Ahiru no Sora
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Reads 36
Total reads

A "Prologue" to a literal saga, and a historical tour de force

Review of Vinland Saga
by Rivka
Posted on January 8th, 2020
Positive 8
Overall Rating

IN BRIEF: Around the turn of the last millennium, the Vikings were at the height of their power in Europe, raiding the continent and slowly taking control of the British Isles. In their colony Iceland, Thors, an ex-Jomsviking, tries to raise a family away from a culture that habitually glorifies warfare, but his old comrades come knocking, and his young son Thorfinn ends up joining the raider Askeladd's crew in a bid for revenge. Over a decade passes, and the political situation in England changes with the coming of age of King Sweyn's younger son Canute. Which of the main characters will survive a challenge to King Sweyn's regime?

***Spoilers below for the entirety of the 2-cour "Prologue".***

MY THOUGHTS: This was a wonderful adaptation of an excellent historical drama. The manga-ka did the heavy lifting in researching the customs, food, clothing, religion, and climate of the period, and the anime creators honored that hard work in their adaptation, maintaining the historical accuracy while adding rich colors and a period-appropriate soundtrack. This is a show that would ideally have a multi-language dub in its future, with characters speaking Norse, Welsh and old English when necessary.

I'm not much for gore, and it's undeniably present, ranging from realistic battle to extreme battle (as odd as it looked, berserker rages like Bjorn's were real) to unrealistic battle (Thorkell is a one-man army). It serves the purpose of undercutting the arguments made by characters in favor of violence - that it's glorious, that they'll be rewarded in Valhalla or in Heaven - by exposing it as just another way men in that culture never grew up and understood the reason for living. The misogyny is also somewhat period accurate, although there is support in the historical record for more agency in Viking women. The end of the prologue indicates that some female characters will get a chance to shine in the future.

Speaking of the future, the prologue is a complicated set-up for an odd payoff: Thorfinn doesn't get his revenge, because Canute gets there first, and his youth was wasted on a pointless goal when he should have realized that Thors would have wanted him to renounce violence. Knowing the general outline of the manga, I know that Thorfinn needs to suffer more before he can get to the self-actualization phase of his quest - which is, of course, to find Vinland, that nigh-mythical place to the west where people can live freely. (I loved the contrast with Arthurian legend, by the way; Askeladd's story from his Welsh mother suggested that every culture has a "frontier" story that serves as hope for a better future.) I hope that this studio will get to animate the whole story.

My reviewing system for films and shows that are NOT anime:
1-5: I hated it. I also don't think it has redeeming qualities, so you shouldn't watch it either.
6: I didn't like it. It's not my thing, I didn't like the execution, I don't want to see it again. However, I don't think it is a BAD film or show - it has qualities that will recommend it to those who like that kind of thing.
7: It was fine. I didn't love it, and I don't need to see it again. I won't be sad if I never see it again.
8: I liked it. I didn't love it, and while I'd like to see it again, I wouldn't want to see it often.
9: I loved it. I would be sad if I never saw it again. I might want to see it every few years.
10: I loved it beyond description. I wouldn't mind watching it every year.


Clarifying my anime rating system:
Obviously I am constrained by the reality that the typical SIMKL user doesn't rate below 8 if they liked the show. My number key below is an attempt to parse the small differences between 7 and 8, 8 and 9, & 9 and 10. When I rate, I consider my own enjoyment, the characterization, the plot, the appearance of the animation and occasionally the soundtrack - in roughly that order. An anime will lose at least 1 point for presence of deal-breaker tropes (for example, comedic pedophilia), and more if the trope(s) ruined my enjoyment. On the other hand, it will gain at least 1 point for artistry in animation or sound.

1-6: I would never rewatch/finish watching, or recommend. Further clarification:
1-3 is pure excrement, and I would rather be getting un-anesthetized surgery for the entire running time.
4-6 is the kind of thing where I would sincerely rather be doing chores, but could survive sitting through it if a friend begged me to.
Differences within those ranges relate to non-plot details (ex. beauty of animation) or presence of specific deal-breaker tropes rather than general badness.

7: There are two types of 7s.
7A: I watched at least part of it, and may have stopped due to not liking the plot twists, character derailment, etc. In this case, it started out with a higher score and slipped over time.
7B: I watched the whole show, but recognize deal-breaker tropes in it, and I'm unlikely to rewatch. It just wasn't enjoyable enough to forgive its flaws.
For both 7s, there would be huge caveats to any recommendation.

8: There are two types of 8s.
8A: Not my thing, but usually I at least respect it. Generally, I didn't like it enough to think I would rewatch it, but also didn't see huge problems in the plot, characterizations, etc. and thought it was worth finishing.
8B: I had a good time watching it, but it didn't move me the way a 9 or a 10 does; it's possible that over time I would upgrade it to a 9 if I liked it more on reflection. I'd consider it mostly harmless to view, with the occasional caveat.
For both 8s, I would recommend the show to the right audience.

9: I enjoyed very much. It may have had one or two issues, but not enough to diminish enjoyment. It's possible that over time I would downgrade it to an 8 (changing tastes) or upgrade to a 10 (realize it's never left my mind). I'm likely to rewatch, and likely to buy the DVDs. I'd recommend it to most audiences.

10: Virtually flawless. I'd definitely rewatch, and definitely want to buy DVDs. I would shill to anyone.

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