Comic Picks By The Glick

Vinland Saga vol. 7

January 25, 2016

Is this it?

Kodansha Comics has already gone on record as saying that this will be the last volume of “Vinland Saga” published in the U.S. unless sales pick up.  So if you like this series and haven’t already picked up all seven volumes, you’d better go do it now!  If you haven’t, then vol. 7 serves as one more reason for you to start.  It’s a smart, bloody, invigorating, and even occasionally humorous look at viking life in its heyday with a protagonist determined to go against its grain even if it kills him.  If you’re concerned that “Vinland Saga’s” uncertain future in the States means that you’ll be left hanging after this volume ends, don’t be.  The current arc is wrapped up in moving fashion as Thorfinn and Canute meet again for the last time.

Before that happens, they have a war to get through.  After setting up Ketil’s son Olimar on a trumped-up murder charge, Canute has taken a hundred of his finest warriors to seize the man’s farm and amassed riches.  Though his other son Thorgil relishes the chance to take on the King, Ketil is in a state of shock with these current events.  It isn’t until he finds out what happened with Arnheid while he was gone that he breaks completely and finds the rage needed to commit an act of unforgivable violence and lead several hundred of the men on his farm to almost certain death.

Thorfinn and his friend Einar endure as best they can while all this is going on.  Thanks to Leif Erickson they’ve got their freedom and all the reason in the world to get on his boat and never look back.  Well, almost all the reason.  Frustrated after breaking his vow to never use violence to solve problems, Thorfinn struggles with trying to find something to use as a first resort in drastic situations.  It isn’t until the fighting breaks and the fate of Ketil’s farm appears sealed that he finally figures out what it is.

The refrain, “I’M A MAN OF PEACE!  I’M DONE KILLING!” may sound familiar to people who have played “Grand Theft Auto:  San Andreas.”  It’s from an in-game ad for a movie featuring the now-peacenik hero of an incredibly violent film franchise renouncing violence, right before THE PLOT conspires to have him go out and kill even more bad guys.  I find that it encapsulates a particular storytelling trope in justifiably cynical fashion.  That’s mainly because, even if it’s executed in a satisfying manner, the character who undergoes such a change of heart is forced to break it at some point.  Pacifism rarely lends itself to good drama in fiction.

Which makes the solution mangaka Makoto Yukimura has found for Thorfinn’s situation all the more impressive.  Yes, he’s already broken his vow once, but he hasn’t given up.  The young warrior is determined to find a “first resort” he can use to resolve a situation before the “last resort” of violence has to be employed.  Given that Canute has apparently given himself over to the ruthless ways of his father and cannot see a way to make his creation of a paradise on Earth that doesn’t involve them, Thorfinn’s work would appear to be cut out for him.

Yet there’s genuine creativity involved in finding ways around these issues.  Instead of using his skills as a warrior to beat his way into an audience with Canute, Thorfinn uses them to take a beating instead.  When Thorfinn confronts Canute about his actions and the only option appears to be that either he or the king will die, the warrior presents a third option.  It works because it invokes another (made-up, I dunno) favorite truism of mine:  You can get away with anything if you make people laugh.

It’s a surprising finish to this arc and one that feels earned.  Nothing was handed to the characters on a silver platter here, Thorfinn found a way to resolve the conflict without spilling any more blood other than his own and it actually felt believable given his history with and the characterization of Canute.  Yukimura only goes a bit wrong with letting us know that everything worked out well for pretty much everyone after this.  For someone who put such great stock in the little details to make Thorfinn’s actions here work within the context of the story, the “broad strokes” approach to showing us what happens to the supporting cast afterward feels like a bit of a cop-out even if it is heartwarming.

There’s also the matter of a revelation regarding Ketil’s character that comes off as somewhat pointless and serves as a distraction to the action at hand.  He’s been an interesting character to observe, as a former warrior who embraced the life of a farmer only to have it all taken away from him due to a dumb son and some bad luck.  What we learn about him here strips away part of that notable backstory.  Given that he already has an arc that takes him from shock, to rage, to senility here, it begs the question of why Yukimura felt the need to bring this bit up in the first place?  That said, this is brought up by Snake as his friends are getting ready for battle and he lets them know that such a man isn’t worth dying for.  So this all could be ruse on the warrior’s part to spare his friends.  I know which version of this story suits me, but it could’ve been left out and the story wouldn’t have lost anything for it.

So there you have it.  With these fourteen volumes, Yukimura has told the story of a boy who succumbed to rage and vengeance before learning how to forsake them the hard way.  It has been a compulsively readable trip and one that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to any fan of good comics.  Though this volume ends with a good amount of closure, and an amusing curveball regarding Thorfinn’s return home, the story isn’t done yet.  After all, Thorfinn and Einar have their pledge to head across the sea to Vinland and create their own paradise.  That’s something I’d really like to read about!  So let’s make sure we can read about it in English and spread the good word about this series today!

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

(On a final note, the tribute at the end of the volume by Faith Erin Hicks was priceless.  More of this in future volumes please!)

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