「ゆりかごの外」 (Yuri kago no soto)
“Out of The Cradle”
Perhaps the much anticipated fight between Thorkell and Thorfinn could have been better. To me, it was serviceable at best regarding both the choreography and animations. But I think Studio Wit got it absolutely right, by thoroughly focusing on what I believe to be one of the most important moments in the series – Canute’s turning point and the dawn of his legend. For this particular scene, they made it a truly amazing experience that surpassed the manga in terms of expressing Yukimura’s vision. And that’s no small feat.
The dialogue about the true nature of love is definitely one of the best anime scenes for me in 2019. From the beautiful OST to discourses about the nature of love to Canute’s courage in calming down Bjorn, everything was on the mark. I don’t necessarily agree that familial, platonic and romantic feelings are forms of discrimination that are mutually exclusive from love. At least if we consider the common definition – why can’t we have both at the same time?
But there’s no denying that there is deserved merit to such a unique dialogue, especially in the context of the Greco-Christian agape and its universality. Just as racists can ‘love’ their own race more or a nationalist ‘love’ their own country more, it is irrefutably discrimination on Ragnar’s behalf as a good Christian, allowing innocents to be slaughtered so that Canute can have a better chance of surviving. That’s a take many people wouldn’t usually consider, including Canute, and the discussion serves to bring about phenomenal character development.
In Yukimura’s manga, it should be noted the fight between Thorfinn and Thorkell is completely separate from the philosophical discussion. They’re both addressed within their self contained chapters. However, in a stroke of storyboarding genius, the production team decided to poignantly mesh these two, which results in a superior outcome. When the priest declares to Canute that ‘Death is what completes a man’, we’re immediately shifted back to Thorfinn recollecting the very moment of his father’s death, due to Thorkell asking him a loaded question – what does it mean to be a true warrior?
Of course, Thors told his son that a true warrior needs no sword. And he ultimately died for that ideal, sacrificing himself to save others – becoming viking Jesus in the process. Ragnar lived and died doing everything he could for Canute, who might go on to do great things. For us, in a person’s death, their lives become complete and we can begin to full judge their legacy in retrospect as to what they achieved. But when Canute looks across the battlefield, at all the corpses, he is suddenly struck by how meaningless their deaths were. It strikes him (and by extension us) how there is so much beauty and love in the natural world around him, yet the hearts of men are completely devoid of it. He realises how wrong it feels, and his heart is consequently stirred into action.
It’s worth noting that Canute’s transformation marks a stark contrast from Thorfinn too. Sure, Thorfinn might be the more thuggish and ‘tough’ of the two. In a world of senseless violence and brutality, the vast majority of people would view him as a more reliable ally. However, his existence is extremely pitiful – obsessively following around his father’s murderer while being manipulated to do his bidding for free. Time has essentially stopped for him and he hasn’t developed as a person since the very moment his father died.
On the other hand, because of his father figure’s death and how deeply it impacts him, Canute finally rejects God by asserting agency over his own life and humanity’s right to self-determination. While he did require Ragnar’s death as a catalyst, the conclusions he arrives at are completely his own and transform him from an unworthy heir to a prince of kingly disposition. With assistance from Willibald and drawing from his own opinion, he arrives to a Hegelian compromise on the essence of love and death that marks the ultimate culmination his personal philosophy – there is no meaning to these fights and pointless deaths so he will take charge ascribing meaning to these conflicts, for the greater good of bringing about a paradise on Earth.
Since I studied English Literature during highschool, a particular comment on Reddit stood out to me – which I will borrow for the basis of my interpretations. The depiction of sin and conceptualising a paradise away from God points towards Paradise Lost as a literary inspiration for the series. After being kicked out of Paradise, Adam states ‘I have a paradise in me, happier far’, which some would interpret as being sour grapes. But I believe it’s more indicative of Adam being happier because he can remain with Eve who he loves more than God. In both contexts, it’s intriguing how the situations are framed as man forsaking God of his own volition, as opposed to God forsaking man.
And it significantly contrasts with Thorfinn, who has the hell of revenge raging inside of him. For now, Canute is relying on his self-made paradise from within to perform a miracle in quelling Bjorn’s rage and resolves to confront Thorkell, while Thorfinn is relying on his self-made hell from within to survive against Thorkell. With both seeking to overcome the same adversary, it will be fascinating to see which approach comes out on top, and I will be excited to see how the rest of the season plays out. Anyway, that’s about everything I wanted to discuss without spoiling. As always, thanks for reading this post and I will throw it over to Guardian Enzo for his take on the episode!
Guardian Enzo’s Take
There’s nothing like an enforced absence to make the heart grow fonder. And while I certainly appreciate Vinland Saga all the time (it’s going to be among the last shows in the hat when I’m thinking about those final posts of the year, that’s for sure) a two-week break is a reminder of just how good this series is. Unfortunately we’ve already had to endure a couple of those with Vinland, but if my math is right we should be looking at a straight run to the finish line from here. At which point, of course, the fervent (and most likely fruitless) pining for a second season will begin.
In so many ways this series is really out there where the buses don’t run, and this week’s episode was a perfect example. While there are definite parallels between this series and Golden Kamuy – among them the contrast of intense violence and darkness with absurdist Pythonian comedy – I can’t help but feel that Vinland Saga asks a lot more of its audience than Golden Kamuy does. Both are smart, insightful series and both can be appreciated strictly as entertainment, but it seems to me that in not picking up the moral and intellectual gauntlet their mangaka throw down you’re leaving a lot more on the table here. If you’re not engaging Yukimura Makoto on that level, you’re not experiencing the story he’s trying to tell.
Actually I think Vinland’s approach here (I assume the manga handled it in the same way) was pretty audacious. As the ultimate fanservice moment was playing out – Thorkell and Thorfinn engaged in their shounen rematch – the real story of the episode was Canute and the priest (whose name is Willbald, which I don’t remember hearing before). Thorfinn is the protagonist here but someone is always coming along to usurp his role as the central character – first Thors, then Askeladd, and now Canute. Both narratives were compelling, but it’s that talk between Willbald and Canute that I’ll remember (and which I think was the real point of this episode).
It would probably be fair to say that neither Thorfinn or Thorkell are exactly philosophers, but to be fair this is about as thoughtful as we’ve seen the giant. He states that his reason for fighting Thorfinn (in addition to entertainment) is that he might find what he himself is missing – but Thorfinn is missing it too. If Thorkell is looking for the meaning of being a true warrior, he’s asking the wrong person – but the person he should have asked is no longer around. Thorfinn remembers, but has lived his life choosing to try and forget.
The really sad part about all this for me is that Thorfinn could gain a great deal by sitting down and talking with Thorkell, and I’d even go so far as to say the converse it true as well. There’s really no point to this fight. What’s it for – Askeladd’s sake? Fuck that. Thorkell’s addiction to violence? Fuck that. But that’s the point of course – that there is no point. The world these men are living in is insane, roiled by unspeakable violence and cruelty, and none of the various quests for meaning – revenge, Valhalla, Avalon, Heaven – seem to make any difference here on Earth.
One could go pretty deep into the reeds breaking down what happened between Canute and Willbald (and Bjorn). After a dream where Ragnar offers his farewells, Canute is left facing the reality of a berserker Bjorn destroying what’s left of Askeladd’s men and the priest with his head in a barrel. Willbald even denies that what Ragnar felt for Canute was love – he watched 62 innocents die for him, after all – and his tells the lad of his view that only in death can mankind espouse God’s love. Not through salvation, but through becoming one with the Earth and ceasing to exist as a consciousness. To exist is to create evil, in effect.
Willbald may seem pretty much around the bend but the irony of this is that the views he expresses to Canute, while undeniably presented in nihilist terms, are actually rather Buddhist. That’s especially true when he describes all human love as “prejudice” – a parent or a lover or a loyal subject, this so-called “love” just makes humans prioritize the object of their prejudice over other, equally deserving humans. This is very far away from a Platonic ideal (which is in many ways the underpinning of all Western views on love) but quite close to the idea that love for other people is one of the temptations that keep humans bound to the physical world and prevent them from reaching enlightenment.
What matters for the narrative, of course, is how Canute reacts. As Thorkell seemingly decides he’s played with Thorfinn long enough and decisively halts their duel, Canute reaches a sort of enlightenment. One might call it a humanist one (which places him rather ahead of his time) but he basically rejects the ideal of striving for an impossible redemption and embraces the notion of fighting the unfairness of God’s creation and trying to make mortal existence as bearable as possible. In doing so he also embraces his role as a ruler – which will certainly place his prejudices at odds with the ambitions of his father, among others. It also seemingly places Canute at the heart of the narrative, at least for now – another phase in a very big story which sees the nominal hero’s journey relegated to a supporting role.