Thorkell: Good friar, what say you? Who is greater, your Jesus or our Aesir?
Willibald: ...Whichever created liquor.
Thors: A true warrior needs no blade.
A manga series created by Makoto Yukimura, author of Planetes. Vinland Saga was started in 2005. It chronicles the adventures of a band of Vikings.Taking place in the 11th century the story chronicles the life of Thorfinn Karlsefni, an Icelandic boy who becomes a warrior to avenge his father's death. He does so by dogging the heels of his father's killer, Askeladd, by fighting in Askeladd's band. But it's not some story of deception. Askeladd is aware that Thorfinn wants to kill him, and he gleefully uses this information to manipulate the boy into doing his bidding in exchange for a one-on-one duel.As we follow Thorfinn around, the story expands to the Danes' pacification of England of the early eleventh century and the rise to power of King Canute.Ultimately the series has a lot of brutal (but fun!) battles. It's also fairly accurate about viking culture, so it teaches you stuff while you read (yes, it's that awesome). It's also got some pretty snappy dialogue and humorous little exchanges between characters both major and minor.No relation to the classical viking sagas known as the Vinland Sagas, about the explorations of Erik the Red and his son Leif. Though they are alluded to through the stories of Leif Erikson, alias, Leif the Lucky.The series has been licensed in English by Kodansha Comics USA.
This manga provides examples of:
A Real Man Is a Killer: Ketil's housecarls eventually convince Orman into believing in this trope. It's deconstructed: Not only is his attempts to cut down slaves 'to become a man' a miserable failure he can't go through on, but when he actually ends up killing a man in a fixed duel he becomes horrified.
Orman has the behavior of Japanese Delinquents (tough-guy act, ridiculous hair which he spends a lot of time on...) in medieval Europe. Chalk it up to Rule of Funny.
On that note, most characters are fairly Japanese in spirit. It's easy to equate Japanese samurai and Danish vikings, as they are both warrior cultures, and there certainly are similarities, but there are differences between them.
Action Girl: In a Canon omake, Ylfa fantasizes about becoming a Bad Ass pirate queen. The fact that she eagerly joins in on the occasional whale hunt proves she's no tender maid.
Alternate Realm Interpretation:invoked In Thorfinn's nightmare, Valhalla is depicted as an never-ending battleground for the "glorious dead." The aforementioned dead people are rotting away and there is nothing glorious about it at all.
A vision of Askeladd proceeds to appear and tell Thorfinn that it's not actually Valhalla.
Anti-Hero: The only hero in the entire story is Thors, and he's been dead for over a decade when the plot starts.
Anyone Can Die: Only Thorfinn is left in the story out of all the characters from the opening chapters. It's safe to say that any character that doesn't have a historical basis, and even some that do, will meet a grisly end.
Art Evolution: When it changed from being a weekly Shonen to a monthly Seinen, the art became more detailed and a few of the character designs were tweaked as well, most notably with Bjorn.
Armor Is Useless: Averted altogether for the most part, with only two minor exceptions.
Armor-Piercing Question: The priest plays with this. Many vikings are intimidate by his words, but he never got his point through. The main reason is that he doesn't know the answer.
Viking: "I would defend my brother to death!"
Priest: "Would you do that for anyone?"
Viking: "I don't know."
Priest: "Neither do I."
Armor-Piercing Slap: After Ragnar's death, Canute flips out, not wanting to leave without his body. Askeladd gives him one of these and he shuts right up.
Thorfinn had to do this, more like a Wake Up Punch, on Einar to stop him from taking revenge after Arneis death.
Artistic License - History: Thorfinn once identifies himself as a warrior and a jarl when talking to a slave. This is probably an error of the author, as jarl means chieftain (cognate to the English earl) - a better fit would be karl, meaning a free man, which Thorfinn's father Thors was.
Awesome Moment of Crowning: After Askeladd kills King Sweyn, Canute kills Askeladd, as part of a plan to transfer control of the Danish army and kingdom to Canute. Thorfinn, being hugely upset to learn that he has been robbed of the chance to avenge himself on Askeladd, launches an attack on Canute but only manages to slash Canute's face. Canute, declaring that someone must take control of the situation, picks up the fallen crown from the floor and crowns himself, all the while bleeding profusely from his face. Friggin' awesome. Anyone else see the pun?
Axe Crazy: Literally and in the trope sense with Thorkell, who dual-wields dane axes. It helps that he's seven feet tall.
Bad Ass: The entire cast. They're Vikings, how can they possibly be anything else?
It's also brutally decontructed, right from Thors' famous line: "A true warrior needs no blade". The Viking culture, built on a huge desire to be badasses, call for them to make the world a living hell. Askeladd fully knows that and flat out admits he hates them for this reason. Same for Canute who set his mind to create a paradise where the Vikings wouldn't commit sins. His methods,however...
Badass Army: The Jomsvikings. While the other vikings are mostly pirates, these men are an elite mercenary army. They even go for The Faceless look, alsways wearing their eye covering helmets and their cloaks covering their lower faces.
Badass Boast: When facing off against Thorkell the second time, Thorkell tells Thorfinn that if he wants to hear more about his father, he'll have to keep fighting him. Thorfinn responds by telling Thorkell he's okay with that, but Thorkell might not be in any condition to speak after they duel. strangely enough, this isn't an actual boast on Thorfinn's part- it's a statement of fact.
In the same battle Askeladd mutters "To think the day would come that I, Askeladd, would be unable to escape from just 50 men," while standing on a mound of corpses.
Beard of Sorrow: Thorfinn after the death of Askelladd, his motivation in life has been taken from him, his usual cold composure and social detachment becomes even more pronounced, though he loses his battle ferocity and becomes (more) silent, docile, and generally bored of life, and he eventually becomes a slave. And the worst part is that he is not old enough to grow a full beard. )
Celibate Hero: Thorfinn is far too busy being moody to sleep with anyone. Askeladd as well, seeing how he never seems to care much or find time for sleeping with anyone. Not to mention how disgusted and hateful he was towards the vikings from his past, whom he considered "filthy" and "moronic," who care about "base desires" (read: sex). His final actions might qualify him.
Covers Always Lie: One cover for an issue of Afternoon, the magazine which the series runs in, features Thorfinn sporting an armor strikingly similar to the one his father wore back in the days, still Thorfinn never wore such armor in the series till then and not once in the whole "prologue" arc; given his later development it could be seen as a foreshadowing, but no, the Thorfinn on that cover is the earlier revenge bent version of him, and his development would strike dozens of chapters later; the safest bet is it that cover was just for promotional purposes.
The topic of slavery is brought up several times, and Ylfa complains about wanting some as if she's just asking for new clothes. Thors might have had different views on human ownership, but in the Viking Age, slavery was common.
In chapter 20, Thorfinn is interrupted from his sleep in a barn when some of his comrades bring in an English woman, ready to rape her. We'd expect Thorfinn to do something... but he doesn't. But hey, it's a story about Vikings.
However, he does walk out, seemingly with a look of jaded disgust on his face.
The Determinator: Thorkell and Thorfinn. Thorfinn in his pursuit of revenge. Thorkell, for fun.
Einar seems to have set his eyes in the wrong woman too.
Drunk with Power: Sveyn Forkbeard gives a long monologue on the nature of power and The Chains of Commanding that comes with ruling, treating the crown he wears as a curse that makes the wearer want to get more power. After becoming king, Canute becomes just as bad as his father.
Dude Looks Like a Lady: When Canute first appears he's mistaken for a woman by the main characters. Thorfinn gives him the derogatory nickname of 'Princess'. Adds a whole new layer of (unintentional) subtext between them, though it's meant as an insult.
A very severe one, point of fact, to the degree that they'd be fighting words to almost anyone else — Warrior cultures take manliness very seriously.
An actual lady is used as a body double, and because of her, people suspect that Prince Canute really is a lady.
Elite Mooks: The Jomsvikings. So far, only named characters have survived battling them, let alone killing one.
Expository Hairstyle Change: In his first appearance, Thorfinn has unkempt hair befitting his anger and surliness. In a flashback, a younger, innocent and happy Thorfinn has neat and shorter hair. With the Time Skip into the Farmland Saga, his hair gets longer and stays unkempt until he makes a friend, after which he ties it up. When Thorfinn finally returns home after the Farmland Saga ends, Ylfa gives him a haircut and shave against his wishes. The last time his hair was that short was in the aforementioned flashback, and now he's finally taking steps to go to Vinland.
Eye Scream: Frequently. At least two major characters have had eyes removed in battle and both survived without bleeding out.
Fan Disservice: The few instances of female nudity are always in unsavory situations like sex slaves or exposed dying women.
The Farmer and the Viper: When Thorfinn gets injured during a mission in England, he gets nursed back to health by an English woman and her daughter. The mother was particularly set on taking care of Thorsfinn because he reminded her of her deceased son, even though they knew that he was a viking. Later, Thorfinn sends a signal to Askeladd and the other vikings to raze the place. However, Thorfinn did tell the woman to get away, but the damage had already been dealt to her. One of the few times that we see a glimpse of remorse from Thorfinn.
Fingore: Thorfinn cuts off two of Throkell's fingers, Askeladd clips off fingers of an English officer to make him talk and whenever there's a battle, there are severed hands and fingers flying in the background.
Flash Step: Thorfinn's preferred method of short-range transportation.
Foregone Conclusion: History teaches us that Canute will end up as king — but then again the story up to that point was apparently only the prologue.
Also vikings did not live for long on Vinland since a conflict with the locals drove them out. Meaning that even there Thorfinn will only find conflict.
Askeladd remarks early on that a man with a gut wound won't last the night later this fate befalls Bjorn.
Early in his life, Thorfinn witnesses his father telling a dying slave about the story of Vinland. When he later meets a dying slave himself, he asks himself if there are any words he can tell her...
For the Evulz: Though in the context of the series, he's not actually all that evil (in fact coming off as a lot less horrible than guys like Askeladd), there's no denying that all Thorkell wants to do is kill people because it's fun. By most other series' standards that behavior would be considered Always Chaotic Evil.
Funny Background Event: In a tavern where Thorkell and one of his men are discussing what to do next, his vikings are holding a Bar Brawl and Food Fight, with scenes like a naked man dancing on a table and "Hey! Whose ear is this?"
Frame-Up: Canute has this done to Ketil and his son, to take over his farm, who is one of the most prosperous in the region.
Generation Xerox: Canute ends up practically becoming his father, which his hallucinations/father's ghost ends up lampshading. It's foreshadowed and implied that Thorfinn may end up like his own father as well.
Genre Deconstruction: To anyone who's actually read them, it's easy to see how Vinland Saga series deconstructs the classical Icelandic Sagas by looking at the values of the time through a modern lens. Things that would be described as laudable or commonplace in the sagas are here seen as moral evils, pacifism, humility, humanism and the ability to break a Cycle of Revenge are decried by the setting's society even though it's shown as the "right" thing to do, people aren't always fated to follow in their parents' footsteps and that's a good thing, and people who act like the stereotypical saga hero are usually seen as villainous or highly destructive. Though given the fate of your average saga hero, Vinland Saga isn't threading new ground on the latter part.
Genre Shift: The series had Family-Unfriendly Violence since chapter one to obviously be taken as part of the seinen demographic, oddly enough it started its serialization on Weekly Shonen Magazine (yeah, right along with a friendly series such as Fairy Tail), then it moved to Morning Two an actual seinen magazine but it wasn't a magazine popular enough to house Vinland Saga's impending success, the series finally found its place in Afternoon a popular seinen magazine which housed/houses manypopularworks and coincidentally is also serializing another historical epic, Historie
The current arc, which has earned itself the title of "Best Farming Manga" or "Farmland Saga" among fans.
The irony is that vinland means farmland so the fan nickname is a proper translation of the manga's title.
Gonk: The Frankish King at the start and the tracker Ears later on.
Averted, to an extent, with characters like Thorkell. Due to the mangaka's realistic style, characters don't have to be horribly ugly to be ugly.
Good Eyes, Evil Eyes: For some characters, their eye size change along with their character development: Cheerful Child Thorfinn had big innocent eyes, hellbent on revenge Thorfinn had narrow slits most of the time and spiritually awakened slave Thornfinn has big ol' idealistic eyes again.
Canute's eyes however are getting narrower and narrower.
Good Old Ways: Legatus clings stubbornly to the Roman traditions, while Thorkell lives like it's still seven hundred AD.
Hell Is War: The place Thorfinn falls in in his nightmare and where he meets Askeladd could best be described as "hell". It's a horrible battlefield which has "no winner, no loser, and no end". Warriors fight and slaughter each other, over, and over, and over again. Forever.
He Who Fights Monsters: When he first begins working for Askelaad, Thorfinn tries to warn a family to flee before the vikings come for them. By the time of the main story, he doesn't even raise an eyebrow when Askelaad's crew slaughters an entire village.
Hidden Disdain Reveal: Askeladd's men turn against him to save their own hides against an army they could never defeat. Askeladd returns them this message:
Askeladd:"You all and I have been together for a long time, up until this day. We laughed together, drank together, found our way out of many hellholes together. And I never told any of you about this, but for the last ten years we've been together I hated every single last one of you."
Historical Fiction: The story of Canute follows quite closely the life of the actual historic king, but takes very great liberties with the details. However, many of the battles actually did take place. There's also the incident where he told the waves to cease, to prove that he was not God.
Vinland Saga is a rare case of fiction that differentiates between Vikings (namely the warriors/pirates who set out for adventure and plunder) and the lands Vikings come from (the Scandinavian nations such as Denmark). Usually the word Viking is used as a blanket term for all these people.
Historical-Domain Character: Obviously Canute, his elder brother Harald, and their father Sweyn. Surprisingly, there was also an actual Thorkell the Tall who fought for the English but joined Canute after the death of his brother Henning, who had been a childhood mentor to Canute, just like Ragnar in the manga. Though their actual existance is disputed, Thorkell was reportedly a commander of the Jomsvikings.
A slave girl once told Thorfinn he reminded her of herself. He replied that he wouldn't know how a slave feels and that if he was one, he would kill his master and escape. By chapter 54, Thorfinn has become a dutiful slave to his master.
The one English woman laments her greed and sinfulness in stealing a ring and hiding it, taking it out every so often to marvel at its beauty. It's only because she not only stole it, but spent time fussing with it that she survived the pillaging of her village and escaped to inform the surrounding towns of the devastation, which is the only reason the pillaging vikings were, in a sense, karmically punished.
Jerkass: Thorfinn, whose single-minded obsession with revenge has made him rude, withdrawn and basically without a moral compass. When he is finally reunited with Leif, Thorfinn refuses to listen to him about abandoning his revenge and going back home to Iceland.
Just a Kid: An English woman's reaction to finding Thorfinn on her front step.
Not So Stoic: Askeladd. Any mention regarding Wales or his mother is enough to cause a reaction. This becomes a problem as his default look is to have no reaction at all, thus allowing King Sweynn to deduce how to try to manipulate Askeladd.
Older Than They Look: A more realistic example then most but none the less Thorkell does not look like he's in his fifties.
Younger than They Look: Willibald, the old priest. Once he's shaved and has his beard cut, he actually looks like 23. Before that he looks almost three times his age.
The fun part, if you know the Icelandic Sagas this should not come as a surprise.
Proud Warrior Race Guy: Deconstructed, subverted and played straight: While they're all proud warriors, most are also sellswords, murderers, thieves and rapists, as well as honest merchants and farmers when necessary, just like the vikings really were.
Psycho for Hire: Askeladd's band are all unscrupulous bastards willing to do anything for the right price, Thorkell and his band too, but his payment is a good battle. Thorfinn isn't a psycho, but he's got pretty loose morals.
Put on a Bus: Thorgimm and Alti are put on a Viking Longship.
Rags to Riches: Askeladd went from being a slave boy to a respected and feared mercenary captain using nothing but his wits, firmly establishing his status as a Magnificent Bastard, at the age of fourteen.
Though interestingly enough, all the main characters thusfar have been very... not horny. Now, Ax-Crazy on the other hand...
Rasputinian Death: After receiving injuries upon injuries upon injuries, Gardar gets stabbed in the chest right through to the back during his sleep and treats it like it was nothing. Hell, he doesn't even notices it. He wakes up and starts strangling Snake. When he finally dies from that injury, he just thinks he's tired and he's had about a good 20 minutes of chit-chat with Arneis. This is without accounting for his recent life as an abused slave.
Rated M for Manly: Baddass action with no girl in sight, and Manly Tears in appropiate moments. This manga will make your chest grow hair on its own.
Reliable Traitor: Gunir. It's not really a spoiler, you'll spot him from a mile away.
Retired Badass: Thors, he used to be called 'The Troll' and for good reason.
Revenge: It's not just his motivation, it's Thorfinn's entire reason for existence (as he points out himself).
Rule of Cool: The fight scenes; some have complained that all the awesome detracts from the history.
Who are these people? They need to be punched like a horse, now.
Sadistic Choice: Sveyn Forkbeard gives Askeladd the choice between staying Canute's retainer or saving his homeland Wales from a Viking invasion.
The cut on the cheek that Thorfinn gave Canute in the incident detailed in Awesome Moment of Crowning above has turned into one Badass scar years later.
Thorfinn gets part of an ear sliced off and a large cut on his face as a slave (on the opposite side as Canute's).
Shout-Out: At one point there's a background character that looks suspiciously like Hagar the Horrible. Also Vicky, Ylfi and others from Vicky the Viking appear in two crowd shot. There are numerous others, mostly historical ones, littered through out.
The Frank Chieftain is named Jabbathe, think about it for a moment.
Shown Their Work: Yukimura has often noted the pains he took to be as accurate as possible, such as the journey he took to Iceland at the beginning of his work on the story, and how he used a variety of historical and apocryphal stories to base his characters on.
Spirited Young Lady: After the Farmland Saga ends we're introduced to Gudrid, a young woman who wanted to join Leif Erikson on his voyages ever since she was little. But Leif turned her away and she instead ended up wedded to Leif's brother, even outliving him. When Leif meets her again, now with Thorfinn in tow, she begs to join him again - even though she's in an impending Arranged Marriage for the second time. According to the Norse sagas she marries Thorfinn.
Stealth Insult: For the audience. Askeladd gives one of his former men (who was a turncoat in his prior battle) a gold bracelet and tells him to go home, raise sheep, take a wife and die in his bed. While this seems like a Pet the Dog moment in a modern context, to a 'proper' norseman this would be a killing insult way worse than actually trying to kill him. The man is too broken by his experiences (and shameful over his betrayal) to argue.
Stranger in a Familiar Land: When Thorfinn finally returns home. He isn't even recognized by his own sister, and gained a younger brother and nephews while he was gone. And he's been gone so long, he doesn't even remember how old he is.
Thanatos Gambit: Askeladd figures out the way to get Canute to power and prevent Wales from being attacked is to die. He declares he is the descendant of King Arthur, decapitates Sveyn, and then acts like he has gone mad and goes on a murderous rampage. He deliberately makes sure that Canute is the one to deliver the death blow, putting the final piece into place
The Berserker: Bjorn is a real bĂ¤rsĂ¤rk and uses a mushroom to achieve this state.
The Dragon: Floki of the Jolmsviking serves as a Dragon of sorts to King Sweyn.
The Mountains of Denmark: In volume 1, the village that is described as being on the Jutland Peninsula actually looks a lot more like the fjords of Norway than the almost perfectly flat marshland of Denmark.
The Stoic: Thorfinn has two expressions, disinterest, and anger. The only exception is that when he gets badly hurt it shows. Still doesn't slow him down much.
This makes the look on his face when he realizes his attempt at evading a strike from Thorkell ended up launching him higher than the treetops even more hilarious.
Took a Level in Badass: Several characters, most notably Prince King Canute, after his bodyguard and father-figure is killed; he learns from the disaffected priest that what the bodyguard felt was not "love" but "preference," that God is basically a Jerk Ass, and comes to the revelation the only way humans will ever attain Paradise is to say "screw you" to the Almighty and make it on earth with our own hands. The level however, is more in Social Badass than in Combat Badass, but undeniably Bad Ass nonetheless.
After succeeding the throne, he also takes one in jerkass.
Of course, considering how the badass trope is deconstructed (see above), it shouldn't come as a surprise. Keep in mind badasses who aren't jerkasses are very rare in Vinland Saga. As it is, we don't meet any in the Prologue.
Trickster Mentor: Askeladd likes to think he is more a mentor to Thorfinn then nemesis.
Tsundere: Ylfa certainly has a few Tsundere-ish tendencies
Turn Coat: Thorgrimm tries too, but Thorkell despises a coward.
The Uriah Gambit: Guess who pulled it off? If your answer is Askeladd, you're correct! He uses it to kill Ragnar.
King Sweyn tried to do this to get rid of Canute. Talk about a COMPLETE backfire.
Tyke Bomb: Askeladd kept Thorfinn around because he thought the little boy had guts, after he killed his father. In the following years, Thorfinn becomes his special assassin to take out enemy leaders, and the reward is always a duel that gives Thorfinn a chance to avenge his father's death.
Utopia Justifies the Means: According to Canute, yes. Yes it does. Just don't let anyone die for his sake, his single life isn't worth it. He eventually goes as far as to poison his very supportive brother to take over Denmark as well.
Villain Protagonist: Thorfinn is nominally the main character, but so much of the story is spent following Askeladd that he pretty much qualifies as one.
Vitriolic Best Buds: Snake and Old Man Sverker on Ketil's farm. More than half of any dialogue they have around each other is a barrage of insults. And they're both pretty damn good.
Warrior Heaven: Well it is about Vikings... Averted, however, in that the warriors who go there are now rotting corpses in an advanced state of decomposition who do nothing but continuously hack each other apart. Thorfinn visits it in a dream and gets advice from Askeladd.
You Killed My Father: Essentially Thorfinn's motivation for everything he does. Despite being the main character, his desire for revenge makes him something below one-dimensional in personality, and it's literally all he can think of. He's repeatedly given The Reason You Suck Speeches by Askeladd over it, and when Canute gets to kill Askeladd instead of him, he snaps and is reduced to a hollowed-out shell, completely burnt out.
Younger than They Look: Father Willibald is only in his twenties, but he looks like an old man. It's his shaggy beard and monk's tonsure that probably does it.