensei but Vinland Saga had a bit of a strange trip to get here. It started out in a shounen magazine (Shuukan Shounen) then transitioned into a seinen publication (Afternoon). The first six eps played like seinen; this week’s like shounen. What gives me hope is that the shounen run only lasted about 20-25 (weekly) chapters, which means most of the two cours of anime will be from after the shift. Just how quickly did the seinen genes kick in? I guess we’re about to find out.

One thing I can say for sure – this ep was shounen to the hilt. I adore a good shounen, as any perusal of my yearly Top 10 lists would tell you. But this season is loaded with evidence of shounen’s cliche and narratively lazy side. And this ep, while fun, was a shocking tonal shift from what came before it. For starters you had the frog-like (ironic or not I don’t know) French general Jabbathe (Yamaguchi Kappei). I love a good Yamaguchi comic turn but Jabbathe seemed totally out of place with the rest of the series. Then there was stuff like Thorfinn’s ridiculous leap of the moat and climbing the walls of the fort. Hell, never mind shounen – that could have happened in Shounen Jump.

In other words, there wasn’t much subtlety or elegance to the storytelling here. It was a basic, straightforward viking buffet of gore and GAR that didn’t seem to add anything thematically to what had come before it. Thorfinn is now in his mid-teens – and has a male seiyuu (Uemura Yuuto) to match. The invasion of England is on a winter break, as the king of Denmark plans a major offensive for the spring. This leaves mercenaries like Askleadd with a winter of discontent to fill, so he decides to take the gang to France to cash in on the civil strife going on there. He chooses a foundering siege (led by Jabbathe) of a fort as a chance to dip his wick in the oil, and sends Thorfinn to negotiate a deal – half the spoils for the pirates’ help.

The most interesting part of the episode is the developing dynamic between Thorfinn and Askeladd. Thorfinn, we learn, has done his share of killing and then some. He’s proving very useful to Askeladd – scout, advance man, negotiator – and of course, he’s expendable. All this of course as Askeladd is stringing the boy along where his promised duel is concerned. Now Askeladd responds to Thorfinn’s latest demand for satisfaction by telling him he needs to “bring me a head in a helmet” before he’ll get consideration. This Thorfinn does – the head in question being the general of the fort’s defenders – in a frankly rather absurd one-boy charge into the defenders’ ranks (I guess they forget they had a squad of crossbowmen at their disposal).

How Thorfinn would (or will) fare in a duel with Askeladd at this point is hard to say – the apple certainly hasn’t fallen far from the tree where combat is concerned. But what’s clear is that Thorfinn is ill-equipped to duel with Askeladd in a battle of wits. He’s a wild child, basically – self-raised on the fringes of perpetual war, with no feel for the intricacies of human interaction and deceit. That Askeladd has him dancing on a string is obvious – what isn’t is just where things go from here.

I don’t know if the promised duel will happen this early but if it does, I can only imagine it will be an anti-climax – not least for Thorfinn. All the next steps of the story have been self-apparent so far, elegantly staged by Seko Hiroshi and Yabuta Shuuhei. Now it’s a bit of a mystery, though we’ll be getting the answers soon enough. If indeed what Seko and Yabuta have done is re-order the story so that we were introduced to Vinland Saga with an arc that feels more true to its eventual nature (after the publication change) than the one that starts the manga, their decision to do so looks that much more brilliant.


  1. “This ep was shounen to the hilt.”

    Yep, if Thorfinn’s Naruto running and the Zoro-like swordfighting weren’t obvious enough. XD

    That being said, I did like the blending of both awesome and funny moments in this episode. From Thorfinn going full-on Assassin’s Creed on the fort’s defenders (and taking the head of the fort’s captain), to Askeladd (the crazy awesome magnificent bastard…) and crew getting away with most of the treasure from the fort and leaving little for the hapless (and tactically inept) Jabbathe.

    And on a historical note, I could swear Jabbathe is an inbred descendant of far greater forebears–nobles hailing from the old Western Roman Empire. The golden twin-headed aquila on a red flag was a dead giveaway–a testament to the enduring influence and legacy of Rome, despite this series basically being set in the Viking era.

    One last thing: I also managed to recognize the voice of Takayuki Sugo (Hell Girl‘s Wanyuudo, Space Battleship Yamato 2199‘s Captain Juzo Okita) as King Sweyn. (Double-checked and confirmed via ANN.) He sounds like a wise king, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a plot to overthrow him.

  2. FYI, this is the first manga chapter. It feels off due to how the story was rearranged. It doesn’t change the shortcomings of the story in this episode, but keep in mind that in context of the original work, this was the starting point and it only gets better.

    1. Yeah, I get that for sure. As I said it just makes me more convinced they did the right thing by opening with material that was more true to what the series is (and better).

      The problem, I think, is that they probably should have tweaked this chapter to reflect the fact that it was moved later in the story. A lot of stuff that was probably supposed to be exposition in the original work doesn’t play like exposition here because of what we already know.

  3. Askeladd is way too cool to die in duel with Thorfinn…
    Thorfinn is way too wangsty to get any closure even if he manages to kill Askeladd…
    And there are greater forces in motion.

  4. These chapters in the manga (again, the first chapters of the series) were my personal hurdle getting into the series. I didn’t think they were bad…but they didn’t interest me. I wasn’t sure how to feel about rearranging the series into chronological order for the anime, but I now feel it may have been the right choice, because this episode was even worse than I remember the chapters being. Had this been the series intro it would’ve been pretty disappointing.
    I feel the anime is doing more to highlight the manga’s weaknesses instead of it’s strengths so far, but the story only goes up from here and I’m optimistic that Wit will make a good show of it either way.

    1. Help me understand your POV here. If the anime did the right thing by not opening with these chapters (which I certainly think it did) how is it doing more to highlight weaknesses than strengths? By reordering the intro isn’t it doing just the opposite?

      1. Apologies, that was a pretty disjointed comment. My point about the weaknesses of the series wasn’t meant to relate to my previous comment about the chronology. It was more an observation about some of the more ridiculous aspects of the story that stand out more in the anime (the super jumps, the “anime-isms” of the fighting style in this ep, etc). They certainly exist in the manga, but I find them much more noticeable here.

        1. Thanks, that makes more sense. But I don’t really feel like the first six eps – the “prequel” – had those sorts of problems. I guess you could argue that Thors’ was unrealistically strong but it didn’t play as cartoonish to me.

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