I recently started watching the period anime “Vinland Saga” Season 2, which isn’t for everyone, especially for those expecting more or less the same story as Season 1. It’s also still airing, so I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt until it wraps up.
For most of this season, our antihero, Thorfinn (Aleks Le), is a slave who is working to buy back his freedom via farming. After the events of last season, Prince Canute (Jessie James Grelle) saw that he was sold as a slave rather than be killed. Canute’s reasons for doing so to anime-only fans are so far a mystery, though I think it’s safe to assume that he saw it as sparing Thorfinn’s life. He had grown close to him, after all, even acknowledging that when he killed Askeladd (Kirk Thornton), he took the kill away from Thorfinn (he wanted to kill Askeladd because he killed his father).
Season 1 has constant action, and was basically an all-out gorefest. It showed the Viking way of life in brutal detail, which clearly many fans were there for. Season 2, however, has very little action, focusing more on Thorfinn’s internal struggles with the PTSD he sustained over the course of many battles. He has to grapple with all the people he killed without even knowing their names.
As a result, Season 2’s fights have far more weight behind them. Thorfinn himself has taken up a vow never to hurt anyone unless he absolutely has to, meaning that he has to explore all other means of conflict resolution before resorting to violence.
Season 1 and 2 feel like two different shows, with Season 1 being filled with high-octane adrenaline and Season 2 being a slower, more profound narrative. Or rather, as fans of Season 1 call it, a “farming simulator.”
Yet the two seasons have complimentary struggles that you cannot completely understand without watching both. Season 2’s narrative comes as a result of the events of Season 1, with the events of the second season enhancing and exploring further the aftereffects of the first. In many ways, Season 1 was filled to the brim with dumb action that had no weight or meaning to it; Season 2 changes that, as it’s all a part of Thorfinn’s journey of bloodshed and penance.
Perhaps the most significant moment that Season 2 so far has enhanced is when Thorfinn drops his daggers at the end of Season 1. In it, his journey up until that point is overlaid onto the blades, and the anime spends a lot of time to fixate on this moment. Anime watchers won’t know it at this point, but this is the last time Thorfinn holds his daggers, as he takes up his vow after nonviolence after this.
As his Season 1 journey flashes through the blades, the last image it shows is Thorfinn as he is then, scared and confused, without his reason for living of killing. Without his quest to kill Askeladd, he has nothing and perhaps he realizes that he has become the very thing he hates. He outright admits in Season 2 that he is no different than the men who killed his father, as he has made plenty of other children fatherless for nothing.
In many ways, Thorfinn’s struggle stems from his immaturity and inability to understand his father’s advice: “You have no enemies. No one in the world is your enemy. There is no one you need to hurt.” In Thorfinn’s defense, he doesn’t have a proper father figure throughout most of his adolescence as his father, Thors (Jason Douglas), dies when he is a child. In his place is Askeladd, who is a man with no honor or shame.
I respect Season 2 for sticking with its slower pace and smaller story — narratives like these seem to be few and far in between. Yet I do understand people’s frustrations with how different it is with Season 1 — it’s definitely a case where you have to temper your expectations.
I also think that Season 2 is a refreshing take on the overpowered main character anime trope, as physically Thorfinn is the best warrior on the farm he’s on (I know the anime makes a big deal of skill of Snake [Jason Griffith], a bodyguard on the farm, but in an equal fight Thorfinn is the clear victor). If he was truly motivated to do so, Thorfinn could leave the farm and slavery with ease — if he’s willing to break his vow of nonviolence.
I’m on board with Thorfinn’s journey so far. Give the show a chance — I think it’s onto something.
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