Vinland Saga has topped the list of anime series for this season without the slightest doubt. Makoto Yukimura’s work is being molded into what is likely to become a classic anime in the long run. The main attraction for this lies in its excellent production and sensitivity to the source material. Vinland Saga is what happens when the themes, plot, characters, music, and animation all manage to enhance each other to create a cohesive interpretation of the manga. But what draws the audience even closer?
Is Vinland Saga based on a true story?
Not really. Tales in Vinland Saga are loosely based on stories and myths about the Vikings from the 11th century but are not factual or historically accurate. Anime, in general, takes lots of inspiration from historical events, myths and legends and Vinland Saga is no different. The myths and legends just happen to be Nordic. It has been speculated that many of the characters in Vinland Saga are based on historical figures too, though names and context have likely been changed and adapted to suit the story.
Is Vinland Saga’s portrayal of Vikings historically correct?
Historically, Vikings have been depicted as violent raiders and conquerors in history, yet the theme of the anime is non-violence. So it’s more accurate to say that Vinland Saga is based on the setting, events, and context of the Vikings from the North, but the Mangaka himself personally crafts the narrative around that.
Vinland Saga follows the life of Thorfinn, (who is based on an Icelandic explorer Thorfinn Karlsfelni), and the lives of Icelandic settlers at a superficial level. Thorfinn seeks revenge for his father’s death but gets caught up in the political and violent conflict between Denmark and England.
The manga takes inspiration or its foundation from The Flateyjarbók, The Saga of Greenlanders and The Saga of Eric the Red. These three books cover the expeditions and accounts of Thorfinn Karlsfelni and his wife, the life of Canute the Great, and the voyages of Erik the Red.
The politics between Denmark and England serve as a background for the events that take place in the life of Thorfinn. Thorfinn of Thorfinn Karlsfelni is the protagonist of the story. Without giving much away, Canute is a character that will make an appearance soon. Although Erik the Red is not a character from Vinland Saga, his son – according to accounts – Leif Erikson plays a significant supporting role in the anime.
Leif Erikson traveled to Vinland which he named so, thanks to the grapes he came across in the country, although he was not the first to discover either the grapes or Vinland. Four places make up the geographical setting of the anime: Iceland, Denmark, England, and America (Vinland).
According to history, Vikings settled in Iceland as they were seeking a peaceful place to settle in. Three seafarers were credited to discovering Iceland: one of which is a familiar name – Floki. In the anime, Floki is a commander of the Jomsvikings. Iceland is where Thorfinn hails from and considering the plotline, the harsh climate of Iceland will force the settlers to travel to a warmer place ultimately.
DENMARK AND ENGLAND
Vikings trace their origins to Denmark. In history, Vikings’ raid and conquer England with King Sweyn at the head of the monarchy. In the anime, you can see that Askeladd is a half-Welsh and half-Dane warrior hinting at intermingling coming from Viking raids. Jomsvikings, whom Thor has deserted, are seen fighting the English in the anime which points towards the preparation of the King and his army to conquer England.
Although not mentioned in the anime, America plays a huge role. According to history, “Vinland” refers to North America where *HISTORICAL SPOILER* the Vikings settled temporarily.
America was seen as the green and warm lands and symbolised the peace as it was far away from the difficulties the Vikings were facing near the homeland.
Vinland Saga takes place 1013 AD around the time Thorfinn grows up. In the course of history, the earliest record of Viking raids began from 790 until 1066, with a significant conquest. The scene that the anime started with, was based on a real battle called the Battle of Hjörungavágr in 986 (987 in the anime). As seen in the anime, the battle was naval and was led by the Jomsvikings.
MYTHS AND STORIES
According to Wikipedia, Thorfinn is supposedly the descendant of Ragnar Lodbrok, a legend from Nordic tales. The accounts of Nordic culture are quite unreliable as some kings were said to be wise in one place while the same were revered for being supernatural in others. The King referred to in the anime would most likely be King Sweyn, who is popular in Viking History for the feats achieved under his rule. His sons, Harald, and Canute (sound familiar?) also play an essential role.
The anime builds itself upon the theme of non-violence, which is ironic given the history of the Vikings. In the light of Jomsvikings and the army of Mercenaries lead by Askeladd, the author attempts to bring forth their desire to settle in peace – achieved either through war or non-violent means as the case may be. Historically, Thorfinn was not a man with a thirst for revenge. He was merely an explorer who carried out expeditions through the countries of Greenland, Iceland, and Vinland.
Yet, the anime focuses on the personal growth of Thorfinn and the events that act as a catalyst for that. In the beginning, Thorfinn’s actions and his character seem insignificant to the overall political scenario taking place in the Viking Age. But given the importance of Thorfinn Karlsfelni and his actions in Viking history – it will be interesting to see where the story takes Thorfinn.
The anime provides a beautiful look into the Viking lifestyle and culture. It flirts with the historical languages of Old Nordic and Franks while maintaining a historically accurate undertone but a dramatically different theme.
Vinland Saga works, with its idea of peace and its characters fitting within the framework of Viking History. Although it may be not 100% accurate, it makes up for one entertaining show for not just those who love Viking history, but everyone else too.
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