I don’t deny that it’s a first-world problem, but when you cover anime the way I do, it’s no small dilemma the season has forced on me. Which to watch first, Vinland Saga or Golden Kamuy? My original thinking on this was that it was best to watch Vinland last, as it tends to wreck me for pretty much anything else. The counterpoint is, Vinland is so intense and deep that I feel like it’s something I should experience while as fresh as possible. Not to mention, maybe with its more absurdist tone, Golden Kamuy is the right tonic when I’ve just been wrecked.
Either way, covering both on the same night is brutal. As indeed was this episode of VS, which for this week I decided to start the evening with. The sheer pointlessness of all this is really what leaps out at you, in addition to the brutality. A king stealing from a loyal subject who didn’t do him any harm. A vain landowner throwing away scores of lives in a battle anyone with a shred of sense knew was unwinnable. And that’s not even considering the layers upon layers of atrocities committed against the slaves, culminating in the murder of Arnheid and her unborn child in a fit of childish rage. What a fucking world these people live in.
Snake sits at the very nexus of the moral spectrum of this story. What part of his belief system causes him to stand by a man he knows to be a fraud and a murderer in a hopeless battle? What causes his man to honor that decision, and to face that battle themselves? On the battlefield (which in this event is a charitable description) Snake seems primarily vested in trying to keep a few of his men alive. The enemy isn’t just destroying, they’re revelling in it – this is karma for the likes of Fox and Badger, surely. Snake’s decision to call a retreat is the smartest thing anyone has done in this entire dumb day, and once the abandoned Ketil is struck down there’s no one to stand in its way.
Once more we hear Canute bemoaning that his armies aren’y following his orders not to commit atrocities (like pursuing retreating and defeated farmers and goatherds). He draws no sympathy for me, even setting fratricide aside – his protestations at idealism fall on deaf ears. He started this fight (out of greed) and he bears the responsibility for the behavior of his men (who will certainly not be punished for violating his orders). The only reason the some of the retreating forces survive is because Thorgil arrives on the scene – at the fortuitous moment when Wulf has gone to confirm his suspicion that Ketil has been killed on the field.
How can you look at Thorgil and Canute fighting and feel an ounce of sympathy for either man? Thorgil is a brute, and this is a brutal skirmish, though Canute walks away from it in better shape than any of the other direct participants. He can’t rival Thorgil in battle but he’s good enough to keep himself alive here, which most in his royal position wouldn’t be. I’m still not really clear if there was any motive to this for Thorgil apart from killing the king for the sport of it, but the unintended consequences at least stopped the carnage a little faster than would otherwise have been the case.
As for Arnheid, it was pretty clear from the events of last week’s episode that her story was about to reach its conclusion. She may have roused herself long enough to ask the key question – where would they go, even if she lived – but at this point I don’t think her survival was a matter of her own will. She’s just another stalk of wheat ground in the mill of slavery, not even important enough to be a statistic. But to Einar she was everything. The problem is that she’s a reason for him to live, but that doesn’t cut both ways. I don’t think Thorfinn talking of Vinland while she still lived would have mattered, but her words certainly hardened his conviction that there was no other option for the rest of them.
Thorfinn has come a long way, truly. His desire to spare Einar the burden he carries is so strong it drives him to tears. Snake bringing Ketil around was the ultimate test for Einar, and it forced Thorfinn to resort to force. But that’s nothing compared to what he might be forced to do after presenting himself to Canute. I’m with Leif, it’s a foolhardy decision, far more than Thorfinn owes anyone he left behind. But this is the course he’s chosen for himself, to save lives to make up for the ones he took. Canute has taken what he came for, but presented with the chance to press Thorfinn into his service I have a hard time believing he’ll simply let him sail away.
I know this battle (and this episode) serves to illustrate the ultimately pointless folly of war, but props to Snake being the only one getting s**t done.
So close, Thorgil… So f**king close.
The writing was already on the wall for Arnheid (and she knows that Gardar, Hjalti and her unborn son were already waiting for her). Poor Einar though, and that unrequited love of his for Arnheid. I don’t blame him for wanting to kill Ketil in anger after she passed away, but Thorfinn knows the self-destructive desire for vengeance (he’s been there) and gives Einar the stronger Vinland Saga equivalent of a “Bright Slap”.
And finally, I can’t help but wonder what was Thorfinn thinking when he decided to go to King Canute instead of sailing away with Leif. Try and convince the king to allow Ketil and his remaining subjects to live? Nah… Canute is a political animal now, and sees people as pawns to be exploited. He’ll want something in exchange. We’ll see how that goes.