REVIEW: Vinland Saga Season 2 is Everything I Wanted and More

Season aired: Winter 2023

Number of episodes: 24

Watched on: Crunchyroll

Translated by: ?

Genres: History, Drama

Thoughts: The second season of Vinland Saga was undoubtedly one of my most anticipated anime. After an incredible first season, which won the Anime Trending Awards, I was left wondering where the story could possibly go. For one of the few times in anime history, an anime protagonist failed in his quest for revenge, and unlike other failed acts of revenge —  it took place right before his eyes. Not only that, Thorfinn attacked the next king, an act that would lead anyone from the Viking Age straight to the executioner. Where could he possibly go from there, especially when the premise led us to believe that Thorfinn’s entire story was about seeking revenge?

It went somewhere very unexpected and arguably, better.

By the time we meet Thorfinn again, he has become a lifeless husk. He was sold into slavery, obediently does hard labor on the farm, and doesn’t even bother defending himself against the other people around him. Gone are the battlefields, bloodshed, and rage. Instead, we follow the day-to-day life of slaves working on a large farm under the command of a slave master, Ketil, who is nicer than the other slave owners we’ve seen in-story.

Lifeless Thorfinn

Though many people anticipated that the purpose of this arc was for Thorfinn to regain his bloodlust and to head back onto the battlefields to pillage and kill once more, as the second season continued, Vinland Saga quickly became something more. It’s a sobering view on the dehumanizing aspect of slavery without the grotesque abuse that many have grown used to seeing in any story regarding slaves. Normal people trying to live peaceful lives are forcefully kidnapped from their homes and forced to watch loved ones murdered in front of their eyes. Even under the guidance of a relatively “nice” owner, the anime never ceases to remind you that the very idea of anyone owning people is wrong because of the power they are able to abuse.

This is portrayed through two new and important characters, who both end up instrumental in Thorfinn’s character development. On one hand is Einar, a new slave who was kidnapped from a small, unassuming village and paired to work with Thorfinn due to their similar ages. In stark contrast to the hopeless Thorfinn, Einar’s eyes are constantly on the horizon of freedom. Einar is not okay with his life as a slave and his determination to not only find a way to freedom but to bring Thorfinn and, if possible, everyone else along with him reminds Thorfinn of the good people in the brutal world — and forces him to confront his past of killing innocents like Einar did.

Arnheid who has given up

While Einar represents dogged hope and persistent kindness, Arnheid is a sobering reminder of the misery of living just to survive. Similar to Thorfinn, Arnheid has given up any hope for her future, rationalizing herself to be content as a sex and labor slave, and spends her days counting each morning she wakes up. Like Einar, she reminds Thorfinn of his terrible acts from the first season, and he is able to see the consequences of his actions as a warrior firsthand through the desperate fight Einar holds onto and Arnheid’s hopeless existence.

The guilt only grows stronger as his bonds with both become tighter, leading to the actual theme of Vinland Saga: to be strong is to accept the consequences of your actions and to become better as a person. He spends the beginning episodes of the second season self-punishing and self-loathing, but he is forced to come to terms that it only made himself the victim and allowed him to turn his eyes away from the actual victims around him. Unlike Thorfinn, Einar and Arnheid truly did nothing wrong to land them in these horrible circumstances, and the disgust in knowing he could’ve once killed both of them without batting an eye propels him to be the man his murdered father always believed him to be.

The second season builds on these character arcs through every episode, and despite how Einar and Arnheid both lend themselves to Thorfinn’s character development, they also separately go through their own arcs. Their entwined lives as slaves bring a calm tempo to the story that always feels like it’s building towards a finish line without ever getting distracted. Even when Einar and Thorfinn spend an entire episode talking and farming, it feels as if no time has passed at all once it ends.

The foil to our protagonist Canute

The story also employs one of my favorite story techniques: character foils. As Thorfinn finds platonic love in Einar, discovers joy in peace, and gains knowledge listening to Snake, a hired mercenary, read the Bible, Canute is going through an opposite journey. Initially the meek prince contrasted with wild warrior Thorfinn, Canute has now become confident, brutal, and lonely. His ambitions to create a utopia force him to abandon many of his prior morals, and the peace-loving royal can now draw a sword and swing with little hesitation. In a similar fashion to 86 Eighty-six, the series splits concurrent scenes through Canute and Thorfinn’s perspectives, which is made all the more effective by the visual storytelling and direction.

A sunset through Canute’s eyes on the horizon glows bright red, violent like the blood staining the battlefield, when Canute sets his eyes on the future. On the same day, the sunset through Thorfinn’s eyes is peppered with shades of brown, creating a feeling of peace from a hard-worked day instead. These visual moments remain consistent throughout the series, and the colors help so much in expressing the atmosphere and emotions of the characters.

Where these impactful scenic moments shine, unfortunately, the animation did take a slight hit in comparison to the first season. While not particularly obvious, especially amongst a sea of dying anime productions like Why Raeliana Goes to the Duke’s Mansion, the fight scenes are less creative in movement and direction in comparison to the first season of Vinland Saga.

However, the soundtrack quickly makes up for this perfectly. Just listening to the tunes without watching the scenes make me tear up. I don’t know what changed between this season and the last, but the music is much more effective in lending to the story, made even more powerful by the blend of actual Viking chants and religious choruses.

Incredible voice acting

Not only did the soundtrack improve, but the voice acting did too. Yuto Uemura really came into his own as Thorfinn this season, portraying a wide range of emotions often laced with subtle intonations that I’ve yet to see in his rising career as a voice actor. However, a special shoutout must be given to Arnheid’s voice actress, Mayumi Sako. Her most impressive performance is making Arnheid’s crying so realistic — I truly believed that the voice actress herself was in tears. Nailing the depth of Arnheid’s emotions with her most tragic story, Mayumi Sako performs above expectations. The actress does not have many anime credits to her name, but it would be a shame not to utilize her more after that stunning show of force.

As a result, Vinland Saga season 2 became everything I wanted and more. It’s a labor of love from everyone on the production team to the staff to the mangaka, and ultimately, it’s a story about love. It was rediscovering love that Thorfinn began to move forward. It was losing love that broke Arnheid’s spirit. It was holding onto love that saved Einar from despair. It was out of love that Canute even began his battles. Love commands so much of the world, and I think this is why, despite how long ago the Viking Era feels, Vinland Saga’s story is timeless.

Rating

Plot: 9 (Multiplier 3)

Characters: 9 (Multiplier 3)

Art/Animation: 7 (Multiplier 2)

Voice acting: 8.5

Soundtrack: 10

FINAL SCORE: 86.5

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