「対岸の国」 (Taigan no kuni)
“The Land on The Far Bank”
We watched a group of men marching for twenty minutes, with brief interludes of resting, in a 1:1 adaptation of the manga. Ordinarily, this should have made for an extremely boring episode. But because these are men being chased, fleeing for their lives from death by Thorkell, the palpable tension made it a nerve-wracking ordeal. You could feel the anxiety and fear in their hearts – seeing how they failed to get any sort of proper rest. The men complain for the most part, resentful that they have to keep on marching, uncertain in the promises of reinforcements being made. But Askeladd seems to possess a very acute understanding that despite the fact they’re a well-trained mercenary group, they wouldn’t be able to hold a candle up to Thorkell. Perhaps some people would consider Thorkell’s depiction to stray from what is historically believable. After all, who can even launch boulders as if they were cannonballs, throw sharpened logs as if they were ballistas and easily take upon hundreds of men? Then I must bring your attention to the definition of ‘saga’ – ‘a prose narrative recorded in Iceland in the 12th and 13th centuries of historic or legendary figures and events of the heroic age of Norway and Iceland’. In this context, it makes complete sense that some of these historical figures appear to be much larger than life. The manga attempts to remain true to history, and happens to exaggerate the individuals involved and their prowess, faithfully following the classical structure of a literary saga. Simply put, it’s intended.
There were multiple excerpts scattered throughout the episode, providing some unique and fascinating takes. The priest offers a rather nihilistic talk about his desire for love and the way in which it renders everything material meaningless partway through the episode. I thought it was extremely interesting, because his diction reminds me of psychopathic men of religion like Kotomine Kirei (Fate/Zero) and Ro Shinkai (Thunderbolt Fantasy S2) who are fundamentally empty, in their search for meaning in life. And when they finally discover that one thing they feel passion about, well… not to spoil anything but let’s say that the outcome always gets rather twisted. I can’t help but wonder what it is the priest will find, because contrary to the drunkard he seems to be, there’s definitely more depth to him. And if he’s the individual instructing Canute on religion, perhaps some of his eccentric views of the world will be imparted onto the Prince himself.
Speaking of Canute, he finally utters his first words: ‘A Hawk‘. And everything after that makes him look like a pathetic and timid person, with Thorfinn’s mere glare compelling him to cower behind Ragnar. This has not escaped the notice of Gratianus or Askeladd, with neither being able to perceive any kingly qualities outside of bloodline. So it can be understood why Gratianus demonstrates some reluctance to help out. Why help a boy with little chance at becoming king if your goal is to attain a non-aggression pact? That’s like borrowing money despite knowing you’ll never get it back. But it seems like Askeladd has some kind of plan prepared to jostle the young prince into a turbulent change, with Bjorn picking up on the implication. Also, I believe we’ve been keyed into Askeladd’s fundamental motivations as a character. For a while, he has introduced himself as the son of Olaf. He reveals his belief in the legend of Artorius, namely how they would return as a messiah to bring salvation upon Britannia – though I think someone really needs to tell Askeladd how he needs to travel to Fuyuki City and participate in the Holy Grail Wars for that.
Now, he introduces himself as the son of Lydia, which seems to carry particular sway over Gratianus and the Welsh – indicating that his mother was Welsh herself. The further clue being that the ferry man noticed a Welsh accent in Askeladd’s English. And if Artorius is nobility, and Askeladd claims to be descended from him, then it stands to reason that Askeladd’s mother possessed royal blood. The Welsh, looking Romanesque here, pretty much explain why Askeladd had a particular fixation upon Rome’s fallen civilisation. It’s quite clear at this point that Askeladd is directly associated with the Welsh, and having shown a significant degree of sentimentality towards Wales compared to any other place, we can see that he loves the nation. He also tries to convince Gratianus that Canute has the potential to become a king if given the correct guidance, exposing that Askeladd’s aspirations aren’t for monetary reward, so much as political gain. He wants to put the prince of the throne while exerting influence from behind the scenes. To what end does he seek such political power? Maybe he desires a true claim to the throne himself, under the pretext of being descended from Artorius? I guess we’ll find out. Askeladd is a complicated character, but as of these recent episodes, he’s slowly being unraveled towards his inner core.
One thing to note is that the translations for the subtitles were quite bad. When Askeladd reminisces about Thors, he laments at how difficult it is to get stubborn men of conviction who you respect to behave in a way you want. If people recall, he seemed to genuinely want Thors to become a leader he could follow, only for the man to throw away his sword. Instead of taking up Askeladd’s offer to lead his mercenaries, Thors accepted death’s embrace without any hesitation because he staunchly refused to go back to a life of killing. He implies that Canute lacks this stubborn conviction, so he should be fairly easy to manipulate.
The episode ends on an ambush, providing yet another cliffhanger. It seems like the other kingdom in Wales is not convinced by the project, and might even be colluding with the English against their common foe in the Danish. With the situation being exactly like the one Thors had to face, with the band of mercenaries outnumbered and faced by arrows at long range from all sides, the mercenaries’ situation is nothing short of dire and I would be keen to see how they can even get their way out of this one – be it through brute force or diplomatic negotiations. Meaning I can’t wait to see what next week has in store. And while this dramatic exposition plays out, we’re briefly given a glimpse of Leif in a harbour searching for Thorfinn among the slaves being sold, reminding us of a part of the story we haven’t seen in a while: that Thorfinn still has a family waiting at home despite the decade he’s spent away trying to achieve his revenge. A future meeting between the concerned Leif and a bloodthirsty Thorfinn would be painfully fascinating to watch, because Leif would no doubt have a tragic reaction to the cold-blooded killer that a once cheerful boy has become and try to persuade the boy to return nevertheless. Anyway, that’s about everything I wanted to discuss. As always, thank you for reading our post and I’ll throw it over to Guardian Enzo for his insightful thoughts and perspectives!
Guardian Enzo’s Take
Vinland Saga should, in theory, be airing it’s “season finale” next week – that mid-point episode of a two-cour series that (usually) tries to establish a sense of both finality and transition. This ep did an admirable job of that, but of course it shouldn’t have because of the one-week break caused by the typhoon. I can’t imagine Wit did any major editing this late in the game, so I’ll just chalk it up to the series’ overall Olympian quality and consistency, but for an episode that wasn’t supposed to be a season-ender this ep sure felt like one.
It’s fitting that this episode started off with a discussion of Askeladd’s accent, because it was all about talking. Normally that can be problematical, but the dialogue is so jaw-droppingly superb in Vinland Saga that I was absorbed from OP (I won’t miss that one) to ED (I will miss that one). Great anime is no different from great TV or movies of any kind – when the dialogue is really smart and laced with subtext. and delivered by superb actors, it’s as thrilling as any big-budget action set piece.
Askeladd just continues to get more fascinating as we progress. His behavior has Bjorn vexed, and his men seem to be a bit disgruntled for the first time. For men most at home on the sea, all this endless marching is no fun – though still better than the alternative, with Thorkell close behind. He leads the troop to Wales, where he’s arranged for reinforcements from the kingdom of Morganwgg – starting with a ferry ride across the Severn and (temporarily) out of Thorkell’s reach. I can’t help but wonder – why does Askeladd speak English perfectly with only a slight accent that an old boatman finds familiar? Why does he refer to “Artorius” as one of his ancestors? And why does he have strong ties to Welsh kingdoms?
On the subject of speaking, Canute does, for the first time – and it’s Ono Kenshou doing the honors. His first words are a command to Ragnar to capture a low-flying hawk – a starkly tin-eared request at a rather tense moment, as the Welsh general (who I’m guessing may be Askeladd’s cousin of sorts) Gratianus (Saito Jiro) is demanding an oath that once King, he’ll stay out of Welsh affairs. Both Gratianus and Askeladd are distinctly unimpressed with the prince’s visage, but Askeladd thinks back on Thors’ face and remarks that “the more you fall for a man, the less things go how you want”. Chew on that one for a while…
As Gratianus leads Askeladd’s part over the Welsh mountains (for this tiny kingdom three warships is an impossible ask), yet another fascinating conversation takes place. Askeladd’s men ask the drunken priest about the treasures he’s seen inside King Sweyn’s palace, but the priest informs them that he seeks nothing but love – for it’s love which gives silver its value. For simple soldiers of the time this is a baffling statement, but there’s definitely a certain curiosity about this “magic Christian spell” the priest is talking about. It’s not that the Vikings didn’t know or accept love, but one imagines their definition of it is very different than the priest’s – and one must do a fair amount of extrapolation as to just what he means when he uses the word here.
There’s not much dialogue when it comes to Canute – or his new bodyguard Thorfinn, promised a duel in Gainsborough once Canute is safely delivered. Both are young men of few words, though that seems to be the only thing they have in common. Thorkell appears to have done an end run and made a deal with another Welsh Kingdom that Gratianus had arranged for passage with, so Thorfinn is going to earn his new title soon enough.
As the scene sweeps across Britain and back to Denmark, we see Sweyn in his palace, surrounded by the Jomsvikings. And fascinatingly, a visibly aged Leif presumably somewhere in Norway or Iceland, momentarily taken aback by a young slave he sees on the wharf. I initially thought this might be Ylva but it appears to just be a random kid who puts the old sailor in mind of the boy he’s searching for. It’s a reminder of a part of the story that’s been absent from the screen for a good long while, and on balance these final moments serve to tie together the first twelve episodes very much in the way you’d expect a mind-point ep to do.