by Kory Cerjak
Title: Vinland Saga
Author: Makoto Yukimura
Publisher: Kodansha USA
Vinland Saga is an epic history story on the level of Koike and Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub or Ryoko Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles. Written by Makoto Yukimura of Planetes fame, this manga delivers an exciting story that has kept me on the edge of my seat through the first omnibus.
First published in Weekly Shonen Magazine by Kodansha, Vinland Saga was moved to Afternoon, a monthly magazine. After making the space story that is Planetes, Yukimura took about a year off, likely researching Vinland Saga’s history, before he returned in 2005 with the comic.
Kodansha USA’s publication is absolutely beautiful. It’s an omnibus of the first two volumes in an amazing hardcover with five glossy color pages at the beginning. The book is also a little bigger than most of your typical manga—about a half inch or an inch larger—and the text is larger and so easy to read as a result. As far as books I own, this Vinland Saga book is second only to Viz’s Nausicaa hardcovers.
In the first two chapters, we get such an amazing sense of character agency from the main character Thorfinn that those perfectly placed flashback chapters mean so much more for the audience than they would in lesser hands. We know that he wants revenge against Askeladd for killing his father, but we hadn’t learned what his father meant to him through two chapters. We didn’t need to know, because a son doesn’t need any more reason to want vengeance for his father.
But we learn. We learn what Thorfinn’s father, Thors, meant to him through these flashbacks. Not just what his father meant to him, but what his family and his village meant to him. He’s become an extremely jaded child because of the circumstances that surround him.
And it’s not just Thorfinn that’s set up so well, it’s Askeladd. These are the two main characters in those first two chapters and they are the most important pieces of your story if you want it to succeed. Askeladd is a pragmatic, but loving, leader who allows his men the respite they deserve after a long years’ fight.
At the heart of Vinland Saga is a conflict between glorifying war and wanting to stay away from it. The very culture of the times is that men go to war whether they want to or not, and they likely want to. There’s a great scene as Thors has been forced to go to battle and the men in the village find out. Thors is a man dejected; his head is down and the details of his face aren’t even fully drawn. The people behind him are cheering. They have never seen war.
But Thors has. There was a time when he glorified it. That all ended when his daughter, Ylva, was born. He realized that he had something else to fight for, something that can’t be won but can be easily lost on the battlefield. He had a family now. His wife, looking near her deathbed, shocked him into that when she said, “Give her a name.” Thors dismissed the child as flimsy, noisy, and not a boy. But he named her. He gave her his mother’s name of Ylva and everything became real for Thors. He didn’t want to kill anymore.
His son is not so lucky, and that story ends at the end of the book. He declares, at 6 years old, that he will kill Askeladd and he’s been trying to kill him in honorable battle for 10 years since.
The artwork in this book is absolutely beautiful. After reading so many manga with adequate or mediocre or above average art work, it’s something to love when a great artist comes around that I can appreciate. Yukimura’s been around, but his Planetes manga didn’t sell gangbusters and Vinland Saga is his only other big manga under his belt. The man is extremely detail-oriented and I can see every little piece of research he’s done on the ships and the armor in his artwork.
I especially marvel at his fight scenes. Bleach’s and Attack on Titan’s can be a little hard to follow. But Yukimura knows how to choreograph a fight scene and it’s completely clear as to what happens. Look at both Thorfinn’s fight at the beginning and Thors’ fight at the end to see this artwork in motion.
Vinland Saga had a bit of trouble on Amazon, and no one but Kodansha USA and Amazon know what happened there. But you can buy the book easily at Right Stuf or your local manga retailer. I found my book at Barnes and Noble and there were three others after I picked mine up. The MSRP is $19.99 and the quality of book alone is worth the price.