Vinland Saga (manga)
Vinland Saga (Japanese: ヴィンランド･サガ Hepburn: Vinrando Saga?) is a Japanese historical manga series written and drawn by award-winning manga author Makoto Yukimura. The series is published by Kodansha, and was first serialized in the youth-targeted Weekly Shōnen Magazine before moving to the monthly manga magazine Afternoon, aimed at younger adult men. As of March 2013, the series has been compiled into twelve bound volumes. The series is also licensed in English by Kodansha Comics USA.
The title, Vinland Saga, would evoke associations to Vinland as described in two Norse sagas. Vinland Saga is, however, set in Dane-controlled England at the start of the 11th century, and features the Danish invaders of Englandcommonly known as Vikings. The story combines a dramatization of King Cnut the Great's historical rise to power with a revenge plot centered on the historical explorer Thorfinn, the son of a murdered ex-warrior. The presentation and style of the series has been compared by reviewers to the more realistically grounded segments of Kentarō Miura's classic dark fantasy mangaBerserk.
Vinland Saga is set in England starting in 1013 AD, the year in which the Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard conquered most of it. As King Sweyn nears death, his sons, Prince Harald and Prince Canute, are arguing over his succession. The story draws elements from historical accounts of the period such as The Flateyjarbók, The Saga of the Greenlanders and The Saga of Eric the Red.
The story opens with the introduction of a small Viking band led by a cunning commander named Askeladd and containing a gifted young fighter named Thorfinn. The band chances on a besieged Frankish fortress and makes a deal with the attacking army to work with them in exchange for half the fort's plunder. Askeladd then hoodwinks them, escaping with his men by boat with all the riches of the fortress while the army is still battering down the gates. Despite being a valuable member of the company, Thorfinn bears a deep grudge against Askeladd as Askeladd killed Thorfinn's father when Thorfinn was a young boy. The youth incessantly demands duels with his commander in an effort to get revenge, but invariably loses.
Askeladd's company finds employment as mercenaries in the Danish invasion of London. There they face off with a larger force led by Thorkell the Tall, a fellow Viking. Thorfinn and Thorkell meet in battle, and Askeladd's band flees from what they see as an unwinnable fight. The two forces meet again later, however, when both commanders seek to capture the young Danish Prince Canute. Askeladd succeeds in capturing the prince, but is forced once again to flee from Thorkell's larger army. The company takes refuge for the winter in the frozen north of England near the Danish encampment atGainsborough.
Canute, who is found to be girlish in appearance, is incapable of speaking in public and heavily dependent on his caretaker Ragnar. This deeply disappoints Askeladd, who changes his initial plan of backing the prince as future king to a less ambitious plan of ransoming him back to his father, King Sweyn. A sudden attack by Thorkell's brigade force Askeladd to change his mind, and he murders Ragnar in a last-ditch effort to force the Prince to become independent.
The plan is a success, and Canute's previous timidity is replaced with a strong kingly spirit. The prince brings both Thorkell and the remnants of Askeladd's forces under his command, and returns to the Danish headquarters. He there confronts his father, who had resolved to murder Canute and give the right of succession to his brother Prince Harald. Canute successfully matches his father in a battle of wills and his life is spared, but Harald remains the king's heir. Together, Canute, Thorkell, and Askeladd devise a plot to assassinate the king and seize the crown.
Canute and his companions gain audience with the king. When King Sweyn refuses to refrain from attacking Wales, Askeladd goes on a rampage, killing the king and many in attendance. Askeladd is only stopped when he allows Canute to kill him, thus securing Canute's position as king and the safety of his homeland, Wales. This was Askeladd's plan, all along. Thorfinn, upon seeing Askeladd dying, tries to kill now-King Canute; Thorfinn's sole drive in life was to kill Askeladd and he felt robbed of this right by Canute. When Thorfinn is stopped, Canute decides to spare his life due to understanding Thorfinn's perspective. Canute shows mercy on Thorfinn as the common law demanded Thorfinn's death: he is granted a life of slavery.
A year later, Thorfinn, bereft of his warrior-spirit, starts his life as a slave to Ketil, a rich and kind farmer who treats slaves well. He later befriends another slave named Einar who teaches him how to farm. Thorfinn and Einar are to work together as slaves and as farmers. Their farm, given to them by Ketil, will allow them to purchase their freedom through the success with their crops. Einar and Thorfinn also befriend Ketil's father and Snake, the head guard of the farms. This friendship leads to mutual assistance which grants Einar and Thorfinn tools that were necessary to clear, till, and plant on the plot of land given to them by Ketil. Einar is in love with a fellow slave, Arneis, who returns his affections. However, she is Ketil's mistress.
However, jealous servants of Ketil who look down on slaves, destroy Thorfinn's and Einar's wheat crops. When Thorfinn and Einar confront the jealous servants, they both get into a fight with them where Thorfinn is knocked out and has a gruesome vision. In his dreams, many corpses are seen fighting and clawing at Thorfinn, as though they are trying to drag him down with them into eternal battle. Thors appears to his son and reveals to Thorfinn that he never wanted him to become a Viking warrior. Thorfinn assumes that this is a nightmarish version Valhalla, where dead Vikings fight a never ending battle. Askeladd then appears to Thorfinn and reveals that it is not Valhalla nor is it a peaceful afterlife: these are all of the people that Thorfinn has slain. Askeladd further reveals that it is not too late to redeem himself so he will not end up here just like him. He tells Thorfinn to become a real warrior just like his father. Thorfinn's vision makes him regret the sins he has done and weeps for those he has slain while contemplating the lives of those he has killed. He resigns to give up and allow the mass of corpses to pull him down but Askeladd encourages him to continue his life. Thorfinn vows to never hurt anyone again and climbs out of the pile and wakes up next to Einar, who declares that they won the fight. Thorfinn declares that he will never hurt anyone again and the duo contemplate their troubles for the fight that just occurred. Luckily, Ketil found evidence of the jealous servants wrongdoing and told them to never bother Thorfinn and Einar again.
In 1018, Canute makes a visit to his brother Harald in Denmark, who is in poor health and very near death. The brothers have ruled England and Denmark jointly, with Canute controlling the former and Harald controlling the latter. In his visit to Harald's bed-chamber, Canute is told by his dying brother that he is to take over Denmark when he dies, allowing Canute to be the "Emperor of the North Sea." However, Canute is haunted by visions of a disembodied head of his late father, King Sweyn. "Sweyn" reveals it was Canute himself who poisoned his brother. Yet despite "Sweyn" affecting his sanity, he accepts the disembodied head as his company since it's the only "person" whom he can speak to honestly. At the same time, Thorfinn and Einar have worked hard enough to buy their freedom, with Ketil offering to hire them once he visits the King to gain favor. Unbeknownst to Ketil, Canute plans to seize the lands of rich farm owners in Denmark in order to pay his troops in England, with Ketil being his first target by using Ketil's dimwitted younger son.
During this time, a slave from the farm nearby Ketil's escapes after killing the owner and his men, Snake receives word of this and orders his men to organize a search party in groups of three. After an attempt to capture the slave goes wrong he is then spotted riding across Ketil's land and Arneis spots him an recognizes him instantly. It turns out his name is "Gardar" and was formerly Arneis' husband. After a duel with Snake he is finally captured and tied up. Later that evening Arneis reveals to Thorfinn & Einar that she once lived in a village where a natural iron deposit was close by and the neighboring villages argued over who owned the rights to it and so a war would break out. Gardar & the other men in the village left the village only to be unaware that raiders came and captured everybody and sold them as slaves, killing the newborn & elderly in the process . During the night Arneis visits Gardar secretly without snake's permission and Gardar bribes her into freeing him which she does, in the process he murders the guards and escapes into the night. During an investigation it is revealed that Gardar has been wounded several times and is in critical condition. Later Snake sets up a look out party in Arneis' house and awaits for Gardar's return, but is unaware Arneis has hidden him under the bed. Thorfinn & Einar then plot an escape plan for Arnies & Gardar in which Einar is disguised as Gardar and lures the guards away whilst Thorfinn helps Arnies escape with Gardar, but snake sees through their plan and begins a duel with Thorfinn. During the duel snake reveals that he and his men are really criminals who were on the run and so found shelter at Ketil's farm. And that they all use animal names to hide their real identities, Snake then stabs the unconscious Gardarthrough the heart but doesn't expect that Gardar wakes up and begins strangling him. Thorfinn tries to losen Gardar's grip on Snake but it is Arnies who manages to calm Gardar down. They then both set off to the road together in a cart however Gardar begins to feel faint and rest hid head upon Arnies' lap. He dies of his wounds.
Upon their return Ketil's eldest son, Thorgil begins to make ready for war and inform every man in the Ketil's farm that enemies are coming to attack. Ketil is depressed because of the incident with Canute but discovers that Arnies tried to escape with her former husband and so begins to violently beat her. Ketil begins to make war on Canute but when the young king arrives on the Ketil farm it turns out Ketil receives more than he bargained for; the kings soldiers begin to brutally hack the Ketil's men down or severely mutilate them Ketil himself receives a blow to the head by an axe. During the commotion Leif Erikson arrives at the farm and offers Thorfinn and Einar to return home with him. They begin to carry Arneis with them only to find she is unable to travel due to the extent of her injuries. She dies, thanking Thorfinn & Einar for their kindness.
Vinland Saga contains a mixture of historical, apocryphal, and invented characters in its cast. The major characters are of Danish descent—Vikings brought to England to assist King Sweyn's invasion of the country. Most are prodigious fighters, and though none are explicitly superhuman, reviewers of the series have commented that they exceed believable human limits when in combat.
- Thorfinn (トルフィン Torufin?): Loosely based on the historical personage of early Vinland explorer Thorfinn Karlsefni, Thorfinn is a teenage warrior in Askeladd's company, though he hates his commander for slaying his father Thors and has sworn to kill him in a duel. To earn the right to engage in these duels, he must complete difficult feats for Askeladd, such as sabotage or the killing of enemy generals. Thorfinn is a Jomsviking noble through his mother Helga and inherited superb physical talents from his father. He does not fight for the love of battle, but is still prone to losing his composure when in combat. This hotheadedness often costs him battles against more experienced opponents. After Askeladd is killed, Thorfinn enters a rage and tries to kill Canute, which results in him being made a slave for a farmer.
- Askeladd (アシェラッド Asheraddo?): Askeladd is the commander of a small but powerful Viking band, which owed its success to Askeladd's exceptional intelligence. He is half-Danish and half-Welsh, being the son of a Welsh princess captured by a Viking raider. He believes in the legend of Avalon, which inspired him to support Prince Canute's bid for kingship of the Danes and ultimately sacrifices himself assassinating King Sweyn in order to install Canute as the Danish King and to ensure the safety of Wales from Denmark. Ten years before the main Vinland Saga storyline, Askeladd accepted a contract to assassinate Thors, father of Thorfinn. During the Viking invasion and war in England, he manipulated Thorfinn's desire for revenge against him as a way of keeping the gifted young fighter in his service. Askeladd is one of the most skilled fighters in the series, and is particularly adept at predicting his opponents' moves in combat. Askeladd shares the name of Askeladden, a Norwegian folk character known for his cleverness.
- Bjorn (ビョルン Byorun?): Bjorn is Askeladd's second in command, a burly man who fights for the love of combat. He is aberserker, able to enter powerful rages through the consumption of certain mushrooms. Bjorn was heavily wounded in Gainsborough from injuries sustained protecting Prince Canute. The injuries were so serious that he did not have long to live, and later, he challenged Askeladd in a duel. During the duel, Bjorn revealed that he always wanted to be Askeladd's friend, and Askeladd replied that he was his only friend, before finishing him off. Bjørn is Norwegian and Swedish for "bear", a given name commonly associated with Vikings.
- Thors (トールズ Tōruzu?): Thors is the father of Thorfinn, a Jomsviking general whose phenomenal combat prowess earns him the epithet "The Troll of Jom". Thors grows weary of battle after the birth of his children, fakes his own death, and retires to become a pacifist farmer. The Jomsvikings later discover that Thors is alive and force him to return to the battlefield. Before he can arrive at the theater of war he is betrayed by a former comrade, Floki, who hires Askeladd to assassinate him. Thors is largely considered the greatest fighter to appear in the series, having defeated the likes of Askeladd and Thorkell in single combat with his bare hands. Such was his strength that Floki was unwilling to engage him directly, even with an entire squadron of Jomsviking warriors. Thors' name is similar to and could be based on that of the Norse god Thor, they were both powerful warriors and had deceptive enemies with similar names (Floki for Thors, and Loki for Thor.)
- Thorkell (トルケル Torukeru?): Thorkell is a Jomsviking general and brother of the Jomsviking Chief. A giant man who loves combat he defects from the Danish army to become a mercenary for the English, believing that fighting his fellow Vikings will give him a better challenge. This same love of war leads him to support Prince Canute's bid for kingship of the Danes. He remains under Canute once he becomes king. Before Thors' defection he works with and highly respects the man, and bears a fondness for his son Thorfinn in the main plot. He duels twice with Thorfinn and dominates each time, though he loses two fingers in the first duel and an eye in the second. In battle, Thorkell typically wields a pair of axes as his primary weapons, but his greatest asset is probably his vast physical strength. During a skirmish with Askeladd's band, he hurled a spear with such force that it skewered three men at once, despite having been thrown from several hundred feet away. Thorkell's character is based on Thorkell the Tall, a historical Jomsviking lord who is a mentor to Canute in the Flateyjarbók.
- Canute (クヌート Kunūto?): Canute is a 17-year-old prince of the Danes. He is initially portrayed as timid and womanly, with a bishōnen appearance and an inability to function without his retainer Ragnar. These traits, along with his strong Christianity, earn him the mockery of the Vikings with whom he works. After Ragnar's death, however, he has a sharp reversal of personality, becomes strong and kingly, and develops an ambition to create utopia on Earth before God's return. Towards this end, he plots to overthrow his father Sweyn Forkbeard and take the crown of the Danes. Canute is based on the historical King Canute the Great, the most prominent Danish ruler of England.
Vinland Saga began serialization in April 2005 in Kodansha's Weekly Shōnen Magazine, where it ran until October of the same year. It then went on a two month hiatus, resuming serialization late December 2005 in the monthly seinen magazineAfternoon, also owned by Kodansha. This switch was caused by author Makoto Yukimura, who found he could not keep up a long-term weekly production schedule.
In a January 2008 interview, Yukimura revealed that he was inspired to enter the manga industry by reading the manga Fist of the North Star as a boy. In the same interview, he said he had always wanted to produce a series which reflected the same themes of "strength and justice". He has occasionally used omake (bonus) chapters and other supplementary materials to comment on the production ofVinland Saga. In volume two, Yukimura's omake is about a research trip he took toIceland in 2003 before beginning the series. The author's commentary sections in volumes one and three both discuss Yukimura's desire to learn about and portray the daily lives of Vikings in addition to their wars and the events of historical chronicles. Yukimura is aided in drawing Vinland Saga by four known assistants: Haito Kumagai, Kazuoki Suzuki, Tomoyuki Takami, and Daiju Watanabe.
Vinland Saga has been commercially successful in Japan, with combined sales of 1.2 million copies for the first five volumes as of June 2008, and several volumes appeared on the Taiyosha top ten best-selling manga list. The series was nominated for the 2008 Manga Taisho award. In 2009, it was awarded the Grand Prize in the manga division of the Japan Media Arts awards.
The Comics Journal lamented that Vinland Saga had yet to be licensed for publication in a 2006 article highlighting worthy unlicensed manga and scanlation groups. Despite this, the series attracted attention in the international manga community. The first volume was glowingly reviewed by MangaCast in 2005. This review praised Vinland Saga for its fluid action sequences, remarking how well author Yukimura made the transition to the action genre from his previous workPlanetes. The panel composition, realistically barbaric violence, and attention to detail in constructing the setting were praised and compared with those found in Kentarō Miura's long-running series Berserk. The reviewer's primary criticism was that he found he had to suspend his disbelief more often than he would have liked to in a historical fiction series. In addition, he worried that the then-upcoming switch to monthly serialization would slow series production "to a crawl". The series has since been licensed for English release by Kodansha Comics USA.
Vinland Saga is written and illustrated by Makoto Yukimura and published by Kodansha. It began serialization in April 2005 in the shōnen (aimed at teenage boys) manga magazine Weekly Shōnen Magazine. In December 2005, it moved to the monthly seinen (aimed at younger adult men) manga magazine Afternoon. As of June 2010, chapters have been collected in nine tankōbon (bound volumes). The first two volumes were initially released under the Weekly Shōnen imprint, and then reissued under the Afternoon imprint after the manga's serialization switch. The Afternoon reprintings feature redesigned covers, different author commentary in the jacket, and lack furigana. Volumes three and on have been released solely under the Afternoon imprint. Despite the variation in the number of chapters compiled into each volume, the page counts are all roughly the same, around 215 pages per volume.
The series is licensed in English by Kodansha Comics USA where the first two volumes were released into a single hardcover book on October 14, 2013.
It is also licensed in French by Kurokawa, Italian by Star Comics, Chinese by Tong Li Publishing and German by Carlsen Manga.