VINLAND SAGA, which the story is set in the beginning of the 11th century in Northern Europe, illustrates the lives of the vikings. A boy named Thorfinn becomes a warrior to take revenge on Askeladd for his father who was killed right in front of him. Thorfinn lives as a warrior through encountering his long time enemy Askeladd, Thorkell the Tall, and the young prince Canute. However after Askeladd was executed, he loses purpose in life. He becomes an empty shell, and enslaved as a punishment. In 2019, the Prologue Arc of the story of a young viking warrior named Thorfinn was broadcasted as TV anime SEASON 1. In January 2023, long-awaited Slave/Farm Arc SEASON 2 will be broadcasted.
To celebrate the announcement of the upcoming broadcast of SEASON 2, Comic Natalie has set a talk session between the original author Yukimura Makoto and the author of ATTACK ON TITAN’s Isayama Hajime. Anime Trending received permission to publish the English translation of the interview.
The original interview and story were conducted by Shoki Ohta (TARKUS).
In VINLAND SAGA, the theme that wants to be told is “violence”
――I was told that Mr. Yukimura and Mr. Isayama are meeting one another for the first time.
Yukimura Makoto: Yes, nice to meet you. I first learned about Mr. Isayama when the first volume of ATTACK ON TITAN was released, so that’s about 11 years ago. From the first page, I was surprised and continued reading with a thought, “What is this manga!?”
Isayama Hajime: Nice to meet you, I’m Isayama. I first learned about Mr. Yukimura when I was in high school or probably college. When I saw the anime of PLANETES, I thought it was wonderful and went to read the original story. I began reading VINLAND SAGA around when the Slave/Farm Arc started…
There must have been mixed feelings when you started reading from the Slave/Farm Arc.
Isayama: Thorfinn’s past cannot be recognized when reading from the Slave/Farm Arc, so I started reading by putting myself in Einar’s shoes. Of course, I later read it from the beginning, but after reading it, I was surprised at how wonderful the composition was. The whole story is like a perfect three-act structure, and I realized that I was reading a play with an amazing degree of excellence. You can’t do this unless you’re smart and study hard.
Yukimura: It is awe-inspiring to hear Mr. Isayama say that.
In the first place, the previous work PLANETES was a SF (Sci-Fi) work set in outer space. Whereas, VINLAND SAGA is about vikings in the 11th century, so the two works are quite different from one another. What made you challenge this theme?
Yukimura: PLANETES was a series that I started without much preparation, so it was difficult to gather ideas each time. That’s why, I was thinking of starting the next series after deciding on the theme and flow. The theme I came up with was “violence.” I want to deepen my thoughts on violence while depicting them in my own way. That’s why I chose the vikings as my theme. I decided to depict whether it is possible to deny violence, and whether humanity can abandon violence through these people who are not charged with crimes even if they cut people to death. That was the starting point of VINLAND SAGA.
Isayama: Despite being set in the Viking Age, VINLAND SAGA is portrayed in a very modern way. They fight thinking that they will go to Valhalla after they die. Through Thorfinn’s perspective as a victim, readers living in this modern age are able to easily connect with the period. The pages convey the terror of the men of the past, who were much closer to animals, than men of today.
Yukimura: It seems that before Christianity spread, people did not have a sense of resistance to violence. Christianity spread throughout Europe just after the era depicted in VINLAND SAGA. That’s why they were so barbaric before they were given a broad sense of ethics.
In that sense there was violence in everyday life.
Yukimura: For example, there is a novel called “The Long Ships (or Röde Orm),” and in that story there is a great viking who kept young men on a farm. Those young men were his henchmen and his strength. However, when the two young men fought each other, the boss got angry and killed them both.
Two lives were taken so easily during that period.
Yukimura: Yes. He killed two people he loved, but he laughed and said, “I’m glad to know that I’m still not defeated by young people.” Even his family were pleased and proudly said, “My father is strong.” Due to the low value of life, violence such as domestic violence was rampant. I believe that VINLAND SAGA has something to depict about violence precisely because of that era.
The development of the character’s growth seen when working on the story
――What was the most challenging part about working on VINLAND SAGA?
Yukimura: I am always struggling (bitter smile). Even if I want to advance the story in a certain way, no one will “move” according to me. Doesn’t this happen to you?
Isayama: Unfortunately, there were some things I couldn’t control because the main character’s actions were already decided. I remember thinking “is this character like this?” while I was drawing.
Yukimura: I know this character wouldn’t do that, but I just keep going in the other direction. I think all manga artists have this struggle.
――Which character is Mr. Yukimura’s favorite one to draw?
Yukimura: I like them all. I love not only Thorfinn and Askeladd, but also Thorkell and Leif. It’s harder to find someone you don’t like. Floki also pampers his cute grandchild, showing his humane side. And I can’t hate King Sweyn when I think about how he became like this due to various events. King Sweyn was supposed to have a face like Canute, but he must have become like that since he was in charge of the fate of the country.
――Who is Mr. Isayama’s favorite character?
Isayama: It’s definitely Thorfinn. It’s unlikely for me to like the main character in a manga, but Thorfinn is a special case. He moves forward by destroying and rebuilding himself repeatedly. From the Slave/Farm Arc, although he is laden with sin, he is also full of humanity, and that’s what makes him attractive.
Yukimura: Glad to hear that. I was worried about how people would perceive Thorfinn, who has changed so much that it’s hard to tell if he’s the same person or not.
――His personality as well as the character design has changed greatly.
Yukimura: Only the height didn’t change.
Isayama: But when Canute is in front of him, the old Thorfinn returns. I wonder if his old personality will come out.
Yukimura: Thorfinn used to be a naughty boy, so his tone would change if he let his guard down.
Isayama: It makes me sad to think that if he had grown up normally, he would have been the boy with the personality he is now.
Even the author of the original story is amused by the work done by the anime
――Dramatic change of Thorfinn can be seen from the Slave/Farm Arc, when his hope to take revenge on Askeladd is crushed. What are Mr. Yukimura’s thoughts when watching SEASON 1 which illustrates the prologue of Thorfinn, who is devoted to taking revenge on Askeladd?
Yukimura: First of all, I was worried about the animator’s health. That’s how great avant-title was from the beginning of episode 1. But if I said, “The drawing is amazing,” the hardworking staff members will work even harder. That’s why I’m restraining myself not to say too much (lol).
Isayama: The background was drawn to an incredible level and it was wonderful. Also, the scene where Askeladd died and the knife was left there was very impressive too. I loved that scene in the original work, but I remember the expression of the memories reflected on the surface of the knife as a kind of flashback, which is characteristic of the anime. The symbolism of the knife was very well expressed.
Yukimura: Anime has those kinds of special effects, music, and voice acting, so it’s a different kind of fun compared to manga.
――One of the charms of the anime series VINLAND SAGA is that there are some original scenes.
Yukimura: I didn’t say anything about animation production. On top of that, while I was drawing the manga, I thought things like, “Is this part weak?”, “I might have rushed the story.” However, the director Yabuta and the script writer Seko helped me to bring it back to what it should be. I was surprised by that. It’s no exaggeration to say that the two of them know more about VINLAND SAGA than I do. I kept saying “I see” while I was watching the anime.
――It is supplementing the original story.
Yukimura: Exactly. That’s why I want everyone to watch the anime before the manga!
――Was there any memorable interactions you had with the director Yabuta who read the original story in depth?
Yukimura: Nothing related to anime production, but we went fishing at a pond together. I received a question from director Yabuta. He asked me with wonder and curiosity, “I live with the energy of anger, just like Thorfinn, but wasn’t Mr. Yukimura also like that originally? But what made you smile so much now? ”
――Indeed, Mr. Yukimura always has a smile on his face.
Yukimura: Maybe my adrenaline tap broke at some point. I answered him that my serotonin and adrenaline are constantly flowing. Mr. Yabuta also directs SEASON 2, but Thorfinn in the Slave/Farm Arc is low in energy. I’m looking forward to seeing how Mr. Yabuta, who has a lively internal combustion engine, will portray Thorfinn.
Isayama: While listening to the conversation, I remember talking to director Araki Tetsuro, (director of ATTACK ON TITAN from 1st to 3rd seasons). It would be presumptuous to say that we are making a work together, but I believe that the original author and director can speak of themselves through the work itself. We have talked about the darkness that we noticed in both of us.
Was there more feedback from overseas fans?
――VINLAND SAGA is set in Northern Europe, so I assume there must be a lot of feedback from overseas.
Yukimura: Since the anime was streamed, I think the overseas recognition has tripled. There are a lot of comments on Twitter and YouTube. Anime is incredibly pervasive. It was especially well received in Iceland, where the story was set, and was welcomed favorably.
――As anime is now streamed on overseas platforms, there would be more feedback from the areas that did not have the opportunities to see it before.
Yukimura: How was it with ATTACK ON TITAN？
Isayama: I love foreign movies and foreign TV series, so those influences are reflected in my works. One thing that made me happy was seeing the reaction of ATTACK ON TITAN, which is full of those foreign influences, and how it reached people overseas. I am happy that people are enjoying it. It feels like we are sharing the same feeling of enjoying a movie together.
Yukimura: Some videos showing the reactions of foreigners watching ATTACK ON TITAN were posted on YouTube. When I see them screaming “Oh my God!”, I was like, “Yup,” I can’t agree more.
Isayama: When you’re drawing a manga, you can’t see people’s reaction in real time, so it’s fulfilling… I honestly like watching them.
Yukimura: One of the reasons why it has spread to foreigners is probably the power of distribution platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. You can’t do this with just DVDs and Blu-rays. I’ve also been watching the streaming platforms all the time.
――By the way, which works have you watched on the streaming platforms recently?
Yukimura: I watched My Dress-Up Darling, that was quite seductive (lol). I don’t think it’s an appropriate first impression, but it’s one of my favorites that I watched over and over again.
Isayama: I finally finished watching the latest season of Stranger Thing” yesterday. Recently, there’ve been a lot foreign series and I haven’t finished watching The Boys nor Obi-Wan, so I’d really like to finish them soon.
What does Yukimora Makoto and Isayama Hajime respect about each other?
――Is there anything that you respect about one another as manga artists?
Isayama: All of Mr. Yukimura’s parameters are high. For example, there are artists whose drawings are tremendously good, but cannot comprehend what is happening in their drawings. However, VINLAND SAGA is not like that. It has everything you need for manga, including drawing and composition skills. I think having so few flaws is something special that he has.
Yukimura: Thank you very much! When this article is published, I will make sure my sons read it (lol). When I read ATTACK ON TITAN, I was amazed that Mr. Isayama was able to draw that amount of material at that speed. How many times did you take a break while working on that spectacle story?
Isayama: It was the only one time serialization was suspended due to the coronavirus crisis.
Yukimura: Only one time?! I really respect the writer’s spirit that drew it to the end. Of course, the story is important, but I think the most important skill for a manga artist is to draw continuously without rest. I often take breaks.
Isayama: But you can’t maintain the quality of VINLAND SAGA without rest.
Yukimura: No, no. ATTACK ON TITAN was a serialization of about 40 pages each time, and three volumes were published a year. Again, I know very well how much commitment it takes to draw without stopping until the end, because I know I can’t do it. Among the people who can do that, Mr. Isayama was executing at a high level. I should take a leaf out of your book.
Isayama: But I think it’s easier compared to the weekly serialization. Weekly posts are 70 to 80 pages per month.
Yukimura: I did 16 pages last month. (bitter smile)
Isayama: It can’t be helped. Your work requires a lot of commitment.
――Keyframes of VINLAND SAGA are all delicate and beautiful.
Yukimura: Thanks to the hard work of our staff who kept each frame beautiful. Because it’s all about the people who do their best without cutting corners. There is also the benefit of the digital environment.
――Are you drawing in a digital environment?
Yukimura: Yes. After the pandemic, I’ve changed to full digital. To be more specific, it’s around episodes 168-169. Until then, I was doing the inking in an analog way, scanning and doing the finishing work. Now, from inking I draw everything on the computer. After all, I couldn’t let the staff come to the office due to the pandemic.
Isayama: I also switched to digital at the final phase of ATTACK ON TITAN due to the covid crisis. But I couldn’t do it completely, so I asked my assistants to take taxis to come and go. In the next opportunity, I would like to switch completely.
VINLAND SAGA is close to the end?
――VINLAND SAGA has been going for 17 years since the first publication. Could Mr. Yukimura kindly let us know your thoughts after referring back to your life as an manga artist up until today.
Yukimura: It’s been about 25 years since I became a manga artist, but my current wish is to help my kids grow up safely, and to complete VINLAND SAGA until the final episode. Fortunately or unfortunately, I give myself a completely digital environment, so I would like to draw manga by taking advantage of this. If you replace the time and effort of pasting screen tones with coloring, I think you can also do full color. I would like to try such work.
――Fans are especially curious about where the story of VINLAND SAGA is leading to. Have you decided on the roadmap until the end?
Yukimura: Actually, there is not much of a roadmap left. It’s not too far from the final episode. The roadmap was set up before the serialization started, but the details are different. There are many characters that did not appear in the initial assumption. However, I have drawn the details flexibly according to the situation. It’s only recently that I’ve come to realize that it’s better to leave a playful side in addition to the solid structure.
Isayama: Every time you create a roadmap, it gets bigger and the number of characters increases. ATTACK ON TITAN also has a lot more characters than originally expected. Thinking about it now, I think it was not enough.
Yukimura: I don’t think it was not enough.
Isayama: I was wondering if it would have been better if Jean and the others had determined friends on Marley’s side, and by destroying that, there could have been another drama in the story.
Yukimura: But the scene where the refugee kids were crushed was shocking. I was horrified that these children were born to be trampled. That clearly shows the sinfulness of what Eren did.
Isayama: Exactly. However, when it comes to expressing how difficult it is to atone for sins, reading up to the last volume of VINLAND SAGA, I think there might be a different ending as well. Over the course of all these volumes, I have drawn Thorfinn in pain. That’s why I learned the importance of accumulating stories to draw emotional scenes. Readers who have followed Thorfinn’s journey can surely sympathize with the weight of his atonement.
Yukimura: Thank you. I was keeping in mind that no matter how long it takes, I will definitely impress everyone. That scene also touched me a lot.
――I’m looking forward to the day that scene is going to be illustrated in anime. From January next year Slave/Farm Arc of SEASON 2 is going to be broadcasted. Could you please let me know the points in which you two are looking forward to?
Isayama: The Slave/Farm Arc describes the process by which Thorfinn finds a stronger version of himself. I want to emphasize that. I also look forward to the exclusive details of the anime. The fact of converting an entire forest into a field without any machinery… I hope to see how that challenge is portrayed.
Yukimura: What I’m looking forward to in SEASON 2 is definitely the characters. A man named Snake appears, and he is a really nice guy. In addition, Einar, Olmar, and Arnheid, who I worked hard to create, will appear. Thorfinn, of course, I would be happy if you could see their inner changes and growth, starting with SEASON 1, which is currently being broadcasted (in Japan).
Born in 1976 in Kanagawa Prefecture. Made his debut with PLANETES in Weekly Morning magazine in 1999. In 2002, this work won the Seiun Award in comic’s category of comics. The television anime that was aired in 2003 was also highly rated. From 2005, started VINLAND SAGA in Monthly Afternoon Magazine (Kodansha). The work was highly recognized, and received 13th Japan Media Arts Festival Grand Prize in the manga category and 35th Kodansha Manga Award in general category.
Born in 1986 in Oita Prefecture. He made his debut in 2008 after submitting works to contests. From 2009, Weekly Shonen Magazine (Kodansha) his first serialized work ATTACK ON TITAN was published. The work has been made into television anime series and live-action films, and they were highly rated. In July 2021, the 34th volume, which was the final volume, was released.