Makoto Yukimura’s award-winning manga Vinland Saga, an epic and thoroughly researched work of historical fiction, has quickly become one of my favorite series currently being released in English. I was very happy when Kodansha Comics initially licensed Vinland Saga, but with each new volume that is published my excitement increases. The English-language edition of Vinland Saga is being printed as a series of hardcover omnibuses, each containing two volumes of the manga as originally released in Japan. The fifth omnibus, published by Kodansha in 2014, collects the ninth and tenth volumes of the Japanese edition of the series which were published in 2010 and 2011 respectively. It also includes a section of questions and answers exclusive to the English-language edition in which Yukimura discusses some of the inspirations for and creative processes behind Vinland Saga. I already enjoy Vinland Saga immensely, but greatly appreciate of this sort of bonus material.
Ever since his father was killed in front of his eyes, Thorfinn has devoted his life to one thing–seeking revenge against Askeladd, the man he holds responsible for his father’s death. But when Askeladd takes King Sweyn’s head and doesn’t survive the resulting skirmish, suddenly Thorfinn is left directionless and without purpose. Despondent and empty, he ends up a slave on an expansive wheat farm in Denmark. There he really only goes through the motions of living, suffering silently under the humiliation, discrimination, and torment inflicted by the farm hands and hired guards. It’s not until Einar arrives at the farm that Thorfinn is slowly drawn out of his despondency. Of the two, Einar is much more lively and still chafes at his enslavement. And, unlike Thorfinn, he actually knows a thing or two about farming. As difficult as it will be to achieve, those are skills that could conceivably help them earn back their freedom.
The amount of research and historic detail that Yukimura has put into both the artwork and the narrative of Vinland Saga has always been impressive, and that hasn’t changed with the fifth omnibus. Vinland Saga incorporates the politics and social structures of the time period directly into the story in a very engaging way, making them critical issues that the characters must deal with and which greatly impact their lives. At this point in the series, the manga has largely moved from the battlefield to the wheat field, but it still retains its intensity. Farming, like war, is also a life and death struggle which requires men and women to submit themselves to arduous and unforgiving tasks for the smallest chance of survival. The main difference is that raising crops is a creative act while battle is a destructive one. It seem appropriate then that Thorfinn’s labouring in the fields might actually help to bring him some healing, especially since in his past he was part of a force that would raze farms and villages when needed or convenient.
Much of the fifth omnibus of Vinland Saga is devoted to Thorfinn and Einar and the system of slavery that they are now a part of. A great deal of focus is given to Thorfinn and his psychological development in particular. In addition to historical accuracy, Yukimura also excels at creating realistically complex and well-defined characters in Vinland Saga who change and are affected by the events around them. And in some cases, they are the ones to bring great change to the world in which they exist. One of the characters that has transformed the most is Canute, the younger son of King Sweyn. Out of the entire omnibus, only two chapters show what has become of him, but they leave a tremendous impact. Once a seemingly weak and timid young man he has shown incredible fortitude and strength. Where Thorfinn has lost his purpose, Canute has found his. Canute’s ambitions and his willingness to do anything it takes to forge his kingdom will have far-reaching implications.