「海の果ての果て」 (Umi no Hate no Hate)
“The Edge of the Sea”
Guardian Enzo’s Take
I think I can pretty much stop worrying about Vinland Saga after a somewhat atypical episode last week. Truth be told I really wasn’t all that worried to begin with, what with the word of mouth this series has and the chops it displayed for its first six episodes. Still – I don’t deny it’s a good feeling to have Vinland immediately round back into form. This ep wasn’t just back in-character, it was flat-out superb. If it was a mistake for the anime not to tweak last week’s chapter a bit to facilitate a smoother transition, in the larger scheme of things it’s a tiny one that will surely be all but forgotten soon enough.
As that WSJ blip fades into the rearview mirror, so does France, with the story returning to English shores (where it appears much of the drama will take place). Askeladd and his men return to the village, where we meet the headman Gorm (Miyazawa Tadashi) for the first time. The villagers seem glad enough to see the pirates (and their treasure) back, though there’s a distinctly non-military ease to their interactions with each other. For Gorm’s part he’s mainly concerned to ensure that Askeladd can pay for his mens’ upkeep (with a considerable markup, surely). For all that Askeladd spends his days fighting for gold and other plunder, he seems distinctly less concerned with money than Gorm.
Gorm keeps a slave named Hordaland (Kondo Reina), a fallen aristocrat’s daughter named for a region in Norway. Hordaland isn’t a very good slave, not being much used to manual labor, but Askeladd scolds Gorm that there are no bad slaves, just owners bad at using them. Using people is something Askeladd is very good at, though it’s not slaves he’s referring to in this case. Hordaland will prove to be a vital figure in this episode, and it won’t be entirely surprising if she proves to be one beyond it.
Askeladd, in fact, has obviously calculated that he needs to give Thorfinn satisfaction – and a duel – if he’s going to continue to make use of him. He doesn’t seem worried, though it’s clear Thorfinn has advanced immeasurably since the two last engaged each other. The duel is beautifully choreographed and drawn, and Thorfinn perhaps surprises Askeladd just a bit with the imagination he puts into his attacks – he even manages to knock Askeladd’s sword free at one point, though almost at the cost of losing the duel in that very moment. But Askeladd need only manipulate the lad’s emotions to put an end to things quickly enough – and that’s all too easy to do, given Thorfinn’s lack of sophistication when it comes to psychology (not least his own).
Askekladd is a sad fellow, really. He’s too smart to be fooled into thinking the world is anything but what it is – hard, cruel, filthy and violent. He’s managed to get very good at what he fills his days doing, and it obviously provides him amusement – but he strikes me as someone who’s marking time in a life he knows has no real meaning. He laughs at Gorm as he beats Hordaland, noting that the old man is just as much a slave as the girl – in his case, to money. “Everyone is a slave to something” Askeladd tells a village youth wryly – and it’s clear what Thorfinn is a slave to. But what about Askeladd himself?
As the pirates gorge themselves on meat and wine and dance on the tables, Thorfinn sits alone in the snow on his father’s boat, mourning his own weakness (though I don’t think he understands the nature of his defeat). This is both a very beautiful and important scene, I think, for it shows us that Thors is still alive inside his son. Subconsciously, at least, Thorfinn still hears the lessons his father tried to teach him, and knows that the life he’s pursuing isn’t really a life at all. As black as Thorfinn’s future looks, if he’s still capable of feeling shame and remorse then his fate is not yet sealed.
I’m also struck that Thorfinn remembers the dying slave his father bought from Halfdan, even after all this time. Again, this scene between Thorfinn and Hordaland is both beautiful and important, and indescribably sad too. He remembers his father and Leif’s words about the land across the sea where slavery and warfare can’t reach (or so they believed, at least). In a world so cruel and awful hope can be the cruelest thing of all, but how can someone like Thorfinn or Hordaland go on without it? What’s the point? The fact that all this – his father’s way, his memories of a dying slave, a dream of a better place – lives on inside Thorfinn is the proof that for him, all hope is not yet lost.
For now, though, the land that matters is the one that’s about to be totally engulfed by the flames of war. King Sweyn (Sugo Takayuki) prepares to make sail from Denmark with an armada of Danes and the Jomsvikings. Sailing with him is his son Canute, who the king wants to succeed him rather than the one called Harald, but Canute is apparently frail or afflicted to the point where the king and especially his retainer Ragnar (Urayama Jin) are worried for his well-being in battle. And the battle is already joined, as the invaders’ march southward has run up against resistance in the small merchant town of London. There, this fellow (Ohtsuka Akio) – who we’ve met before – seems to be having more fun than anyone else…
Everyone is a slave to something. Going by that statement, I guess I would be a slave to Reddit. But in all seriousness, Askeladd has a point. His uncle Garm owns a slave, but is unable to make her obediently do his bidding. Garm might physically possess the slave, but he does not own the slave in an emotional capacity. Meanwhile, the reverse could be said for Askeladd. He does not physically possess Thorfinn as a slave. However, he has Thorfinn emotionally enslaved to the path of an honourable revenge, and has the boy do amazing amounts of work for him free of charge. Now, that’s what I’d call Business 101. Moreover, in a duel, he is able to rile up Thorfinn in a way that causes him to completely lose any semblance of focus or composure. Askeladd knows the boy’s kryptonite and has no shame whatsoever in leveraging it as much as possible. But then, that begs the question. To what is Askeladd a slave?
The other thing that struck me was how Hordaland approached Thorfinn, and remarked they were similar, something that Thorfinn took offence to. He berates her for not killing Garm and running away – to which she says she couldn’t possibly do such a thing. So it’s fascinating to understand he hasn’t quite realised it for himself. That he’s similarly bound by honour, being unable to kill Askeladd in his sleep to finally achieve his revenge.
If we had to compare the anime to the manga, I wish the anime included a Morgan Freeman/David Attenborough style narrator for a few of the excerpts, regarding the historic aspects of the contextual setting e.g. Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Learning more about the vikings as well as local settlements, and having a dramatic voiceover. When he dislocated Thorfinn’s shoulder, Askeladd told Bjorn to put it back in place. I’m curious as to why the show didn’t include this, since it’s such a small and easy thing to chuck in. In the manga, Thorfinn doesn’t give that speech about Vinland being a paradise that exists across the sea. While it breaks the stoic and sullen demeanour he is portrayed as having throughout his teenage years within the manga, I think it was a brilliant addition and remains in line with his character. Fundamentally, though he is possessed by the desire for revenge, Thorfinn is a kind person. He too believes in the existence of the prosperous and peaceful Vinland. Although it is very much secondary to revenge at present, that desire to see it with his own eyes exists deep within his heart. A childhood dream that we know exists, back when he’s listen to Leif’s stories, way before all those traumatic events occurred.
While Thorfinn has clearly gotten stronger, he definitely has a long way to go. And as we can see where he envisioned the ghost of his father, an internal conflict is very much present, where he innately understands that his desire for revenge contravenes the philosophy his father set out. We will see whether he will continue to carry his father in his heart, or whether it will eventually become entirely consumed by revenge. Anyway, that’s about everything I wanted to discuss. As always, thanks for reading the post, and thanks to my colleague Enzo for holding the fort when my laptop died, and see you next week for 1013 AD!