There are no supernatural items to be found in the world of Vinland Saga. No transformations, no world-ending threats, and the bloody battles that were a major part of the anime’s first season are set on the back burner for the most part. Where Thorfinn is introduced as a bloodthirsty, dagger-wielding soldier seeking revenge on the man who killed his father, season 2 of the saga from creator Makoto Yukimura and Studio MAPPA sees the hero trading his weapons for farming tools. So how did this season become the best anime of 2023?
To start examining how the Vinland Saga is able to hit hard in this latest season, just take a look at the changes Thorfinn underwent from Vinland Saga Season 1 to Season 2. Season 1 saw the young Viking do any bloody work in an attempt to get a shot like Askelade, with his father’s killer giving the protagonist the option to “swing” at him at will. The catch was Thorfinn needed to follow his devious mentor onto a patch of death and destruction. The Season 1 finale took the opportunity to throw a monkey wrench into not only Thorfinn’s plans but possibly audience expectations.
Askelade is killed while the leader of the Viking Legion tries to protect his people and homeland, denying Thorfinn the ultimate vengeance that has been his modus operandi in almost all of the Vinland Saga’s prequels. When Season 2 begins, we see a very different version of Thorfinn, seemingly good at being a slave on a plantation, with little interest in returning home, checking on his remaining family, or even avoiding death. Thorfinn was a broken man, and in that, we can see the Viking protagonist carve meaning into his life beyond the battlefield. In a world as bleak as Vinland Saga, can peace be found anywhere?
We need a little help from our friends
Thorfinn is joined this season by Einar, a simple villager who lost his family to raiders not very different from Askelad. Despite losing a lot more than his new friend, Einar remains relatively upbeat and rolls with the punches, wearing his emotions on his sleeve. Einar created a perfect foil for Thorfinn in this fact, a slave anxiously farming for his freedom, even though he didn’t have a home waiting for him in the same way Thorfinn had. Shockingly, these two heroes were far from the most tragic characters to arrive in this second season.
A key element introduced recently has been the relationship between Arnheid and Gardar, a former married couple devastated by war and sold into slavery after losing their son. The pair only get a few episodes to focus on their dire situation, but their traumatic journey makes for some of the series’ most emotionally difficult punches. Gardar was killed by the ex-soldier turned farmer known as the Viper, and we are able to see the tragic trajectory that led to his death while having a camper van ride with his wife. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a moment that has affected me more in the anime world lately than the episode featuring Gardar’s death, but of course, Vinland Saga tries to make itself felt.
Iron Fist Keitel
The owner of the farm that houses the likes of Thorfinn, Einar, Arnheid, and Gardar is “Iron Fist” Ketil, one of the most complex characters introduced in the history of the Vinland Saga. First talking about the legendary soldier with a potential heart of gold, the sheer layers we can see from this figure are amazing. Keitel goes from being trustworthy and struggling with his position as a slave-owner to a petty man who exacts revenge on his relationship with Arnhide, causing his ego to spiral out of control and lead to the deaths of his followers in the face of an indomitable army. under Canute.
As Snake details, Ketil’s reputation was much more than cracked, as the name “Iron Fist” proved far from the truth. Keitel also gave anime viewers the chance to get to know his two sons, Thorgil and Ulmar. The siblings couldn’t be more different as Thorgil may be the best soldier the series has ever presented while Ulmar longs to live up to his father’s and brother’s reputations, to no avail. The two sons represent both sides of Ketil and make a complex pair that perfectly reflects their father’s personality.
Canute of Thrones
Finally, one of the biggest characters to return this season is practically the opposite of Canute’s Thorfinn. First introduced as a meek and mute would-be king, we see Canute advance to his throne with ruthless efficiency, eliminating his enemies and making sure his kingdom is secured. However, plagued by inner demons of his own, Canute’s dead father’s head whispers his way, absorbing the bloody quests he undertakes in order to attain power. It’s a very interesting dynamic that unfortunately puts Canute on a path to conflict with Thorfinn.
Now, Thorfinn is set to come face to face with Canute and their roles have been completely reversed. Thorfinn is now a pacifist and Canute seeks to preserve his new kingdom no matter how many people he needs to kill to do so. Vinland Saga presents a bleak world with few, certainly far fewer peaceful solutions, and it is in this dichotomy that the series can deliver the important themes that make it the best anime of 2023.
Do you think Vinland Saga takes the crown of the best anime of 2023? What’s your favorite moment in this final season? Feel free to tell us in the comments or hit me up directly on Twitter @EVComedy to talk all things comics, anime, and the world of Vikings.