The purpose of a film or a TV programme is to tell a story. So many times that is lost as writers rely on poor character development by an actor which an audience will tolerate because they like them so much, or special effects. Props like mobile phones are often used to push a story on because of failures in the script. It is, therefore, wonderful to encounter a series where the storytelling is so strong and character development complex.
The Vinland Saga is a 24 series animation based on the Manga written and illustrated by Makoto Yukimura. The anime television series adaptation (reviewed here), is animated by Wit Studio and first aired on NHK General TV from July to December 2019. A second season, animated by MAPPA, is set to premiere on Tokyo MX and BS11 in January 2023. Wikipedia
In case you have not watched it, and not to give away plot details, it is set in the early years of the 11th Century when the Danish King Sweyn and Viking raiders sweep into many parts of England. Here’s the thing, this is an animation, but the exquisite art work and character development is such, that you forget that is what you are watching. The characters are complex and nuanced. Askeladd, who we view at the start as a violent mercenary, killing for a price, carries us along in his skill and cunning only gradually revealing elements of his back story as the series proceeds.
The boy, Thorfinn, through trauma and survival, evolves into a killing machine, used by Askeladd but also developing a strong symbiotic relationship with him. Running parallel to Thorfinn’s story is that of Prince Canute who has also suffered through trauma and survived by keeping quiet and unobtrusive in the Danish Court.
And yes there’s a lot of blood and violence – that’s what those times were like – but there’s also the political machinations of the powerplay in the Danish court, the evolution of England as a nation and its attempts to conquer Wales, slavery, waves of migrating people and the individual stories of the characters. Their flaws and weaknesses as well as their strengths, as they seek to discover what it is to become a ‘True Warrior’. Immense storytelling in the tradition of the ancient Norse Sagas.
The art work is in itself a pleasure to experience and is enhanced by the animation. I watched the English speaking version, and the voice actors were all superb. An animation can go really wrong if the voice does not match up with how a character is depicted. The Vinland Saga gets it right.
Now match up all of that great storytelling, superb animation with an evocative soundtrack and no wonder Vinland Saga won the best anime for 2020.
The series is available to view on Netflix. Here’s a trailer: