If there's one lesson I've learned from Vinland Saga, it's that you don't screw with Vikings. I first picked up Vinland Saga because it's by Makoto Yukimura, who wrote one of my all-time favourite manga series, Planetes. While I did expect a story of decent quality going in, what I didn't expect was a fascinating, violent, and moving story that would place the manga on my shelf firmly among other timeless classics.
Also, seriously, don't fuck with Vikings. They will wreck your shit.
What It's About
The story of Vinland Saga takes place in the early 11th century Europe and focuses on the life and times of Thorfinn, an Icelandic boy forced to grow up under the worst of circumstances. After Thorfinn's father, Thors, is killed in front of him by the Viking commander, Askeladd, Thorfinn swears to avenge him and joins Askeladd's war band, in order to keep his father's killer close so that he can have his revenge.
Through his travels and adventures, Thorfinn is hardened into a deadly and efficient killing machine, while the Viking invasion of England destroys the world around him. Thorfinn is haunted by the memories of his father and his legacy on what it means to be a true Warrior.
Vinland Saga is awesome.
OK, ok. I guess I should back up that claim. Overall, the story of Vinland Saga is the story of growth. It's about a young boy forced into situations beyond his control and how slowly over the years, he grows up -- learning the tough lessons and finding himself after losing himself again and again. It's a compelling story filled with tragedy and contemplation, mixed with a touch of humour every now and then. And then there's the amazing battle scenes.
The author is practically a magician when it comes to panel placement, dynamic scene setting, and action sequences. It's rare that you find a manga that can not only successfully captivate you during the active sequences, but also does not bore you during the slow ones. Often, when reading a manga and the pacing drops a little, I tend to find myself skipping ahead to see how much further I have to go before things pick up. I never had to do that with Vinland Saga.
Almost all of the characters are well developed and while there's a varied palette in terms of character archetypes, they all end up being quite fascinating. The main "warrior" characters are depicted as virtual gods on the battlefield, and yet you are often reminded that they are still mortal and if they bleed, they can be killed. The story itself is equally quite complex, taking twists and turns where you wouldn't expect it to.
If there is a negative aspect to this manga it's that reading through it can be quite an ordeal. This is definitely not "light reading" material. With all the action and drama that goes on, by the time you finish a chapter, you may find that you're tired without knowing why.
If you like action, if you like drama, if you like thought-provoking dialog with a pinch of "based on historical events," then Vinland Saga is for you. Seriously, I don't know how many different ways I can say this manga is worth reading. It is a bit on the violent side -- as the images in the article do indicate -- so do bear that in mind.
The story is currently ongoing, but where it stands now, at the end of book 14, it's reached a perfect cut-off point where you could satisfyingly end it if you wanted to. I'm looking forward to where the author is going to take the story after this, but even in its present form, the manga is easily among the top on my list of all-time favourites.
Manga Title: Vinland Saga Author: Makoto Yukimura Publisher: Kodansha Ongoing: Yes Volumes: 14