OP2: 「Dark Crow」by MAN WITH A MISSION
“The Hero’s Child”
The cat is finally out of the bag. And there’s a lot to unpack regarding the implications of the facts that have been revealed. Askeladd is indeed tied to Wales, carrying Danish ancestry through his father combined with Welsh ancestry to the heroic Artorius through his mother. If he loved his mother and witnessed her denigrating treatment at the hands of Danes for his entire childhood, it’s no surprise that he absolutely hates their guts, even the ones he’s shared adventures with for decades. A person’s younger years are extremely formative in terms of building up the foundation to what kind of person they will become. So his professed hatred of Danes is something I view as akin to modern racial prejudice experienced by individuals based off historical context – ie Korea + Japan + China, Greece + Turkey, Israel + Palestine, Serbia + Kosovo, India + Pakistan. Even if you go to school or work in a professional environment, and are expected to get along, the vast majority of the time there would be a lot of resentment and cold feelings beneath the surface between these demographics. Someone who has never had a personal stake in any of the aforementioned examples could never understand how it feels. But it’s very much real and I believe this is what we’re seeing with Askeladd. Also, it’s quite evident that the thing fundamentally driving him as a human being is to see through the continued independence and safety of Wales. I don’t think many people could have expected someone who seemed so self-serving to actually be a nationalist of sorts. And that’s another reason why he hates the Danes, including most of his men. They’ve invaded his beloved Wales and tainted its beautiful lands and sullied its noble lineage.
As such, Askeladd’s words are able to carry significant sway among the Welsh, even assuaging ones that were initially hostile. He has complete confidence in the trump card of his lineage, and it shows his acute understanding of the Welsh and what motivates them. Seeing how he has his mercenaries and Thorfinn wrapped around his fingers, you could say he was already a master at this. There seems to be much reverence for Artorius and his descendants. If the legend was that Artorius would return to save Wales from invaders, like he’d done against the English and Saxons in the past, then it’s only natural people cling onto the hope of salvation that his mythology promises. Not to mention suffer from despair at the prospect that his bloodline has died out. So for one of his descendants to suddenly re-appear in their midst, after they believed his bloodline to be extinct, would explain why Gratianus and now Asser are willing to give Askeladd significant backing. It’s naive of them to trust in his words, and as viewers, we understand that Askeladd has betrayed a lot of the promises he’s made throughout the series. Who’s to say that he’ll uphold this one? But I think the key lies inside the flashback. We see a young Askeladd, without that cool and calculated impression. We see a boy who clearly loves his mother and carries deep anger towards her plight. Another point. Perhaps he relates to Thorfinn in this way, which would explain why he treats the boy with uncharacteristic sentimentality. Both have a bone to pick for the sake of a beloved parent and look to see it through: Askeladd with the Danes who made his mother suffer then die while invading his beloved Wales, and Thorfinn with Askeladd for the murder of his father.
The other event worth noting from this episode was Canute’s outburst. And I want to highlight that although it seems odd that Ragnar did not chastise Thorfinn for being so disrespectful towards his charge, they make it quite clear that he seems quite happy that the prince finally has the confidence to talk to someone and didn’t want to take that moment away from him. Otherwise, it’s easy to think of nobility as being coddled and having it easy, especially in this day and age where an arguably undeserved entitlement and privilege seems widespread among the political elite. But if you’ve ever had the chance to familiarise yourself with the olden times, be it through the history books or Crusader King’s, you will know that whatever Game of Thrones comes up with is actually tame in comparison to stuff that actually happened around these periods of history. Betrayal and murders were rife, and if he’s in a weaker position, it is more sensible for Canute to keep a low profile rather than attract attention onto himself as a target for assassinations. That said, I definitely think he could be tougher. Ragnar has been far too protective of the boy, and as both Gratianus and Askeladd discussed, this does Canute no favours in the long run. He’ll only be set up for failure in the future if everyone can exploit him and curb him to their will. If Askeladd desires to see political influence capable of protecting Wales come to fruition, two options come to mind. 1) Helping Canute onto the throne, so that he can pull the strings behind the boy to guarantee the safety of Wales. In which case you can bet that he will have a plan to deal with this obstacle preventing him from nudging the baby bird out of its nest. 2) He might seek to claim the throne of Britannia for himself as the rightful heir from being descended via Artorius, guaranteeing it himself.
In spite of what should be considered an all-round excellent episode which faithfully adapted its source material, I have a bone to pick. I know that Enzo doesn’t agree with me, because he thinks that the manga overdoes it and loses out on subtlety. And perhaps this is a smattering of unsightly manga elitism on my part, but I genuinely believe that the anime cannot hold a candle to Yukimura’s masterful shading and facial expressions, which beautifully convey the characters and their inner darkness: Thorfinn looking down at the prince for being so timid (manga equivalent); an ashen Askeladd carrying his mother on his back to the Welsh shores (manga equivalent); Askeladd considering Ragnar as an obstacle to Canute’s progress (manga equivalent); Ragnar’s father-like anger at Askeladd’s attempt to coerce Canute into speaking up (manga equivalent); Askeladd’s confessing his hatred of the Danes (manga equivalent). All of this should make it clear exactly what the characters truly think, rather than keeping things vague to leave viewers speculating. But no matter. While I wanted to draw the attention of anime-only viewers to differences I consider important, I need to make it clear that I’m still enjoying the heck out of this anime and feel extremely pleased at the direction it is going in. Definitely one of the better adaptations by all accounts and I hope it can keep it up till the end of 2019. Anyway, that’s about everything I wanted to discuss. As always, thanks for reading our post and I’ll throw it over to Enzo for his insights and analysis.
Note: Askeladd did not speak fluent Welsh, especially when he first arrived on its shore at the age of 14, which is why his speech seems garbled in the manga comparison panel.
Guardian Enzo’s Take
You could watch an awful lot of anime and never see a better 22 minutes than that. Vinland Saga has been a marvel of consistency, but even so some episodes have stood out as truly exceptional, and this was definitely one of them. This is a story that has so many twists and turns in the road that the scenery is always changing, new ideas and new conflicts perpetually entering the narrative. It’s a big story, soaring with ambition, and what’s more has shown no signs that it doesn’t have the chops to pull that off.
Every so often in fiction a character comes along who earns the lordly title “magnificent bastard”. And Askeladd is one such character. There’s so much depth to the man that there’s a risk that the characters around him (especially Thorfinn) could come off as shallow – and they’re not. It’s just that Askeladd is next-level when it comes to layers, the puff pastry of characters. The men who know him best – especially Bjorn – know this well. But there’s a contradiction and a danger in this. It’s a major reason why they follow him even when his decisions don’t seem to make sense, but for someone like Bjorn the constant sense of never knowing what makes your leader tick is an ongoing source of internal tension.
The whole Wales situation has been really fascinating to watch play out. The extent to which Askeladd is playing 3-dimensional chess here is something we can’t be sure of yet – as big as the secrets revealed about him this week were, there are surely more to come. On the surface, it appears that Askeladd is no less than acting as a covert agent for the land he consider his true home, Britannia – in fact he goes so far as to tell the Welsh commander Asser that he “hates the Danes”. If indeed he’s the true descendent of Artorius that certainly makes sense, especially when you add in the fact that he probably hates his father for the way he treated his mother, Lydia.
There’s way too much complexity to all this to feel confident about what the man is really thinking, though. I have to believe he feels some sense of loyalty to the men (Danes) who’ve served under him all these years, first of all. And the current narrative is necessary to get he and his men safely through Wales – even if it means pretending to be Asser’s prisoners for P.R. reasons. Askeladd’s handling of Asser’s initial show of bluster was as magnificently bastardly as it gets. He isn’t remotely ruffled by the seeming threat against he and his men – one senses he would be a wonderful poker player, because like most bluffers Askeladd is unerring in spotting bluffs.
Askeladd isn’t going to let something as silly as Viking pride complicate matters – he’s happy to let Asser bluff and bluster so they can get down to business afterwards. Not content merely with that, though, he seizes on the moment as an opportunity to try and develop his second surrogate son. In practical terms having Canute step up and make an impression would certainly have helped, but more than anything Askekadd is trying to slyly wrest the boy out of Ragnar’s overprotective grip. That, and to keep testing him to see what he’s truly made of. Whatever they are, Canute is surely critical to the execution of Askeladd’s larger plans.
I would go so far as to say that having Thorfinn act as Canute’s bodyguard was (once again) more than a practical decision – though it was practical. Another possible way to begin nudging Canute out of the nest is to give him someone he could possibly confide in besides Ragnar – someone his own age, who could care less about his lineage and will treat him (albeit rudely) just like anyone else. Canute’s reasons for being timid and quiet are certainly valid – it was indeed probably the best way for a sickly and frail fledgeling to survive in the snakepit of Sweyn’s court. And he’s not wrong that as the King’s official representative in Britain, his words pack more meaning than anyone else’s. But he still needs someone to call his bluff – and Thorfinn, possessing all the tact of a kick in the nuts, is a perfect candidate.
One thing is clear – it’s Askeladd who’s seeing the biggest picture as the pieces move around the board. He truly is the Yin to Thorkell’s Yang, the latter having desires utterly straightforward and driven by the stimuli they provide. Does the descendent of Artorius content himself with pulling the strings from the shadows, or does he see a rightful place for himself atop a throne in Caerleon, restoring the honor and glory of his ancient kingdom? Among the many faces Askeladd shows us, that of the romantic certainly hasn’t been one of them – so far, at least. But with this fellow, I think it’s wrong to take anything as a certainty.
ED2: 「Drown」by milet