「冬至祭のあと」 (Yuru no Ato)
And there’s another key difference regarding their biological fathers. Thors died for Thorfinn, a sacrifice representing the ultimate expression of a father’s love for his child. Sweyn wants Canute to die for the sake of his own ends, the ultimate expression of an absence in love. Canute already had this intuition all along about King Sweyn. He sought comfort and salvation in God’s love for all humans, as children created in his image. That’s why he gave such an angry outburst when Willibad began doubting God, because it gives way to the distinct possibility that King Sweyn doesn’t love him. Which indeed proves to be the case. And that emptiness in his heart has been filled by Ragnar all this time. While he takes no shit and has a short fuse, there’s no denying he truly cared about the young prince and always tried to make every decision with his best interest in mind.
For that reason, you had to feel for Ragnar when he was betrayed, and ultimately murdered by Askeladd and his men. He poured so much of his life and love into raising Canute, only to die a dog’s death from the scheming of a cur. Worse still, Ragnar’s foresight was spot on. He never really trusted Askeladd from the outset, and perceived him as a scumbag trying to take advantage of Canute. And due to a lapse of judgement, now he has no choice but to leave the prince’s fate in Askeladd’s untrustworthy hands. He expressed skepticism towards Askeladd’s plans of travelling to Mercia by foot instead of going by sea, whereas the rest of the mercenaries piled through without any doubts. Winter struck earlier than expected, forcing them to wipe out a village to stake out a hidden base of operations, only for their secret to be exposed a mere ten days later due to Anne surviving the massacre.
And now that Thorkell’s caught wind of their location, not to mention the fact they’re completely enclosed within enemy territory, one can really begin to sense the premonition that Askeladd’s luck has completely run out. Karma has finally caught up to him, especially since he discovers that Canute has been intentionally set up to be killed off by the king – meaning that for his aspirations of political influence to mean anything, Askeladd would need to overcome Prince Harald and confront Sweyn himself. Although it may seem outlandish to us, any person who’s played Crusader Kings 2 would know that Sweyn’s cruel and ruthless behaviour is completely in the norm for his times. This is why primogeniture (first-born son succession) has been generally favoured through the ages among nations – the factional conflicts inherent to witenagemot (successor chosen by a group of nobles) tends to result in these politically complex internal struggles. If you were king in those days or started playing Crusader Kings 2, you would also start taking up the practice of plotting to kill off less competent sons, to clear a pathway for the competent one to rule without any sort of issue. King Sweyn did nothing wrong! (/s)
But if Griffith from Berserk often gets a pass from the community, regardless of whether those sentiments are actually serious or merely memes, then the question I’d like to pose would be this. Has Askeladd done anything wrong? For me, yes. And it’s what makes him such an excellent villain, that we find ourselves rooting for his cause, despite how wrong he is according to the objective moral standards of modern society. At the end of the day, he doesn’t kill for the sheer joy of it like Thorkell, and mostly conducts it out of pragmatism. Assuming Ragnar wasn’t killed off, would that change how doomed they seem to be, with a killing machine like Thorkell having sniffed them out? It’s understandable why Askeladd wants to deny Ragnar’s dying wish. Who would want their master plan to come apart at the seams due to some sentimentality? For Canute to grow from Askeladd’s perspective, Ragnar needed to be taken out of the picture. One has to wonder how this turn of events will affect Canute, and whether it will have the effects Askeladd intended. There’s no denying that the prince is extremely sheltered, and most people would expect him to take the news of Ragnar’s death very badly. But if his outburst against the priest and Thorfinn indicate anything, it should definitely hint that there’s potential in this boy with regards to doing what’s right and seeing through his personal will. 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 wonderful insights!
Guardian Enzo’s Take
It doesn’t take a lot of perceptiveness to see that Vinland Saga is the best thing going in anime right now. Heck, it may be the best thing it’s had going for a long time (at this point I’d rank it ahead of any 2018 series – though it’s not the only 2019 show I’d say that about). But I sometimes have to stop and remind myself just how damn good it is, week after week. This is TV that’s cinematic in the very best sense of the word – in scope, in production quality, in storytelling. Epic and deeply personal at the same time is pretty much a sure-fire ticket to greatness, and that describes Vinland Saga in a nutshell.
Speaking of which, epic and deeply personal are both traits I’d ascribe to Ohtsuka Akio. Among the small handful of great seiyuu I rank at the very top of the profession, Ohtsuka-san may be the one who most often makes me say “I can’t imagine anyone else possibly playing that part”. Seriously, Ohtsuka is Thorkell for me – all of his brutality and whimsy and well-hidden cleverness. Ohtsuka can blow the doors off while at the same time projecting very subtle nuances of the character he’s playing, something very few voice actors can do (and many would be lucky to be able to do just one or the other).
Thorkell and Askeladd are so opposite in so many respects, which is what makes them such fascinating bookends for this story. But they do have in common that they’re desperate not to lose any scrap they find themselves in, even if they have totally different methods of trying to prevent it. Because it’s the nature of Askeladd to be so meticulous, so careful, a surgeon of strategy, when he makes a mistake it both stands out and represents a huge threat to his success. The survival of the ring girl from the village he massacred was a huge mistake any way you cut it, and fate has led the girl right into Thorkell’s arms.
The matter of Karma is an interesting one where Vinland Saga is concerned, and I noted in my write-up last week my sense that Askeladd was not immune to it. Much is being made of Askeladd’s luck turning against him at last – heavy snow stalling his progress, Thorkell and the English discovering his location – but if one believes in luck, I think by definition they also believe in Karma. Askeladd is a real bastard – a magnificent one yes, but a bastard just the same. He’s a manipulator and a liar, someone whose only compass seems to be doing whatever he must to achieve his goals. He’s not exactly surrounded by saints, but even in this day and age Askeladd’s ruthlessness stands out because it’s so much colder and more detached than those around him (most dramatically Thorkell, perhaps).
Theoretically the advantage Askeladd has is that he’s not burdened by a belief system the way Canute and his party are. But if Askeladd is doing all this in pursuit of a political end, that may be just as much of an anchor around his neck. When we see Canute’s priest question the love of his God, we see real anger in Canute for the first time. And it’s clear why that is – for him, the Father is a personal necessity. Because his own father doesn’t love him and he knows it, the love of his Father in Heaven is something Canute must believe in to keep himself moving forward. And meanwhile all this makes Thorfinn think of his own father, whose voice still echoes inside his head and fills him with misgivings about the life he’s chosen to lead.
I can’t say I was surprised to hear that King Sweyn had sent Canute to the battlefield to die – frankly I’d pretty much assumed that from the beginning. Nor was I really surprised that Askeladd would have Ragnar assassinated – I suspected that might happen at some point, and as soon as his men arrived at the Prince’s hut I smelled a rat. Still, the way this was brought off was so brilliant that it was an utterly gut-wrenching sequence. Ragnar loved Canute to be sure, in a way the boy’s father never did. Ragnar died with honor even as he acted to help the man who’d killed him without it, knowing that man was Canute’s only chance of survival now.
I wasn’t kidding when I referred to Canute as a “stepson” to Askeladd – I think he views both the prince and Thorfinn that way, even if his motivations are completely selfish. Askeladd is a user – using people is simply what he does. Thorfinn is useful to him, not so much as Canute is but ironically more than he was now that he can be Canute’s peer and friend. Canute’s symbolic value – to Askeladd, to Thorkell, to Sweyn – is obvious. Now that his emotional father has been ripped away from him, he must grow up quickly. And while that’s what Askeladd wants and why he did what he did, there are risks in this for him – for if Canute comes to understand his situation and decides to start thinking and acting in his own interests, he becomes extremely dangerous to Askeladd. And the same, ironically, can be said of Thorfinn…