Perhaps the most interesting character in “Vinland Saga” Season 2 is Ketil (Doug Jackson), the owner of the farm that Thorfinn (Aleks Le) and Einar (Ian Sinclair) find themselves enslaved on.
Any system of slavery is inherently immoral, so it should come as no surprise that popular culture depictions of slave owners typically portray them as wicked and cruel. Very little does modern fiction present us with a slaveholder character who is kind, compassionate and tries to do the right thing. Ketil is one of those few examples of the latter, with some exceptions.
One thing that sets Ketil apart from other slave owners is that he gives everyone he buys to work his farm a path towards freedom. Essentially, he gives them a plot of land to work, he buys their crops at a fair price, and they can use that money to buy back their freedom, which usually takes 3 years. After that, they are likely to be offered a job as a retainer, in which they can work the land as free men.
Ketil also works the land himself with his men, which earns their trust and respect. He hates violence and is often open to giving people a break when they deserve it. This is on particular display when two children are caught stealing from his farm. Rather than just punish them blindly, he finds out why they were stealing (their father left and is probably dead). While he does lash the boy, he gives them a chance to work on his farm in order to repay their debts and provide for their family.
Later in the season, we see more of Ketil’s character flaws, particularly with his treatment of Arnheid, who is never allowed to leave because he loves her. Arnheid, however, still loves her husband and ultimately chooses to run away with him when he finds her. When their escape fails and Ketil finds out about it, he brutally beats her, revealing that for all his compassion and principles, he still views her as a possession.
Ultimately, Ketil can never be a good slave owner because it’s an oxymoron; they don’t exist. By participating in the slave trade, he supports it and reaffirms its principles. While he is better than other slave owners, he still uses it to his advantage, taking the labors and freedom of people he has no right to.
Ketil is a complex, interesting character in an anime that’s not afraid to reinvent itself. Like I said in my last column, “Vinland Saga” Season 2 is nothing like Season 1, which some people may not be into. However, I respect what Season 2 is trying to do and say; it’s aiming to provide more profound commentary on violence, strength and what it means to be a “true warrior” than your average Shonen anime.
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