Ultra realistic? No. Semi-plausible and serves the story well? You betcha.
Full credit goes to creator Makoto Yukimura, who previously wrote a manga of an entirely different order, Planetes. A sci-fi manga dealing with the day-to-day lives of garbage collectors in space, it has nothing in common with this, except that it’s also unique and surprisingly well-done.
As I said in the beginning, this manga is an adequate depiction of the Viking Age, arguably one of the most badass and manly historical periods ever, if not the most falsely caricatured. No, Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets, and they weren’t humorless savages. You won’t see any of those misconceptions here, because Yukimura did a fair bit of research, and actually incorporates historical characters into his work.
Vinland Saga follows Thorfinn, a young Viking who is on a quest for revenge. The manga didn’t win me over from page one, but as we get to know some of the side characters, as well as more of Thorfinn’s backstory, I was not only won over, but fell completely head over heels in love.
Like a shonen manga (which this was for the first few chapters, until it was moved to a seinen anthology), the main character is not the most interesting one in the story. Thorfinn is cool, but he’s a small player in a much bigger story that is never overshadowed by action, though there’s no shortage of that, either.
You're probably familiar with this image, even if you haven't read the manga. It gives a good impression without revealing too much plot, which you're better off discovering on your own.
We get an excellent drama that is striking and believable. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself mentally fist-pumping as these characters overcome the external obstacles that face them, as well as their inner demons. Even Canute, a cowardly infantilized prince that serves as little more than a macguffin early in the story, evolves into something great.
Finally, Vinland Saga represents an incredible evolution in Yukimura’s drawing style. It looked great to begin with, but the difference between the first chapter and the most recent is staggering. Partly because the manga is now published monthly (affording the author more time to put into his pages), and partly because Yukimura has simply been working really hard. You can see improvements chapter by chapter, even before the switch to a monthly publication schedule was made. In this sense, the experience of reading Vinland Saga is somewhat like fast forwarding through Kentaro Miura’s Berserk, another manga which followed a trajectory of artistic improvement, albeit more slowly.
Overall, Vinland Saga is a terrific manga. Though the monthly publishing schedule means that the story will be metered out at a frustrating pace, getting caught up with the first six volumes was one of the most exhilarating manga experiences I’ve had in recent memory.
Author: Makoto Yukimura
Artist: Makoto Yukimura
Length: 7 volumes +