by Makoto Yukimura
published by Kodansha Comics; $19.99 US
Vinland Saga is the story of Thorfinn, an Icelandic orphan raised by Viking pirates to be one of them. He’s a super-fighter, fast and tough, motivated by revenge for his father’s death, particularly since he’s working under the man who killed him.
Thorfinn’s father was a great, noble warrior, one of a tribe who left Norway because they didn’t want to swear allegiance to an invading king. A lengthy flashback establishes his respect for all human life. Thorfinn also remembers hearing tales of nearby lands from the explorer Leif Ericson.
The lengthy introduction shows Vikings offering themselves as mercenaries to break a siege, getting the better of the other two groups involved, murdering as they go and carrying their dragon-headed longships across ground as needed.
It’s fast-paced, well-illustrated, and detailed, but for me, at least, it didn’t transcend its premise, as Planetes did. If you like battle manga or historical fiction, this section is a great read, a page-turner. It was only after I pushed through it, to Thorfinn’s family flashbacks, that the manga really touched me. That’s where the insightful character work I expected from Yukimura came through.
Thorfinn’s father has tired of killing, so he’s tried to retire, but the youngsters in the village (and many of the adults) are crazy for opportunities to go to war and be fighters and raiders. There’s a subtle underlying exploration of what a true hero looks like that’s still a relevant question today. For most of this story, Thorfinn is still too young to admire what his father is trying to do, which makes his eventual loss all the more poignant. His unquestioning hero worship of his dad is touching and sometimes painful to watch, particularly since he’s too young to realize that he’s responsible for his father’s death.
Extras in this volume include a few four-panel comedy strips with the characters; maps of the area and home; a short story of the author’s visit to Iceland; a chapter of a samurai story by Yukimura, which will continue in future Vinland Saga volumes; and pictures of the artist dressed as a Viking. We were promised an “exclusive Q&A with Yukimura created specifically for the U.S. edition”, but there isn’t one. There are preview pages at the publisher’s tumblr. (The publisher provided a review copy.)