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Vinland Saga – 10

「ラグナロク」 (Ragunaroku)
“Ragnarok”

Zaiden’s Take

I recently visited Bath with two friends. The city really is as beautiful as Wit made it out to be with their stunning backgrounds, even to this day where buildings and infrastructures speckle the picturesque landscape. Admittedly, compared to the anime, my visit did miss the unbeatable excitement and action of a titanic man hurling rocks like cannonballs and single-handedly wiping out armies using a log as his weapon. God almighty. Thorkell could probably give the Beast Titan a run for its money. And that’s really saying something about his superhuman strength. That might have been fun to watch, but I’m extremely glad that Bath or society at large do not have these gigantic unstoppable murder hobos running around clobbering everyone to death for the sheer fun of it.

To me, it comes as no coincidence that Thorfinn dreams of a tranquil life elsewhere away from the conflict, right after he took a hefty beating from Thorkell. Of course, it’s easier to see it that way when you’re on the receiving end. Reconsider life and all. But that broken look and horrified reaction from when he killed his first person should have said it all. Thorfinn’s definitely been wrestling with these thoughts for a while now, but I believe last episode was the first time he made the outward concession that there’s nothing fun about war and killing people. He’s been holding it in all this time, and as long as his father lives on inside of him, so too does that ever-diminishing compassion for human life. Yet even with that positive influence burning from inside of him, he’s still unable to let go of his desire for revenge. As such, Thorfinn can only dream about the perfect life he never had together with his family in a faraway paradise. And I think it’s beginning to dawn on him. Just as he partakes in raids slaughtering and pillaging innocents, other kids that happen to survive become traumatised and full of hatred, leaving them to suffer and seek out revenge in exactly the way he did. In fact, he realises it may have already happened to his mother and sister since he’s been away from home for such a long time. Likewise, I’m starting to wonder if he believes that war is an inescapable aspect of the world, that remains present even in a paradise. If people will pardon me for invoking Naruto out of nowhere, we’re seeing something akin to a cycle of hatred and revenge that takes a better person like Thors to stop. After all, no one is your enemy. All in all, a beautiful and haunting dream sequence that leaves a deep impression.

I’m not sure whether it was a good or bad choice, but they removed the rape scene from the manga that happened right after Thorfinn woke up. He did not wake up next to a dead body, like the anime depicted. He woke up next to a village woman being accosted by several of the mercenary men. Yes, it had the potential to be sadistic and gratuitous, which could have left a bad taste and controversy in its wake. But I personally think they should have included it, because that was an undeniable aspect of war and pillaging from those times. Historically true, and very much relevant to Vinland Saga in the sense that there will come a point where the anime won’t be able to skirt around the issue.

Otherwise, the episode was a perfect adaptation. It beautifully captured the way Thorfinn finally acknowledges the ironic sway that both revenge and Askeladd have over him, making it clear he hates how his father’s murderer is so smug about having such a degree of control over him. Askeladd tells Thorfinn that he’s decades too early for revenge and to come back once he’s grown too old. Was this an attempt to wind up Thorfinn? Maybe confidence in his own abilities to out-duel the boy for decades to come? Or a bith of both? That’s really hard to tell. But one thing’s for certain to me about the enigma this mercenary poses. Askeladd’s lecture to Thorfinn about Roman civilisation, the twilight of man and Ragnarok sheds deeper insight onto his beliefs and motives. So far, we can see that Askeladd’s never really been one for sentimentality. With how wistfully he talks about these things, it’s hard to comprehend why he’d care so much for one particular line of history over all the others. Which is why it seems uncharacteristic of him to buy into the superstition of an apocalypse or express mournful yearning for a bygone civilisation. But he did experience a flashback to a person just before he beheaded the messenger , an anime original scene which I actually really liked. From my perspective, it indicates to anime viewers that this isn’t necessarily a man who’s totally off his rockers seeking out an honourable death – a reasonable assumption many could have arrived at considering notions of pride in Nordic warrior culture when it comes to dying in battle and the insanity of confronting Thorkell’s forces. There’s some kind of perceivable end goal to his actions, signifying that perhaps he’s a slave to something too that’s more than just the money and spoils. As to what exactly that could be, remains to be seen.

There’s no turning back now he’s killed off the messenger. Askeladd and his 100 men seem committed to securing Canute as their prize from Thorkell and his 400 men, so that they can reap unimaginable gains by flogging him off to the highest political bidder. Quite an example of extreme risk yielding extreme rewards, so you better hope Askeladd has an amazing plan up his sleeves. Though one has to question whether Canute is as much of a pushover as the hints are making him out to be. And if he really is a wimp, so much so that Thorkell would instantly invade the settlement once he heard that only the Prince remained, would he really hold much value to his war-mongering father when he’s a soft, god-fearing boy who is merely second in line to the throne? Perhaps it would depend on what his older brother is like, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Anyway, that’s about everything I wanted to discuss. As always, thanks for reading my post and I’ll throw it over to Guardian Enzo for his excellent take on the episode!

Note: Though the anime didn’t do a bad job by any means, I would like to draw attention to one exquisite panel of Askeladd showcasing that Yukimura is the manga industry’s equivalent of Rembrandt when it comes to facial shadowing.

Guardian Enzo’s Take

Having already endured a planned two-week break after the triple-episode premiere, Vinland Saga got an unscheduled hiatus last week due to Typhoon Faxai. It sucks to miss a week of this series of course, since it’s by far the best anime airing at the moment, but those of us with long memories (Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean and Madoka Magica spring to mind) were especially disquieted. There will be ample opportunities theoretically to make up for that missed episode before Vinland’s airing ends in December, but as those examples showed this isn’t necessarily as simple as it should be. It would seriously suck to have a Blu-ray only series finale or some such nonsense.

Nothing we can do but wait on that score of course, and my goodness it was great to have Vinland Saga back. Obviously this episode was finished and in the can in time to air last week, but if you tried to convince me Wit had used the extra time to gussy it up I wouldn’t have doubted you. Maybe it’s me, but it seemed like the series cranked up the gorgeous visuals right off the charts this week – what a stunning ep it was. Cinematography is often overlooked in anime, where most fans are blinder-focused on sakuga animation as a barometer of quality, but Vinland brought both to the plate in ample measure here. The visuals are always great with this show, but this was some of its very best work to date.

Once more we follow a familiar narrative pattern, with two wars playing out simultaneously. As the ebbs and flows of the Viking invasion play out, an internal battle continues to rage for Thorfinn. Thors’ influence refuses to die, even as the man himself has passed away. It’s a measure of how good a father Thors was that his son continues to be dragged towards the light by the message Thors passed on to him, even as his heart urges him to remain on the path of revenge. Thorfinn no doubt feels some guilt over having abandoned his mother and sister – as well he should, though five year-olds aren’t to to expected to make rational decisions.

I believe this is becoming increasingly more complicated as Thorfinn’s feelings towards Askeladd continue to evolve. I don’t think he’s grown to like him, but Thorfinn is no fool – he can see that by the measures of his time and people, Askeladd is a man that commands his respect. And in a perverse way, Askeladd is the closest thing to a father Thorfinn has had since he took away the boy’s real one. Askeladd’s feelings towards Thorfinn are probably no less complicated, and as a man with no children (at least that are a part of his life) on some level he probably sees Thorfinn as a son. In addition to affection, I think he feels a sense of responsibility for the boy after killing his father, a man Askeladd explicitly acknowledged as being a more worthy leader than he himself.

The conversation at sunrise in the Roman ruins between these two is as fascinating as it is visually stunning. Yes, time is on Thorfinn’s side – in point of fact, by not killing the boy when he was still small and weak Askeladd effectively allowed the scales to tip in Thorfinn’s favor. But nothing is simple between these two, and I suspect their final reckoning to be no less nuanced. What a fascinating fellow Askeladd is – a student of history, clearly (perhaps unusually so for a man in his position in this age). And the fact that he’s considering the reckoning – the one that the Christians say is coming in 20 years, or the Ragnarök foretold in the old religion – adds an intriguing layer to his decisions.

Against this backdrop we have the twists and turns of the Viking invasion complicating everyone’s lives. Tired of waiting for Canute and his army to attack, Thorkell finally takes 500 of his best men, routs Canute and his 4000 and takes the prince hostage. Canute is another fascinating enigma in this story (though a bit less so if you know the history of the time) – 2nd in-line to the throne of Denmark but clearly disrespected by the King’s armies, a devout Christian, maybe even a pacifist (which is about as incongruous a thing for such a man to be as is imaginable).

This situation is obviously a bit of a crisis for King Sweyn, but for Askeladd it’s purely an opportunity. When a survivor of Canute’s army reaches Askeladd’s group in the midst of pillaging yet another village, searching for the main army that’s already decamped to the north in plans of a return home, Askeladd listens to his story and then promptly kills him so that he can claim the glory of the prince’s rescue for himself. Askleladd’s 100 men against Thorkell’s 500 bears sounds like a mismatch to be sure. But for all his talk of the coming Ragnarök, Askeladd doesn’t strike me as the fatalistic type – he may not have a plan yet, but he wouldn’t go to battle against the likes of Thorkell unless he fully believed in his ability to come up with one. One that will, I suspect, heavily involve Thorfinn.

September 16, 2019 at 4:46 am
2 comments »
  • September 16, 2019 at 2:28 pmGuardian Enzo

    While they did remove the rape scene, Thorfinn did in fact wake up next to a dead body in the manga (I checked) just like the anime, so Yukimura clearly felt it was crucial to communicate the message. Which I think the anime did brilliantly as-is.

  • September 16, 2019 at 6:05 pmboingman

    Well, they already showed in earlier episodes what the women of raided villages have to go through, so I expected to see something similar this episode, but I can very well do without.
    With the way Zaiden emphasize the importance though, I guess it’s only a matter of time until a female character we know has to go through the same. Still hope that Thorfinn’s family is safe. :(
    Speaking of female characters, I thought that the person shown before the beheading was actually Canute and not family/lover of Askleladd. Looking forward to see some kind of back story of his (not a happy one for sure). And what Canute is capable of.

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