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.