The hyper-violent Viking anime’s best arc is actually about farming

After the expanse of the first season of Vinland Saga, which crosses continents as dramatizations of historical figures intersect, it’s tempting to say that the anime’s second season is on a much smaller scale. But Vinland Saga Season 2 feels epic in a different way, as director Shūhei Yabuta and writer Hiroshi Seko bring some of the series’ most breathtaking dramas within the (rather sprawling) confines of a farm.

Since the first season, Thorfinn has been enslaved by a wealthy man who has styled himself as a benevolent slave owner, who makes his indentured servants work from what he paid for them and earns back their freedom. The farmhouse is a space that protects Thorfinn from his past as a berserker. But his friendship with Einar, another slave who works on the same piece of land, reminds Thorfinn of what he destroyed as a warrior, prompting him to think about how to prevent it from happening again.

This arc of Vinland Saga is affectionately referred to by some fans by the tongue-in-cheek nickname of “Farmland Saga”, in part due to its narrative decompression, reduced scope, and retreat from warfare in favor of Thorfinn seen gradually change. It emphasizes the long passage of time in clearing forest land and its meditative nature – growing something rather than plundering.

The first season was convincing for how far it dragged Thorfinn down, eroded by his experiences and dedication to being a mercenary for his father’s killers, tragically self-destructing while ruthlessly taking revenge on his enemy and father figure Askeladd. There is pleasure in seeing the show love of historical drama, are minor background details and the license needed with character motivations when it adapts Makoto Yukimura’s manga series. But many of its most compelling moments stem from its continued engagement with the guiding principles of feudalism and Viking culture (“might makes good,” as one participant in a losing battle puts it). Season 2 is captivating because of how it rebuilds him and how long it takes to do so.

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Multiple escape routes from the devastation of Viking culture open up for Thorfinn as Einar brings him out of his shell. There is Christianity, which gradually plays into Thorfinn’s route to pacifism, eavesdropping passages and recognizing his father Thors’ idea of ​​a “true warrior,” one who fights for peace rather than conquest of person or country. And then there’s Einar, who grew up on a ranch that was raided multiple times by the likes of Thorfinn and the mercenaries he rode with. Einar kindles a rebellious and sincere spirit in him – stubborn and perhaps naive, but synthesized with all those other voices, this is the beginning of a real future for Thorfinn that goes beyond mere survival.

The brutality of the culture Thorfinn grew up in was always at the forefront of the show, as the first season tended towards the ugliness of battle and conquest. Even if it found some excitement at the time, there was a compelling contradiction in both marveling at the young fighter doing cool combat stuff, even as it eroded his soul.

Most fight scenes in Vinland Saga are often difficult, with imagery and soft sound design often emphasizing the excitement of the action that triggered it. Wide, painterly vistas of the countryside become extreme close-ups of wounded characters, drawn in gritty, realistic detail. It’s still fun to see stubborn brutes scurrying about, but the chatter always retains an ominous feel. The animation of the fights is flashy and often satisfying to watch, but the consequences are punishing on screen, both in the gory physical results and the emotional consequences – Thorfinn carries much of both in the form of ghostly dreams , gnarled scars and some missing ear cartilage.

A battlefield with a pile of dead bodies on it and one person on top of a small hill leaning against their spear

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Thorfinn faces a giant bonfire

Image: MAPPA/Crunchyroll

In the new season, with the character’s newfound perspective, such violence feels even more pointless than before, especially since war is treated like a sport. It’s now easier to pay attention to the show’s more purely thrilling, bombastic action sequences, which it reserves for special cases. Thorfinn’s most purely heroic moment lies in the fact that he takes a beating trying to find his way into conversation – his passive approach practically feels revolutionary in a culture where people are measured by how much damage they can inflict. It’s also the clearest illustration of where Thorfinn stands now compared to the first season, where causing harm to those who wronged him was his sole focus. However, the reason he succeeds is also because he no longer tries to simply bury his past, but instead embraces what he knows about fighting. To take less damage from the incoming punches, he rolls with the blows: he turns the other cheek, but strategically.

It’s a way his father’s idealism begins to merge with the pragmatism of Askeladd and Einar, and an indication of Thorfinn’s newfound agency. He now clearly knows his long-term goals and some semblance of what methods he might use; he is a far cry from the easily manipulated, violent young man of the past.

Thorfinn isn’t the first anime pacifist born into warrior culture; many mild-mannered shonen protagonists have struggled with violence as the default response to conflict and desperately sought alternatives (take the most popular example of feudal warfare resolved through empathy and good conversation: Naruto And his “Talk No Jutsu”). Even the hollowness and existential boredom of a career defined by physical power is the subject of parodic series like One Punch Man.

Thorfinn looks defeated and beaten up close

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Maybe what states Vinland Saga odd is the belated length with which Yabuta and Seko fuss over Thorfinn’s questions about unlearning cultural violence; the second season is more patient than the first in its exploration of how Thorfinn has harmed himself by perpetrating violence in the world. For a while, the farm feels like purgatory: isolated from the outside world, with the promise of salvation just out of reach and the ghosts of those Thorfinn murdered constantly threatening to drag him into his own personal hell.

Other characters are also trapped: take Arnheid, another slave girl on the farm with Einar and Thorfinn, but with no discernible way out simply because she’s one of the owner’s favourites. Arnheid’s story illustrates one of the better features of Vinland Saga: a keen interest in the inner lives of people in Thorfinn’s orbit. There’s a fascinating character study that the more patient structure allows to grow even more, as even the play’s so-called villains feel human, giving the pacifistic warrior narrative a bit more real-world.

To both escape his personal hell and make amends, Thorfinn wants to build a peaceful nation “beyond the reach of slavers and the flames of war”, in homage to his father’s dream. Whether this is possible remains to be seen, but the season’s long journey to Thorfinn to believe in something, regain his agency, and make violence his last resort rather than his first, feels propulsive. “I have no enemies” may not sound so profound coming from someone else, but the road to it is Vinland Saga‘s most exciting journey yet.