Complex characters and excellent political intrigue
Unless you’ve been under a rock (kind of like me) you’ve probably come across some sort of article or radio show that keeps talking about how we are in some “golden age” and eventually you’ll hear the much-bandied about “prestige television” phrase that’s been thrown around a lot, something that started way back in the 90’s with the oft-forgotten show Oz on HBO. One of the major genres that is driving this is historical fiction, shows like Vikings, Peaky Blinders, Downton Abby just to name a few, round out this very robust, if not over-saturated, genre. It was only a matter of time until anime took a stab (insider pun intended) at this with Vinland Saga and thank goodness it did.
Vinland Saga is set in the 11th century in Iceland and follows the life of Thorfinn, son of Thors, try not to be confused. Vinland Saga opens with Thors, a powerful warrior who has had a life as one can imagine, has involved lots of blood, pain, and sacrifice. In the course of a very well animated opening, we see Thors dispatch over a dozen people and get an arrow to the shoulder. Obviously not a career that has a long life. Cut to some years later and Thors has settled down, married and started a family and has put his murdering ways behind him. Thorfinn, his son, is regaled by Leif Erikson of stories of a land called Vinland, which the real, historic Leif Erikson landed in 1000 quite a few centuries before Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America, however, don’t be fooled, despite the name of the show, Vinland doesn’t really work it’s way very much into the show itself.
Vinland Saga teaches the harsh lesson of, no good deed goes unpunished as Thors takes in a man who is almost dead and brings him back to life only to find out that the man is an escaped slave from the very powerful and violent Halfdan who wants him back. Thors makes a deal to save the slave’s future but at a great price, both literally and figuratively as Askeladd, a leader of a mercenary group of Vikings is given the order to kill Thors. Askeladd, while not the most likable guy knows how to get the jobs done and through underhanded means dispatches Thors in front of Thorfinn’s eyes. Thorfinn swears revenge on Askeladd but isn’t good enough to best him in a fight, so Thorfinn learns to keep your friends close and your enemies closer by joining Askeladd’s crew to learn and eventually have his revenge.
This starts the story of Vinland Saga, a story of a long, brilliantly written slow-burn revenge story. The anime goes through many years of Thorfinn’s life, growth and many attempts at seeking revenge for his father’s death. This takes place over the course of more than a decade and, as you can imagine is not a straight line, but is ultimately a tale of political intrigue as much as revenge, and asks the question can someone who took the most important thing from you ever be forgiven?
There is significantly more to the story of Vinland Saga than what is portrayed in the anime, however, the anime is a complete story beginning to end, so if no more is made it still provides an extremely satisfying conclusion.
Vinland Saga is, arguably, the best anime of 2019 and is one of those rare anime that could have appeal outside of the anime sphere because of its setting and focus on complex characters and the excellent political intrigue ever-present in the show. It comes with my highest recommendation. If you have an Amazon Prime account, which, is the only place to watch it, do yourself a huge favor and watch all of it and show it to your friends. Recommended.
Studio/company: Amazon Prime Video