I originally expected more hack, slash, and a far grittier experience from Vinland Saga but even now I am still surprised at how much it has to offer. Vinland Saga is recommend worthy to anyone interested in great character growth and development. It definitely has far more character development from its protagonist and his foil than should have been found in a warring world of Vikings looting and plundering the coasts of Europe. Rather than focus on a story about aggrandizing the Viking warrior culture, the story itself centers on Thorfinn, son of a legendary warrior. Taking the stage behind Thorfinn is another young man thrust into a world of violence, Prince Canute son of the Danish King. Both Thorfinn and Canute are thrust together into an adventure that would come to exponentially accelerate their growth in the form of an epiphany for each and result in a paradigm shift pushing them beyond their preconceptions of the world.
Thorfinn watches as his father, a legendary warrior, dies in a trap set by his enemies, and swears revenge on his father’s killer. For years we watch the young Thorfinn grow up in a world of hate and ultimately become twisted by his desire for retribution. Thorfinn actively aids in evil knowing he can only kill his father’s killer by becoming the better killer himself. Thorfinn’s hatred of his father’s killer is partially misplaced. After all, Thorfinn only knows what his eyes have told him and doesn’t know the reason behind why his father is killed, nor does he ask. While being a warrior might be in Thorfinn’s blood, asking the important questions doesn’t even cross his mind.
The audience watches Thorfinn’s foil, Prince Canute, also witness the horrors of violence but rather than aspire to kill others or become a warrior it has the opposite effect. Prince Canute is a timid character rapidly approaching the age of adulthood, quite the opposite of a warrior and the opposite of Thorfinn. Canute doesn’t seek the power of the warrior, instead Canute focuses his efforts on survival in a world that seeks to be rid of him. Canute while having no physical prowess for battle does have a critical mind that asks hard questions of the world surrounding him.
Prince Canute is the brain and Thorfinn is the brawn. Both are thrust into an adventure to return the Prince back to his father the King. Escorting the Prince to his father is the Pirate Lord Askeladd, who coincidentally killed Thorfinn’s father. Thorfinn has been tagging along in Askeladd’s pirate band trying to kill Askeladd in a fair duel for the sake of revenge, as required in warrior culture. Both Thorfinn’s and Canute’s personalities clash against each other when they first meet. Thorfinn embodies hatred and Canute embodies timidness. Both are too weak to make any real difference in controlling their own destiny, each is led along by Askeladd that uses both Thorfinn and Prince Canute for his own gain.
Eventually the road for Askeladd reaches an end as his journey is cut off by Thorkell, an enemy of the Danish King. Thorkell is currently the strongest warrior in the Viking world who wants to use Prince Canute as a bargaining chip for furthering the war. Thorkell has also taken an interest in Thorfinn, the only man who can actually go toe to toe with him in combat, seemingly out of respect for Thorfinn’s father. While Thorkell only seems to want to fight Thorfinn, he does take the time mid duel to ask Thorfinn: What is a true warrior? Thorkell is hoping that Thorfinn knows the answer as the son of the legendary warrior who Thorkell was once friends with. For Thorfinn this causes his psyche to break. Thorfinn already knows the answer that his father once told him before his death. Thorfinn knows that according to his father, a true warrior doesn’t need a sword. Instead of answering Thorkell, Thorfinn stands still and then attacks Thorkell head on, stating that it was unfair of Thorkell to ask him that. Thorfinn is reminded of his father, and perhaps that he has been taking the wrong path all these years. Thorfinn comes to the realization that his path needs to change. Hatred and revenge are not the only roads that Thorfinn must travel.
Prince Canute also comes to a realization. Canute has a dream where his recently killed friend Ragnar came to say goodbye to him. Canute feels that Ragnar’s actions were those of true love towards him, and that Ragnar was his one true friend in the world. However the traveling priest accompanying the Prince has a different take on what true love is. The priest says that true love comes in death. While it is a strange thing for the priest to say, his logic does follow from a certain Christian standpoint. If you are of the belief that all mankind is fallen and corrupt since the fall from paradise, unable to follow God’s will, then death is simply a correction of that fallen and corrupt state. The priest argues that man cannot have true love, that the love Ragnar felt for Canute was simply discrimination. Death is the only way to return the corrupt flesh to the earth and bring back paradise to the earth. In its own twisted way death becomes perfection in the eyes of the priest. Canute feels despair at the priest’s words and in a moment of resolve forgets his own timidness. Canute stands up to the raging beserker, risking his own life in a moment of courage to calm the man from his death rampage. This is the most princely moment of Canute in his life. The prince comes to face with his fears, and masters them in a splendid display.
Both Prince Canute and Thorfinn have began a transformation as characters that will come to define them. Both have had to drop their preconceptions of the world, with the realization that both of them can be men who dictate their own futures and not live for the whims of others. Both have experienced a realization that has transformed and defined them. The paradigm has shifted for Thorfinn and Canute accelerating them both towards a future where there own actions will come to define them, breaking the misconceptions of their past experiences for themselves.