Makoto Yukimura’s award-winning Vinland Saga has quickly become one of the manga releases that I most look forward to each time a new volume is published every few months. The series is thoroughly researched historical fiction with fantastic artwork and incredibly engaging story and characters. I was happy when Kodansha Comics picked up the license, but as the series gets better and better with each passing volume my excitement for the manga grows along with it. Kodansha’s edition of Vinland Saga was the publisher’s first foray into a deluxe release. Each omnibus collects two of the original volumes, retaining the color pages, in a nice hardcover format. Vinland Saga, Omnibus 4, published by Kodansha in 2014, contains the seventh and eighth volumes of the Japanese edition of the series, both of which were released in 2009. The fourth omnibus, like the third, also includes an exclusive question and answer segment with Yukimura about the series which I’ve really been enjoying.
Defying all expectations, Prince Canute has survived his father’s attempt to have him killed in battle and has taken his destiny into his own hands. At one point a gentle young man considered weak by the Viking mercenaries and soldiers, Canute is now resolved to wrest the crown from his father, King Sweyn. He is prepared to use force and any other means necessary in order to gain control of the realm. This change of heart has earned Canute an impressive array of followers who are willing to fight and die for him as he challenges Denmark’s king. Thorkell and his men are known and respected as great warriors to be feared on the battlefield. Most of Askeladd’s troop has been slain, but Askeladd himself is a skilled fighter with an even greater talent for strategy and manipulation. The aid of both men will give Canute distinct advantages in the approaching confrontation, but its conclusion is far from certain. Sweyn has strong men who are loyal to him as well in addition to the recognized power to rule over the masses. He isn’t about to let the throne slip away so easily.
I continue to be extremely impressed by the characterization in Vinland Saga. The main characters and even the supporting cast all have a tremendous amount of depth. They are complex, with both human failings and strengths, well-developed personalities, and believable motivations. Nothing is as simple as good or bad. Instead the characters are portrayed as real people with complicated pasts that have made them who they are. Up until this point Sweyn has been somewhat of an enigma, a dark shadow hanging over Canute and the territories which he has conquered. But in Vinland Saga, Omnibus 4 he, too, is revealed to be much more nuanced of a character than when he was first introduced. Much like Canute, Sweyn’s actions are informed and driven by his beliefs and his desire to create a prosperous realm. He is a formidable ruler with significant influence, but he is also a man and a tired one at that. Kingship has taken its toll. Sweyn also serves as an example showing that even a person with righteous intentions can become corrupt, a lesson that Canute would do well to take to heart.
Compared to previous installments of Vinland Saga, the fourth omnibus in the series focuses less on all-out battle and more on the political strategies and maneuverings going on behind the scenes. However, the intensity of the series remains and when fights do break out they make an impact. They are incredibly bold and dynamic. Yukimura’s action scenes are epic and extremely well choreographed, but what makes them so effective is the emotional investment of the characters. Askeladd in particular is especially compelling. He has been able to channel his hatred and desire for revenge, controlling those around him with immense skill, but it hasn’t been without personal sacrifice. Askeladd himself is also the target of revenge–Thorfinn holds him responsible for the death of his father. Thorfinn and Askeladd’s relationship is extraordinarily complex. Askeladd doesn’t blame the younger man for seeking his demise. In his own way he actually tries to teach Thorfinn, drawing from his own past experiences. But this omnibus makes it tragically clear that Thorfinn is so obsessed with his quest for revenge that he has thought very little beyond it.