Hello again everyone and welcome to a double feature for Vinland Saga. Apologies for the missed week, but even I am not totally immune to sickness. So this week we cover episodes 12 and 13. Where we learn quite a bit about Askeladd, Canute finds his voice and winter starts to turn. In we go!
Starting off, since its a 2 for 1 this week, let’s talk production. Across both the episodes, I thought the music was fantastic. Still very unique for most anime I feel. And they really accentuated each scene they were used in. I do think that it was a tad loud at times, though. Sometimes drowning out the conversation and such of the scene. Part of me thinks this was a conscious choice though, as Vinland Saga was putting a lot of effort into showing how much noise an army makes. With stomping boots and chatter and all that. Seemingly to setup the Ear’s little listening to the ground trick. But as a whole, while I really like the music, the volume mixing just felt a bit off. Over all though, the presentation was solid. Great presentation of armies and the changing of seasons and backgrounds. Onto the meat though!
First up, episode 12, The Land on the Far Bank. This was an interesting episode, one that consisted mostly of setup, and really established a lot about our characters. As they spend the whole episode running from Thorkell on foot. The big thing about the episode to me though, that Vinland focused a lot on subtly, were the soldiers. From their disgruntlement while marching, their joy at the boats to their trust in Askeladd. Even letting them spend time with the priest and philosophizing. Characterizing the whole group specifically through interactions with the two brothers, Atli and Torgrim. While they are effectively side characters, they represent almost 100 men and their mindsets. Making me feel it’s a brilliant way to establish a collective group attitude. Especially once you add in Bjorn as the connection between our leads and the soldiers. Interacting and bringing their concerns to the leads.
Speaking of the leads, let’s talk about them and how they are viewed by those around them. As episode 12 brought us to a new country with new perspectives, who aren’t necessarily against them. For me thought the most important focus of this bit was between Canute and Thorfinn, and what people of this time value. As Gratianus takes one look at Thorfinn and looks favorably upon him. At first glance somehow taking this rough young man and assuming he is the prince, over the clean and proper Canute. This is Vinland telling us what the people of Wales think of Vikings, even their royalty. Reinforcing this later as citizens of Wales yell at them as they pass in episode 13. Though this isn’t necessarily a negative either, as Gratianus criticizes Canute and Ragnar for his passivity, very clearly stating the “chick must fly the nest”.
Finally, episode 12 reveals to us why Askeladd is doing all of this, the real reason he took the risk. Effectively placing his bets all on Canute, so that when he takes the throne, Wales will be saved. Whether or not this is a long con or just an opportunity Askeladd saw and seized is up for debate. It’s also not particularly important, in my opinion. As regardless he has connections and is making full use of it. Attempting to ingratiate himself and control Canute by thrusting him into scenario’s where he has to talk. Forcing Canute to to fend for himself, in a similar manner to what he did to Thorfinn. Though perhaps not as brutally. However Askeldad has some complications, as Ragnar sees what is happening and refuses to allow it. Clearly, something will have to be done about this crotchety and protective old man.
Moving on to episode 13, Child of a Hero, this is where we see Canute start to be a character. Actually getting some speaking lines and the like. Of course, most of it is displays of his weak will. Hiding behind Ragnar or blanching when put in front of hundreds of men. While this helps characterize Canute though, this is mostly a focus on Ragnar and his treatment of Canute. Which to me makes for a really interesting comparison between Thorfinn, Canute and Askeladd. We know of Canute and Thorfinn’s parents and how they were raised. And we have started to get bits of Askeladds. So seeing how these characters were raised, how they survived and what they turned into is very interesting to me. As Canute has both a loving but helicopter parent in Ragnar, Thorfinn has loving Thors and brutal Askeladd, while Askeladd has his yet unknown father.
Actually on Askeladds father, let’s talk about his backstory, as Vinland Saga does something interesting here I feel. Taking what has effectively been our lead for most of the series, and turning him on his head. Where once he was a brutal viking warlord, doing what he loved, now he is but another victim. Like Thorfinn and Canute, he has found his own way to survive, blending in with the very people who brutalized his mother. Leading them and taking care of them, not because he cares about them, but because he needs them to survive. Yet still he hates them all. Which makes his relationship with Thorfinn and Thors all the more interesting. As at the start of the series he legitimately respected, actually wanted, Thors to take over his band. In spite of his hatred of Danes, he saw something in Thors. Something that isn’t yet in Thorfinn.
Following this, we also see just how little his men actually know about him. Even Bjorn, his 2nd in command and seemingly his best friend, didn’t know he could speak Welsh. From what we could see, this apparently doesn’t sit well with Bjorn. As he takes offense to Torgrim’s attitude, and apparently really values his place next to Askeladd. As the only member of this band besides Thorfinn who really talks to him like an equal, I can see why. Yet in spite of this secrecy, all of his men still trust him. They know next to nothing about him, yet follow him across hundreds of miles into Thorkells army, with faith he will see them out. Is this trust? Or perhaps just a good track record on Askeladd’s part? I suppose we will find out.
The last big thing that occured this episode was of course Canute’s outburst with Thorfinn. With what we saw of his backstory, Canute clearly hasn’t had a good childhood. So I imagine friends his own age were in short supply. Yet it seems that by pairing him with Thorfinn, Askeladd has given him just that. Someone his own age who doesn’t care about his position. Who has no intention to use his position or take his words out of context, who doesn’t care in the slightest. I can’t imagine how freeing this must be, as he completely forgets his surroundings to get into an argument with Thorfinn. Much to the delight of Ragnar and shock of the soldiers around him. With his effect on Canute, it makes you wonder how Canute might end up affecting Thorfinn. As Vinland is far to well written a series to let this go unused.
That’s all the big notes, but before I close out, there is one final thing I want to talk about. That of course being the Priest. His segment with the soldiers was short, but important. As they discuss what it is the Priest desires, that being “Love”. This isn’t basic love, if anything he is no doubt describing Agape. The highest form of Love in Christian faith. I won’t pretend to be an expert on Christian Theology, but I will act like one for Vinland. Which is why, to me, this is a clear allusion to Thors. As the soldiers mentioned him in an earlier episode to the Priest, and he took the mention seriously. Agape being the ideal that Thors and the Priest strive for, that Thorfinn has completely missed, and Askeladd saw and respected. If you take nothing else away from Vinland, this is the core theme.
And one of the best parts of that short scene was how the soldiers reacted to it. Many of them ignoring or disparaging it. Questioning the Priests riddles and his vague statements. Trying to place a value on Love, when there isn’t one. Effectively ignoring and downplaying the whole thing. Yet in spite of all this, there was a single soldier who was interested. Who wanted to hear more of this “Love” and took the Priests words seriously. For some unknown reason this strange mans words resonated with him, and started him down the path so many characters are on. This nameless soldier. This is how conversion begins, how you introduce a new religion to a society. Speaking of things they know, or overarching concepts. Finding the first one interested and building from there. Yet this case isn’t about spreading Christianity, but Love. Agape.
So when all is said in done, how was Vinland Saga these past two weeks? Personally, I loved it, and I actually liked doing 2 weeks in a single post rather than one. It lets me connect the themes across episodes, and discuss specific topics of the series in greater detail. As I don’t feel as bad typing up 1600 words for a double header. As far as the episodes themselves go, everything was great. Sure CGI was noticeable and I have a gripe about the music volume. But there was no combat, the environment helped hide the CGI, and the music was good. Great even. So all of these complaints, while present, are minor and over shadowed by just how great the writing in this series is. Vinland continues to be my anime of the season, and how it closes will decide if its my anime of the year.
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