「故郷」 (Kokyou)

That’s the second time I’ve used that title line with Vinland Saga. And it’s the second time I’ve pondered over it, too. In both cases I was tempted to append the more hopeful “Season Finale”, because there were hints that more anime was to follow. The first time it was a flood of them, this time just one. Animation director Abiru Takihiko (really almost as much the anchor of this series as director Yabuta Shuuhei) tweeted out “Thorfinn’s journey will continue” as part of his thank you message (in English – Abiru, Yabuta, and Yukimura-sensei are all pretty fluent). That stands open to interpretation, of course, but one tends to think it’s meant to be taken at face value.

I feel certain that the main anime staff would love to continue this adaptation. And there’e no question of having the material – the two seasons have used just less than half the published chapters. But Vinland Saga is a very, very big job. One gets the feeling it’s been exhausting for the main staff, with both seasons years in production. And while it’s quite popular and almost universally revered by those who’ve read and watched it, I don’t think this franchise is especially lucrative for a production committee. It’s probably hard work from the moment the process of convincing them begins. I suspect a third season probably will happen someday, but probably not for a few years.

In the meantime, we have this finale, and it’s further evidence of the prowess of the team behind this series, starting with Yukimura. I’ve said it a hundred times or more, longer series need to have a coda. The climax needs to happen with enough time for the characters and audience to step back and process everything that’s happened. Last week was that climax, as the season-long drama of Ketil’s farm was brought to a conclusion and the long-awaited meeting of Thorfinn and Canute finally happened. That’s not to say that anything that happened here was unimportant – that’s not what this was about. It’s about letting the story breathe and giving everyone a chance to say goodbye.

The Thorfinn that’s returning to Iceland has been so many different people it’s hard to keep track. He was a mere six year-old when he stowed away on Thors’ ship, and he doesn’t even know how old he is now. His memories of the “home” he’s returning to are shrouded in the mists of time, and he’s both ashamed of the things he’s done and unsure if his family and village will even welcome him back. Leif is, as ever, a rock – pushing Thorfinn to keep moving forward but letting him do so at his own pace. Leif is the real hero of this final arc in many ways – he’s led a selfless chase across Europe for better than a decade to reunite Thorfinn with his family, merely because of a promise and a belief that it was the right thing to do.

Indeed, the folks back home are pretty suspicious of whether this bearded pug is truly Thorfinn, gone and largely forgotten. Big sis Ylva is summoned, but she immediately assumes the worst and isn’t to be dissuaded by Leif. Either that, or she does realize the truth and is venting her anger at her brother over what happened. It’s not until Leif finally brings him to the home of his mother Helga (with Ylva’s large brood under her roof), that Thorfinn finally achieves the moment he’s been dreaming of. A mother knows her son’s face, I suppose – especially when she can see his father in it.

The gags with Ylva beating up Thorfinn were a bit over the top for me, but apart from that this reunion hit all the right notes. Thorfinn shares his amazing tale with family and friends, and a stunning saga it is. And he shares his dream – Vinland. To atone for what he’s done by creating a new world for those left behind by this one. The problem of course is that new world is already someone else’s old one, but that’s not something Thorfinn can know at this point. It’s a huge task any way you slice it, and “it all comes down to money” as Leif points out. But the old explorer has his own ideas about how to solve that problem, and Thorfinn has Helga’s blessing to move forward – because in a sense, this is exactly what she and Thors did in fleeing Jomsborg for Iceland.

Tying this all together by having Thorfinn (eventually joined by Einar) visit the grave of the fleeing slave Thors briefly saved in the first episode was both poetic and evidence of the anime team’s meticulous vision for Vinland Saga. That subplot contained some anime-original elements, but it feels utterly organic to the story and indispensable. Thorfinn utters the same words to Einar that Thors said to him, and eventually after Einar has gone inside Thors and the child Thorfinn pay him a visit. Indeed, Thorfinn knows exactly what he must do and where he must go – to the place the story has been leading him right from the start, step by halting step.

One can only marvel at the sheer audacity of Yukimura Makoto. In Vinland Saga he’s challenging the very assumptions on which his country and our world function and have for millennia. In doing so he makes no pretense that this path is easy, or that there are easy answers to the questions he poses. But as I noted last week, it takes people willing to attempt the impossible to change our ideas about what’s possible. The challenges facing Thorfinn and those who will join him on this journey (and just who they will be is a fascinating question) are unimaginable even for us – and we know a lot more than Thorfinn does. But he’s proven his commitment beyond all reasonable doubt by this point.

This season was so different from the first, but it was its equal at the very least. That season wan indeed the prologue – the most epic prologue ever to be sure, but prologue just the same. It was really the story of Askleadd’s journey, an unforgettable one by an unforgettable character. This season Vinland Saga really became Thorfinn’s saga, and the way the ideas in the story naturally flowed until they’d carved its only possible course was a marvel of brilliant writing. Vinland Saga is one of anime and manga’s true masterpieces, bold and ambitious and challenging, epic and intimate in equal measure. However long it takes this team to get there, I’m happy to wait for another season – no one else could create this series if you gave them a century.

One Comment

  1. It was a long journey, but Thorfinn finally made it home.

    Those mood whiplash moments whenever Ylva and Thorfinn were together threw me for a loop though. Speaking of Thorfinn: Survived blows from Thorkell (and becomes the only one who–technically–beat him), survived Askeladd’s harsh treatment, survived 100 punches from Drott the Bear-Killer to get an audience with King Canute… Is knocked unconscious by Ylva.

    Heartwarming to have Thorfinn’s mother Helga accept Einar as family. Ditto Thorfinn mending his broken connections with his family before going off on his own new voyage.

    A nice bookend to the season, though with a long wait before fans see Thorfinn’s further adventure(s) in animated form, I’m just hoping I’ll still be alive to see it. That or certain modern-day autocrats (Hint: The ones that frequently use troll farms to drown out critics in online discourse) don’t start World War III in the meantime.


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