After some delay, the sixth omnibus of Makoto Yukimura’s magnificent historical manga series Vinland Saga was finally released in 2015, nearly a year after the previous installment. It was a year in which I waited anxiously—Vinland Saga is one of my favorite manga series currently being published in English and I hope that it does well enough that Kodansha Comics can continue to released the manga. (Currently, English-reading audiences are only guaranteed to see one more omnibus, but even if the translation ends there the series is well-worth reading.) The sixth Vinland Saga omnibus collects the eleventh and twelfth volumes of the original Japanese edition, both of which were released in 2012, the same year the series won a Kodansha Manga Award. The series has also earned Yukimura a Japan Media Arts Award. As was the case with the last few omnibuses, sixth also includes a question and answer section exclusive to the English-language edition in which Yukimura discusses the series.
As the result of the Danish invasion of England in the eleventh century, Canute has successfully taken control of the county. He must still find a way to maintain that control, though. He is no longer the weak young man he once was, having grown into a powerful and cunning king who will do anything necessary to establish his ideal society. In order to gain his current position Canute had to arrange for the death of his father. Now he is turning his ambition towards Denmark and his older brother, hoping to secure rulership there as well. Meanwhile, Thorfinn, a young man from Iceland and a former mercenary who was once Canute’s bodyguard, lives his life in slavery. However, after working diligently for years clearing forested land for his master, his freedom is tantalizingly close. Thorfinn, too, wants to one day shape a world free from war and violence, but his current circumstances make such hopes little more than dreams. But as the political turmoil in Denmark increases it becomes difficult to foretell anyone’s fate, whether they be slave or king.
I continue to be immensely impressed by the depth of storytelling and the character growth and development found in Vinland Saga. Particularly striking is the nearly complete reversal in Thorfinn and Canute’s respective outlooks on life. Thorfinn, who was once a fearsome warrior dealing in death and destruction, wants nothing more than peace and a way to somehow atone for everything that he has done. Canute, on the other hand, originally abhorred violence but now willingly employs it, considering it to be a necessary evil for the sake of creating a prosperous kingdom and protecting its people. I also find it fascinating that as both Canute and Thorfinn continue to mature and make their way in the world they are each beginning to follow in the footsteps of and even embody the ideals held by their respective fathers, for better or for worse. Canute has learned to successfully use his power politically and strategically as a leader while Thorfinn now fully understands how destructive such power can be.
Violence and the dynamics of power are major themes in Vinland Saga. In particular, the series explores what it means to turn away from violence and if it is even possible for someone to do that with the world and human nature being what they are. Yukimura has so far done an excellent job showing how a violent society affects the people living within it and how difficult it is for them to change that culture when it is held as an ideal. Vinland Saga incorporates many exciting and engaging fight scenes and battles which, like the rest of the manga, are dramatic and well-drawn. However, that violence hasn’t been glorified by Yukimura. Instead, a large focus has been put on the tragic consequences that result from those encounters. The action can be brutal and shockingly gruesome, but perhaps even more important is the tremendous psychological impact on the characters as violence perpetuates more violence in a seemingly endless cycle. Vinland Saga remains an exceptional series; I’m looking forward to reading more of the manga a great deal.