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Thursday, August 13, 2015

You Need To Read Vinland Saga, Right Now

"From the distant north... beyond the frozen sea... they come, bringing with them the black clouds of war." - Chapter 1

Sometimes, the manga market favors the popular but untalented and ignores the talented but niche. Sometimes it skews towards quality titles in their favor. Unfortunately, due to the nature of manga in America, it often does not; titles with smaller demographics are often left by the wayside, destined for cancellation or to be published in total anonymity without any press coverage or fan love. 

Vinland Saga seems destined to join the ranks of outstanding manga who never found their audience and their sales margin, and if that comes true and Kodansha pulls the series from English publication, than we should all feel bad for not supporting this series. In 2014, Kodansha temporarily suspended the Vinland Saga's publication schedule and immediately fans worried for its future.

Later news from Kodansha confirmed that the future of Vinland Saga relies on sales; if volumes six and seven do well, volume eight and onward will be confirmed for release. If not, well... that's all, folks. Say goodbye to any more new Makoto Yukimura in English.

That's enough background information. What's important is that Yukimura's Vinland Saga is one of the most thrilling, engaging titles I've read in recent history, and with the 2-in-1 omnibus editions Kodansha is releasing the series in, it's hard not to find something in each book that will entertain the average reader.

From the Kodansha USA website.
Vinland Saga is a brutal, fictionalized account of the Viking warrior forces as they fight the English army for land and resource control. It is also a complex examination of the Viking culture, going beyond the prevalent pop culture image of Vikings as just bands of men who live dirty, blood-filled lives and do nothing else but fight. It is also a story of revenge for our main protagonist, Thorfinn, who lives and fights with a band of Vikings while plotting to kill their leader, the man who murdered Thorfinn's father years ago.

I don't think people should give Vinland Saga a pity read because the sales aren't that good, and I don't think its poor sales have anything to do with its story or art quality. If anything, it's a combination of a sluggish American economy, the pricey omnibus hardcover releases, the manga-ka having only been published once in English before (Planetes, originally via Tokyopop and now via Dark Horse Comics), and the fact that it's about Viking culture and not, say, wizards or ninjas or school idols or Attack on Titan i.e. things that get manga titles onto the NYT bestseller lists.

I started reading Vinland Saga out of curiosity, wanting to see why so many fellow manga bloggers were talking about it so much, and I definitely didn't read it with the intention of writing about it. And yet, the further I got into it, I realized I had to write about Vinland Saga. Even though I have only been able to read the first book so far, I am excited to read further on in the series and see what direction Yukimura takes the story. It's a big book, but it's a quick read due to all the action and drama that pushes every scene forward.

I can't really speak to the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of Vinland Saga, but it feels more authentic to me than other depictions of Vikings. There is a complexity there that is welcome, both in depicting them at battle and them in their personal lives. We spend a lot of time in the home of young Thorfinn in the time before the death of his father, Thors, where he develops his sense of justice and wanderlust at the knees of his father as well as local adventurer/storyteller Leif Ericson. We see Thorfinn go from an optimistic young boy to someone disenchanted with the heroes of his life, and then finally into the opening stages of who he is at the start of the book, ten years later: a young man who dedicates his life to revenge, first and last, with all his breath.
From the Kodansha USA website.

We also meet Thorfinn's mother, Helga, and his sister, Ylva, and they are both awesome, powerful women both in their home and in their village. Helga is much quieter than Ylva, but there's no doubt she is respected by her male peers and her husband. Ylva, on the other hand, is a firecracker of a woman who would like to go out and plunder some land and become ruler of her own band of warriors. She is a hilarious, strong willed character and is always the highlight of whatever scene she is in. It's no wonder then that, while doing some research on Vinland Saga, I found out that Ylva got her own spin-off manga. She deserves it!

And, of course, the artwork is stunning. It always is when Makoto Yukimura is at the helm - Planetes has some of the most striking full-page and two-page spreads I've ever seen - but he really excels at bringing the brutal terrain and bloody fights into startling, gorgeous detail. The best example of this is in the first chapter, in which Yukimura expertly mixes the unforgiving violence of battle with the occasional comedic turns as Askeladd and his crew make fools out of two different armies, especially the leader of the attacking force who are attempting to storm a large, well-guarded fortress. It is a true pleasure to read.

If you can stomach the 20 dollar price tag for each book, you will find over four hundred high quality pages between a rather stunning full-color hardcover. You will find dynamic characters, lots of sword-swinging blood-flowing action, and a timeless story of family and revenge in a new but ancient setting for modern manga. You just might even turn out to be the perfect audience for Vinland Saga, if you'll just give it a try.