Vinland Saga is giving itself a bit of an unfair advantage by jumping into the season with a three-episode premiere, but my score would have been more or less the same if it had started with episode one on its own. This series has all the markings of an intense and gripping story, where character’s actions have real consequences. Across these three episodes, there are moments of tension that seemingly come out of nowhere, triggered by something as simple as two characters making eye contact. Vinland Saga presents us with a world where it’s easy to get yourself killed, and those inherently high stakes make for exciting viewing in and out of the battle scenes.
The ever-present sense of danger is made all the more powerful by the fact that it hangs over a strong cast. There’s a genuine parental bond between Thors and Thorfinn, with both characters straying far enough from their archetypes to feel like real people. For all of his battle-hardened wisdom, Thors isn’t made to look invincible, and at times he seems painfully aware that things are starting to spiral out of his control. For his part, Thorfinn easily avoids the “annoying anime kid” pitfall, coming across as a child who’s eager to grow up, even if he’s not entirely sure why yet. I even like some of the villains, with both Floki and Askeladd coming across as competent adversaries. The revelation that they were both ready for their negotiations to turn violent, along with Askeladd’s reasonable speculation as to why Floki hired him for the job, make these guys seem like more than just cannon fodder. I always like a good antagonist, even more so when they’re pitted against heroes with some real depth to their personalities.
As a period piece, Vinland Saga also has a great sense of time and place. The isolated village in Iceland feels like exactly the kind of place Thors would go to escape his life as a soldier, and we’re constantly reminded that life in this era is anything but easy. If Askeladd’s trap for Thors is any indication, we can also look forward to some clever tactics and battles that are more complex than just two dudes swinging swords at one another. Despite all the gloom and doom, there’s still some good humor to be found, which helps to temper the more serious parts of the story and further endear the characters to the audience. This is just a nicely written and directed show across the board.
It’s also easy on the eyes, with art and animation that match or exceed this season’s other heavy hitters while sticking to a style that feels faithful to the setting. The fight scenes have a weighty, consequential feel to them, and the sailing sequences are reasonably convincing as well. I was looking forward to this series coming into the season, and I’m happy to see that my hopes were well-placed. Put Vinland Saga up near the top of your to-watch list. You can also free Vinland Saga anime watch online and free download.
Tales of Vikings pillaging and plundering have always been exciting in my eyes, so the setting of Vinland Saga really grasped my attention. An anime produced by Wit Studio featuring a more historical take on the adventures of Vikings? What could possibly go wrong? A lot apparently. While it started off really promising, Vinland Saga got increasingly worse as it went along. And just like the pure English maidens that the Vikings violated and messed up, the Vikings did the same to the quality of this anime. Though it was primarily one Viking in particular.
This dude is apparently the protagonist of the story, but he does absolutely nothing to deserve this title. No wait, he runs like Naruto and is OP for some inexplicable reason after receiving absolutely no adequate training throughout his young life, so I guess he does check off most of the boxes for "generic anime protagonist." Unfortunately, he has zero semblance of development until the very end of the anime. And I don't care if he evolves much more as a person in the much longer source material. I'm basing everything off of what I see in the anime, and what I see is a poorly written character whose total stagnancy is astounding. Also, Vinland Saga is considered to be a historical anime and boasts a more realistic take on Vikings. Now no one, least of all me, expected this anime to be entirely realistic. I mean come on, it's an anime after all. But when Thorfinn can accomplish feats like Naruto running through hundreds of arrows, leaping 12 feet in the air over a moat, climbing up the side of a castle, and running through dozens of trained soldiers while making abrupt slashing motions with his knives that decapitate all of them with one slice, then I start to have a problem with the "realism" factor. Moments like these had deleterious effects on the quality of the anime in my eyes, and Thorfinn's inexplicable demigod-like feats of strength and skill caused a disconnect with the historical direction that the anime seemed to be aiming for.
Yes, I believe Thorfinn failed spectacularly as a character. But thankfully, there's Askeladd. He's honestly much more of a main character than Thorfinn, and is actually quite compelling and given a believable reason for his actions. He's clearly the deepest character and most entertaining part of the show, and despite my issues with many aspects of the anime *cough* Thorfinn *cough* he kept things interesting. He's the type of character that you initially want to hate but then grow to appreciate as time goes on, and I have to commend Vinland Saga for writing him in such a compelling way. But even Askeladd couldn't save Vinland Saga from falling into mediocrity. And that's thanks to the inclusion of another certain character.
Canute is a Norse princess waifu...but he's a dude. The entire arc surrounding Canute can be summarized as Askeladd's vikings with Canute in tow march through all of England in fear of Thorkell's vikings who are in pursuit. It's terribly boring and is worsened by Canute constantly whining to his cone-headed adviser until even Askeladd gets annoyed by his character and tries to make a man out of him. Canute remains stagnant for many episodes until he has this incredibly pathetic and laughable epiphany about love that doesn't really make any sense and his character suddenly does a complete 180. His voice proceeds to drop an octave and his eyes get smaller and sharper to visually imply that yes, Canute's balls have finally dropped. His character transformation is so abrupt and nonsensical that I can only describe it as a monumental failure when it comes to development. This is especially sad because I know that the author of Vinland Saga has the ability to write quality characters. He did it with Askeladd after all. It just feels like he sort of gave up on trying to realistically develop Canute over a proper period of time and was just like "Screw it, he's a badass now!" Which is honestly quite unfortunate.
I also find the narrative to be quite weak and lazily written. Sure, it shows on multiple occasions how harsh and cruel Vikings can be, but in reality it just depicts a bunch of dudes traveling around accomplishing not much of anything for like 20 episodes with a few "dark" moments sprinkled in to remind viewers that they're watching a medieval fantasy. It's just not interesting to me whatsoever and feels like a ginormous waste of time. And the whole revenge plot surrounding Thorfinn and Askeladd had about as much substance as the revenge plot featured in Masamune-Kun's Revenge. Which is to say that there's practically zero substance, as it never feels like Thofinn makes any progress whatsoever at getting back at Askeladd. Now this would be fine if the anime took the route of trying to develop their bond and bring them closer over the years, but it doesn't feel like that either. it's just Thorfinn being perpetually angry at Askeladd and Askeladd being sort of indifferent to Thorfinn. And when I can draw parallels to frickin Masamune-Kun's Revenge, which is in my opinion one of the poorest produced anime of the 2010s, you just know that Vinland Saga done goofed up somewhere along the line.
Despite my harsh criticism of Vinland Saga, I don't actually despise the show or anything. It does have some great visual and sound work, courtesy of Wit Studio. I'm just disappointed that it squandered so much potential. While it starts and finishes strong, the rest...unfortunately isn't the best.