Subject: Thoth thinks you should be reading Vinland Saga
Posted on: 2020-01-04 00:51:21 UTC

I talked about Vinland Saga before. I said it was not a particularly unique story, but it was set apart by a generally masterful execution and beautiful artwork.

Seven volumes in, I can safely say that I was wrong. This is something special. And I'm going to try really hard to explain why without spoiling it but that will be very very difficult. And I'm bad at summaries. But all the same, I'll give it my best go.

If you've heard any other summaries of Vinland Saga (including my previous attempts), you'll have heard that it's about vikings. And specifically about a kid in Iceland whose dad gets murdered and who then proceeds to follow around the guy who killed his dad so he can get a duel to the death with him (which he has been promised) and restore honor to his family etc etc also something is vaguely mentioned about Leif Erikson and Vinland. Those are two names that you miiight recall from your American history class where they may have briefly discussed how a Viking named Leif Erikson found America before everyone else and called it Vinland and then died or whatever, at which point your American history class probably went back to telling you lies about Columbus or whatever.

Which brings up an important point: Vinland Saga is historical fiction. A lot of the characters are based on real people and while it will play fast and loose with reality and physics for engaging fights or to make its characters stand out (as anime is wont to do), it does roughly follow historical events, and the author put in a lot of research that definitely shows in how the setting is portrayed. No horned helmets, and no confusing vikings (noun) with viking (verb) or with general Scandinavians. So when I said that the series was about vikings, I really did mean that. It's about vikings. People who go viking. People who vike (is vike a valid verb? I dunno...).

Or it is initially. Because that plot summary lied to you. And so did I.

You see, that is a suitable plot summary of the prologue of Vinland Saga, which is in fact a story about a kid out for revenge (insert Sasuke joke here). But after that prologue ends (54 chapters into the manga—it's a long prologue) the story becomes something very different.

Don't get me wrong, that prologue is important, and it's by no means a slog. It's very, very good. But it's also a bit of a lie. It paints Vinland Saga as a story about vengeance and blood and all that... and there is plenty of blood and violence to go around. But even in those early chapters (though it's less noticeable) and ever more as it goes on, the series has strong central themes that make it stand out from its contemporaries.

Vinland Saga isn't about pushing forward and being the strongest, most awesome fighter, through the Power of Friendship or any other means. It's not about honor, or glory, or awesome fights.

What it is about is recognizing what is worth fighting for. And about how one might fight for what they believe, even if they do not believe in fighting. It is about being adult enough to know that sometimes you need to swallow your pride. It's about finding meaning in your life and learning to live for yourself, about the pain and anguish that war inevitably brings with it, and about power and what it does to those who wield it. It's about trying to find meaning in your life, and finding something worth believing in.

But most of all it's about trying to find kindness in a world of cruelty, and about the struggle to build a better world—and how someone could even do that.

It's also a really good story full of memorable characters. And the art is still fantastic.

The only manga I think I could really compare this to on even footing is the much-less-well-drawn Mob Psycho 100. But that was more centered on growing up. Vinland Saga has that aspect but that isn't really what it's about... exactly. It's hard to say.

I suppose I could also compare this to Berserk... a little. It's a comparison that gets tossed around a lot because of the violence and probably also the detailed art, but not one I really think is fair: Berserk feels a lot harsher. Vinland Saga is violent, and a lot of terrible things happen, but it's not like Berserk, where it feels like the world actively hates our protagonist and everyone around him. Vinland Saga is also far less bloody and generally horrific, but... I mean... that's not saying much.

I don't really think I've done the series justice, and I'm not sure I can. What I can say is that it shocked me, surprised me, and personally impressed me like very little I have ever read or seen ever has. I'll say it again: This really is something special.

Vinland Saga is currently available at your local bookstore, online, or as an anime. Sadly, the anime has only currently adapted the prologue so far. Which... I mean the show is by all accounts great, but until more of it comes out I really recommend just reading it so you don't have to wait to see just how good the series gets.

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