The Legend of Askeladd, & Farmland Saga

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Vinland Saga feels like the story is really just beginning, and yet it’s hard to imagine how it’ll outdo its prologue. The prologue is roughly half of the available chapters and it presented an incredibly compelling story that interestingly can be thought of a self-contained legend of one of the most badass characters I’ve ever come across: Askeladd.

I won’t spoil the details, shit’s too good. Let’s leave the detailed spoilers in the comments discussion. Instead I’ll talk about what makes this character so incredibly badass by comparison with some other notable characters in anime (although Vinland Saga is a manga). Those familiar with the characters I compare him with will deduce a potentially awful spoiler so if you are averse to such then stop reading this post and read the manga.

I put it off for years and read 78 chapters in one sitting. Holy crap it was awesome. The second part of this post goes a little bit into the beginning of the story proper and has fun with the seemingly bad rap it’s gotten. Without further ado, lets attack this shit.

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Askeladd in this narrative exceeds the combined awesomeness of Sigfried Kircheis of Legend of the Galactic Heroes and Kamina of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. He has the tactical ability and wisdom of the former, and the charisma of the latter. There are better examples of tactics, cunning, and charisma out there but anyone who’s familiar with all three will understand why I make the connection.

I also mentioned that Askeladd exceeds both. Yes, indeed he does because in part of his age… he is a more experienced human being. The dynamic of this can be understood in terms of how more interesting and awesome Fate/Zero is relative to Fate/stay Night due to the presence and focus on older, adult characters. While the subject of manga and anime will continue to focus on juveniles, adolescents, and comers-of-age; adult, mature characters bring with them more fleshed-out pasts, regrets, and higher stakes.

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Askeladd is a perfect example of this – bringing heritage, geopolitics (what makes for it in the Dark Ages), and a long career. It gives his words and actions a dignity and weight that exceeds those I compare him with. His role influenced, galvanized, and gave purpose to the main protagonist. In a way he trained Thorfinn to actualize what he needs to become, despite their adversarial relationship. He did this less with talk but with such inspired acts of daring that makes me pump my fist in the air as I flip through the pages.

His part of the story ends, whetting my appetite for more epic violence; and then…

The next 30 or so chapters put our protagonist Thorfinn in a farm, clearing trees, and planting wheat.

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While I don’t think this is bad in any way, as it serves as a very patient way of telling a story of recovery and self-discovery. But I can only imagine the sheer adrenaline dump and blue balls readers must have felt when this started happening after the manga switched from a weekly format to a monthly format way back in 2005. Oh yes, this farming storyline must have been running for at least the past three years.

But that’s a saga for you. It used its incredible prologue to deposit capital of faith in our minds that the long story will be worth waiting for, worth sticking with to the very end. Difficult it may be to come up with another character as awesome as Akeladd, Vinland Saga may not even try to. He had his role to play and now it’s Thorfinn and Canute’s turn to find themselves on the same path of discovery and redemption.

The First of Two Posts:

  1. The Legend of Askeladd, & Farmland Saga [you are reading this]
  2. The Trap of Comparing Vinland Saga With Berserk

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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40 Responses to The Legend of Askeladd, & Farmland Saga

  1. Matt Wells says:

    YES YOU FINALLY READ IT YEEEEESSSS…

    I jumped on board Vinland Saga round about when it turned into Farmville Saga, and I must say I still find it wholly entertaining. Not as much as the balls to the wall Viking murder of the earlier arcs, but still damn fine entertainment. Not sure how Thorfinn’s vow of no murder will play out in the freaking Dark Ages (not an easy time to be a pacifist unless you join a monastery), but I have faith in Yukimura.

    Can’t BELIEVE he was the creator of Planetes, I just got the DVDs of that show in the mail and I’m looking forward to devouring it. As a history student, I’m really enjoying the real life aspects of this story, especially since this year has been all about Saxon Age England. Cnut was a savvy fellow, it’s a shame that most of what we know of his reign is relegated to folklore with the “Turning of the Waves” story. I hope Yukimura has a fun take on that old wives tale…

    Why the Hel has Dark Horse not licensed this series yet? You’d think with all the plentiful Berserk comparisons that they’d have snapped up the license from Kodanasha as quickly as possible. It isn’t as if there are any other US manga publishers with the balls to release something this violent.

    • Some of the things you mention here I take on in a follow-up post so watch out for that.

      I really, really enjoyed the Planetes anime, but I keep getting told that it added so much unnecessary material. I for one enjoyed the comedic elements — which makes me assume that the manga was more serious; not that the anime wasn’t.

      In any case, Vinland Saga really got me. I too enjoyed the Farmland arc and I can’t help but think the story is just really getting started. But today, let us celebrate Askeladd who is a total fucking bro.

      • Matt Wells says:

        Some characters have death scenes, and some characters have DEATH SCENES. Askeladd falls into the latter category. The minute I read “Cnut or Wales. Choose now.” I knew shit was well and truly getting real, and I was not disapointed. Askeladd went out like a motherfucking BOSS. Manly tears were shed. Take it from a resident of the UK, you fuck with the Welsh at your own peril.

        They lull you into a false sense of security with their love of harps and leeks, their angelic choirs and a frank acceptance of sheep shagging stereotypes, and then BAM! You make the terminal mistake of insulting their Ma’s or the architecture of Cardiff, and the next thing you know your bones have been crushed to paste by a gang of burly coal miners/rugby players. Askeladd’s descendants do him proud in the not-to-be-fucked-with stakes.

        • Hehe, excellent representation there.

          But is it correct that he is also descended from the Romans?

          • Matt Wells says:

            Memory may be faulting me here, but didn’t he imply he was descended from King Arthur, at least on his mothr’s side? The closest historical approximation we have to the mythical Arthur Pendragon was a Roman Centurion who stayed behind in Britain after the fall of Rome.

          • Yeah there you go. Those little Romans have something to do with it.

          • Vendredi says:

            >But is it correct that he is also descended from the Romans?
            Basic primer on British history – earliest records indicate the Isles were occupied by a cultural group known as the “Celts”. When the Romans conquered most of southern Britain, they partly assimilated most of the southern Celts into a new Romano-British culture known as the “Britons”. When the Empire began to falter, Maximus, then the ranking Roman general in the region, took Britain’s legions south to jockey for control of the Empire, leaving Britain unprotected. This warlord era was marked by raids by Anglo-Saxons and others. Eventually, a British king Vortigern invited an AngloMost scholars who think Arthur did exist as a historical personage think he may have been influential during this period.

          • Vendredi says:

            Blech, my reply got chopped up. It should read: Eventually, a British king Vortigern invited an Anglo-Saxon chief and his tribe, Hengist, to settle the eastern coast and act as a bulwark against invaders. Long story short, the Anglo Saxons got out of hand, conquered Britain except for Wales – which preserved much of the original Briton culture – but in turn too, the Anglo-Saxons became Romanized and adopted many Briton customs. Many of the Viking invaders in Vinland saga allude to this history, noting that they are invading just as the Anglo-Saxons did hundreds of years prior – no matter that now they are peaceful peasants and farmers.

            Most historians who buy into a historical Arthur think he likely dates from the period of Anglo Saxon settlement, either as a Briton chieftain who fought the invading Angli, or possibly as some sort of last of the Roman legions sort of deal.

            On an interesting aside, apparently the author spent 2 years doing research in Iceland for the manga before even starting to write it.

          • It’s really cool, the Romanization of the world. I too am Romanized by way of Spain and Catholicism. This is how I develop an almost immediate affinity for characters like Askeladd.

  2. megaroad1 says:

    Vinland saga rocks and Askeladd is all you say and more. Look forward to reading your Vinland-Berserk piece.

    Why it hasn’t been licensed is beyond me. This is exactly the kind of Seinen manga that would have a demographic that would buy it if available.

    • Matt Wells says:

      Maybe it’s a problem of length? In the case of Berserk, it may update as quickly as Vinland Saga, but it already has a backlog of about thirty volumes. There’s no lack of material for an English publisher to release. Vinalnd Saga in comparison only has ten volumes so far, and at the pace of a volume a year, it may be released too slowly to keep the interest of English fans.

      Not to mention that Berserk has a tie-in anime and fantasy elements, neither of which are advantages shared by Vinland Saga. Until there’s an anime to help promote it, we’re unlikely to see VS on English shores. Which sucks ass, because the last time I was in France they had already published volume 8.

    • I don’t really know enough of the publishing industry and related markets to comment on this.

      Askeladd is amazing because he surprised us all with his showdown vs. the king with the fucking unpronounceable name. That was fucking glorious, like epic tier moment of awesome.

  3. hearthesea says:

    This is one of my favourite manga. (I really enjoyed the farm arc too, for reasons I’ve already written about.) Askeladd is a great character, but what interests me even more is the dynamic between him and Thorfinn. Quite an interesting relationship. Canute has also gone through quite a journey over the course of the series.

  4. HA! You weren’t kidding. As soon as I saw the characters’ faces let alone their names I immediately knew what you were getting at. That’s alright though. I’ve had much worse things spoiled for me and it still hasn’t lessened the emotional impact (I’m a bit of a softy).

    I’ve pecked at the series these past two or three years, reading over the odd chapter here or there. I’m very intrigued by the relatively unique choice of scenery and subject. It’s just that my action/violent manga plate has been more than full for years (One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, Fairy Tail, Hajime no Ippo, and Claymore). Hopefully once Naruto and possibly Claymore are hung up I can pick up Berserk again and give this an honest shot. I’ve learned that in the world of anime and manga that patience can often be the most important virtue.

    • It’s quite easy to remove everything else you’re reading right now and replace it with this. It’s a no-brainer.

      At the very least, you’ll be done with this in no time and can get back to your other shonen crap. Best solution ever.

      • Matt Wells says:

        I agree with you there on everything except One Piece and Claymore. Claymore is Berserk for 14 year olds, and One Piece is one of the greatest comics currently being published. As far as Shonen goes, there is simply no other series that can touch it for artwork, characters, plotting, world building… you name it, One Piece does it best.

        Toriko is the second Shonen Jump series to follow the One Piece formula of cutting all the extraneous crap (Romance, Destined Rivals, ROMANCE JESUS CHRIST BLEGH, and battles degenerating into Power Level/Flashy Transformation gimmicks) and instead focusing on ADVENTURE and FUN, and from what I gather you enjoy that show. One Piece is the fucking paradigm of the Shonen genre.

  5. schneider says:

    Askeladd was one magnificent bastard. I can’t believe I managed to love a character who massacres an entire village for convenience, simply because his backstory and motivations for aiding Canute were riveting. His relationship with Thorfinn was complex enough and made him 150% Viking. That was really some memorable way to go.

    I found myself getting into Farmland Saga because Dark Ages farming is absolutely insane. Hell, the artwork is amazing with the level of detail for vegetation.

    Shame about the lack of license: I would think an anime would increase the chances of one, BUT I pray it would be a good adaptation. (maybe cast Keiji Fujiwara as Askeladd? Because that’s how I hear him!)

    • I don’t really think appreciating a character is locked into moralistic traps at all. “Great” men of history have a lot of blood on their hands and they have admirers. It’s less morally problematic if the character is entirely fictional, but this is all part of what I would call an authentic guilty pleasure.

  6. MarigoldRan says:

    A comparable series to Vinland Saga is Vagabond, which is about Musashi.

    Similar styles, adult-character-centered plot, and lots of bad-ass sword fights, with navel-gazing in between. And just as good, too.

    Also, the girls are prettier. One of them, at least.

    Glad you finally read the series.

  7. MarigoldRan says:

    You forgot to mention Thorkell.

    • Well, what can I say about Thorkell? He’s a device used to underscore the qualities of everyone else important. He’s there to admire Askeladd’s cunning; make fun of Cnut when he was a girl, and then marvel at him when he grew a pair; then of course, fight Thorfinn who is the son of the only other Viking who he deems stronger than him.

      Everything about Thorkell is in relation to someone else in the story.

  8. ces06 says:

    Nice! Vinland Saga’s a great manga. it’s hard to talk about Askeladd without going into some spoilers, but that guy is awesome. Too bad though.

    It’s interesting how, despite the seinen-realistic human drama complete with an interesting backdrop and premise, it’s got that really shonen appeal and heart. (Thorz, especially, looks like he’s plucked right out of a shonen manga) Fate/Zero is precisely what I’d compare this to as well. (And by some extent, UC)

    The FarmVille chapter’s just started in my local publishment of it, so I don’t know much about it, but I’m interested to see how stuff will unfold, and how they’ll tie it up with the whole VInland thing.

    • Fate/Zero is a very interesting thing to compare it to. I think I get what you’re trying to say about both being a bit more mature and for having mature characters. Waver and Thorfinn are the kids coming of age, but everyone else are adults.

  9. squaresphere says:

    Askeladd was amazing, the way he went out… it was totally on his own terms. Honestly I think he decided to throw away the concept of “the king” at the end and just go out on his own wishes. He was older and old on the battlefield generally meant death. He knew his time was running out and that Cnut was his one and only real chance to make his play at savior.

    But, once he’s ties to Wales were known, he lost the last layer of “surprise” he had left. Even if he chose Wales over Cnut there was no way for him to scheme his way back into power since he a now a “known” figure.

    He had have known that without this guidance Cnut would turn into the same type of tyrant all the nobles were. So with all this chips laid out, and having no option to turn the situation around, he decided, F this, I’m done playing.

    Thorsfinn, well I like that he kinda “broke” after that. It makes sense. Now with Cnut seeming about to re enter his life in the most violent way… we’ll have to see if he become the “true warrior”.

    • Makes sense, how you describe his decision-making in the end.

      What makes the scene the epic that it is, is his manly speech. I mean it’s great what he did, but the epic speech is what put it over the top.

  10. JELEINEN says:

    Love this series, even if Yukimura’s hippy-ness started really coming through once the prologue ended (the third quarter of Planetes really made me cringe at times). The art and action scenes are great, but the characters and historical details are where it really shines. The amount of research he’s done is amazing. I mean not just the details on farming and everyday life, but I can’t think of any other work in any medium that deals with the practice of slavery in medieval Europe like this one has.

    My dream anime adaptation would have an international cast using modern languages as stand-ins for the ones assumed to be being used in the manga (the Franks would map to French, the Anglo-Saxons to English, the Norse to Danish or Norwegian, Thorfin would speak modern Icelandic, etc.).

    • While I agree that the research is top-notch and serves the story well, but the whole thing is completely Japanese… almost to the point that the setting matters less than it should.

      I’m with you re your dream adaptation though. Just the prologue would be enough.

  11. Pingback: The Trap of Comparing Vinland Saga With Berserk | We Remember Love

  12. Vendredi says:

    I have to agree the Berserk/Vinland Saga is quite flawed. I enjoyed Vinland Saga immensely but Berserk had a hard time holding my interest. The attention to detail in Vinland Saga is absolutely amazing and the author is quite thorough with his history.

    In your previous post you mentioned that Vinland Saga is quite “secular” – I got what you meant by it, in that Vinland Saga avoids fantastic myths and instead focuses on the men behind those myths, but I think “secular” is altogether the wrong word!
    If anything, Vinland Saga feels to me far more steeped in religion and myth than Berserk ever gets; it portrays not only a clash between the invaders and invaded on a physical level, but also the clash between religions and worldviews – the raiding-centric culture and religion of the Vikings is contrasted on a deep level with the now mostly Christianized Angli. Several characters lament Christianization, thinking it makes for weaker warriors and soft men. And the narrative actually really grapples with the Christian concept of love going beyond family and friends to encompass the wider world – consider the monk’s soliloquy at the climax of young Cnut’s escape from Thorkell. It’s a fantastically rare thing to see in any sort of Japanese media.

    The shift in tone of the farming chapters was also really refreshing to see. I think it’s definitely easy to get caught up in the blood and guts aspect that the Vikings are remembered for but the balanced portrayal here and managing the tension between war and peace is what makes this such an interesting story.

    • Well, you can have a very secular narrative of religion, and I think this is the case in Vinland Saga, as opposed to say, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ, Cecile B. De Mille’s The Ten Commandments, etc.

      Yes, I too enjoyed Farmland Saga, particularly the narrative of slaves, serfs, and landholding.

  13. JELEINEN says:

    I kind of wonder that if by making the violence in Vinland Saga so awesome, Yukimura might accidently be subverting his own themes.

    Also, I must be the only person who has the current arc in Berserk as their favorite (I really like the characters in Guts new adventuring party).

    • JELEINEN says:

      Ack. I meant this comment for your other entry.

    • It’s the hypocrisy/inauthenticity that comes with entertainment. Do we really watch Batman films for how he chooses not to kill? Really? We watch because he beats the shit out of bad guys in spectacles of violence. We tolerate the lack of mortality because the violence on screen (or on the page) is enough of a spectacle. Many cases the violence is transferred to the enemies… for contrast we see them cause a lot of mortality in graphic ways. These are the compromises of the text.

      And it’s always more entertaining to see humanoid vs. humanoid violence. Berserk lost something when Guts’ primary use of his sword truly became giant monsters — granted this was meant to be, just as Thorfinn was meant to be a pacifist — the prologues are golden because we see human on human swordplay. This is why giant robots are given human forms and duel in close quarters pretty much like knights and samurai and superheroes. The robot conceit works around mortality by making the pilots survive even as the robots are dismembered.

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