Vinland Saga Review

Vinland Saga Episode 1-3 Review
Vinland Saga featured in Summer 2019 Half Time Post
Vinland Saga featured in Summer 2019 Anime Retrospective
Vinland Saga featured in Fall 2019 Week 2 Roundup Post

Title: Vinland Saga
Length: 24 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Action
Year of release: 2019

It’s a little while before Vinland Saga, the latest anime from Wit Studio, finds its footing. Thors is a giant, hulking head, shoulders and the majority of his torso above the next viking, and is a natural leader in his small village in Iceland. He moseys about, attempting sort a few issues while the story bleeds to us his over-exaggerated traits of kindness and pacifism, before the third episode makes us aware that his skills as a former warrior are needed. The narrative shift to his son is a little jaunting as Thorfinn has no natural protagonistic qualities, and the personally-motivated assassination of Thors ends up being the only real thread our little-boy-cum-hero has to roll with as he’s taken along with his father’s band of murderers and thus: the real storytelling begins… but that storytelling isn’t really real either.

There’s 4 episodes of setup before Vinland Saga begins, yet the story itself feels like it’s only just finished a prologue by the time the twenty fourth episode rolls around. While it’s clear that I’m going to say Vinland Saga is slow – because, indeed it is, and that’s often a good thing for Vinland Saga – what is more important to say is that this anime meanders as much as its prologue-prologue episodes. Technically speaking, prologues  have a tendency to eschew conventional storytelling to move the actors into place to tell the story the author really wants to tell, and as a painfully extended prologue, Vinland Saga’s entire run suffers from a lack of meaningful pacing and clear goals.

thorfinn training.png

The first 10 or so episodes are spent laid-back, growing Thorfinn from a spunky kid into a murder machine and then integrating him into the group of his father’s murderer, Askleadd. It’s an interesting setup, as he has to assist the man he wants to murder most so that he can fairly challenge him to a duel. However, the growth of Thorfinn lasts a solid half episode, whereby he hunts a few animals in a montage and takes on his first mission. A little heartbreaking, sure, but it only results in a petulent adolescent whose contributions to the series are nothing but angry barks of ‘korosu!’ (‘I’ll kill you’). He’s not a very engaging character, and so it makes sense that he takes something of an observer’s point-of-view, but any time he’s given dialogue it usually results in a casualty for the series’ credibility. As are his ninja moves and ‘Naruto runs’, which are extremely out of place in this otherwise strict historical recreational anime. There are many instances where Vinland Saga’s coat of mature paint rubs off, and you see the cookie-cutter shounen action beneath.

Askeladd, then, is the driving force of Vinland Saga. He’s setup to be an innovative strategist quite early on in the series in a particularly great scene where his band of Vikings run down a hill carrying a boat with him atop. Selfish, but extremely self-motivated, he’s a strongly detailed antagonist. Then again, the relationship he has with Thorfinn is a little hazy, shifting at whim between a tough-love father figure and a slavedriver, but he is intriguing in his decision makings and the series is very proud of them as it sells them with multiple monologues from onlookers.

thorkell.jpeg

Askleadd’s mercenary group ends up driving the group into England and half-heartedly assisting the Danes in their invasion. As Thorfinn comes into contact with a traitorous, combat-loving Viking named Thorkell who throws ship-sized rocks at invading ships, the generally aptly animated series picks up and produces some excellently animated fight sequences. The larger, war scenes have a tendency to rely on weak CGI and the more intimate battles are too interested in superhero duels, but thankfully the series moves Askleadd’s crew into wintery environments on the run from the English through Wales, where another plot bakes in and there’s a little less of Askeladd slicing people in half and a lot more of him taking a leak in the snow.

I’ve sadly got to come to the last of our three leads, Canut. A Danish prince who is a little effeminate, the series laughs with juvenile pointed fingers to remind us of this multiple times every time he has his episode off. The already meandering pacing ends up taking its time to show us Askleadd going to extremes to pursue whatever it is he’s pursuing so aimlessly, but it’s yet another moment the show is in dire need of a good hook. Canut’s progression through this arc takes focus, but is entirely unconvincing as it’s in a mere moment with far too much flowery dialogue suggesting such a large heel shift turn. Still, all the ideas begin to move forward near the show’s finale, where Askleadd makes a rather large ‘Check’ in the series’ latter-end political arrangements, but it’s hard to say the characters have progressed particularly or that everything lead up to this moment.

Vinland Saga only just began with that rather biting scene, and it took far too much time getting there. But, more harmful than pacing, is the lack of resonance: Vinland Saga needs to take a step back and realise that its superhuman cast were once human before they embroiled themselves in legend. Do that, and it might just stumble across a personal beat or two, because its shouty, abrasive protagonist, unconvincing combat and distant emotional beats let this chess-like war story down.

vinlandsagaverdict

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