I honestly believe Makoto Yukimura’s Vinland Saga to be one of the best manga series currently being released in English. An epic tale of revenge, idealism, and the tremendous cost of violence, Vinland Saga is an incredibly engaging work with impressively compelling characters. In addition to being a personal favorite of mine, over the course of its publication the series has also won a Japan Media Arts Award and a Kodansha Manga Award among other honors. Kodansha Comics has been releasing Vinland Saga in English as a series of hardcover omnibuses. The seventh omnibus, released in late 2015, collects the thirteenth and fourteenth volumes of the manga originally published in Japan in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The seventh omnibus of Vinland Saga also includes two exclusives: the continuation of “Ask Yukimura,” where Yukimura responds to questions about the series, and a four-panel tribute comic by Faith Erin Hicks, another creator whose work I greatly admire.
After years of hard labor, Thorfinn’s freedom was near at hand until he and his fellow slave Einar became involved in an escape attempt. They helped Arnheid, Ketil’s favorite slave and mistress, aid her enslaved husband as he tried to run away from another farm. The attempt failed, resulting in multiple deaths. Now the three of them—Thorfinn, Einar, and Arnheid—must face the terrible consequences of their actions. Meanwhile, Ketil and his sons are returning from Jelling with King Canute and his finest warriors following close behind. In addition to dealing with his slaves, Ketil must also prepare for Canute’s inevitable attack before the farm falls into chaos. Canute plans on taking Ketil’s farm and wealth for his own in order to expand his kingdom, determined to create a paradise on earth for all who suffer from war and violence. Although he would prefer a peaceful resolution, Canute is more than prepared to stake his claim through questionable political maneuvering and force.
Like so many of the other omnibuses of Vinland Saga, the seventh is brutal and at times even gruesome. The artistic detail and research that Yukimura has applied to the portrayal of the day-to-day lives of eleventh-century nobility, warriors, merchants, and slaves has also been applied to the battles and wars they wage. Men and women are beaten to the brink or point of death; limbs are severed; skulls are crushed; eyes are gouged out—Vinland Saga is an intense and violent series. But that violence isn’t idealized or glorified by Yukimura. Even while an individual’s martial skill and battle prowess are respected and admired, violence is shown to be the truly terrible and destructive force that it is, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Some of the most important themes in Vinland Saga revolve around violence, how it impacts people and society, and whether it can be avoided or whether humanity is trapped in a never-ending cycle of bloodshed.
In addition to the plot of Vinland Saga as a whole, violence and its effects are also crucial to the development of the individual characters. Many of them are trying to break free from the violence that pervades their lives, facing moral quandaries over how to enact their ideals. The characters of Vinland Saga aren’t safely philosophizing over what is ethical, they are literally risking their lives for what they believe in. But even when their ultimate goals are the same, they approach them differently. Canute is now in a position of power as king and will use any method necessary to ultimately achieve his earthly paradise. Thorfinn, on the other hand, is reluctant to use violent force in order to gain peace. And there are plenty of other characters in the series who fall somewhere between these two perspectives. Seeing the realistic interplay among all of these different worldviews in the series has been immensely engrossing. Vinland Saga is well-worth reading even in part, but I sincerely hope to see the rest of the series translated as well.