I’ve been reading and reviewing Vinland Saga for just over four years, and have loved the epic Makoto Yukimura is telling. It started as a brutal look at the violent and ruthless nature of war among Vikings and has turned into an epic journey to find a land where war is no longer a reality. The nature of the manga has changed over time, especially for the leading character Thorfinn as he went from ultra-warrior looking for revenge to a man who refuses to take another life, but there are still specialized warriors floating about and fight scenes to enjoy. This story has taken many surprising turns, and in this 11th volume a much more focused look at death, the afterlife, and a single battle changing everything takes place. Without a doubt, this may be the most focused and efficient volume yet. Check out my reviews of Volume 10, Volume 9 and Volume 8 to catch up and see what I mean.
This volume opens with a captured soldier demanding he is given a sword so that he can make it to Valhalla. If you die in battle you go to heaven, but not if they lop off his head. It’s an interesting moment as he begins to question where the mind is held and whether or not heaven even matters. This self-reflection is interesting, especially in this series since only Thorfinn seems to stop and think about what is actually happening around him. Midway through this volume another soldier lays dying in battle and he also ponders Valhalla. In an incredibly sorrowful turn, he begins to realize Valhalla is a lie. Everything goes dark and he screams in his own head how scared he is; alas, it’s too late for him to realize the fight was for nothing. The concept of war being a failure has largely been purported by Thorfinn to others–many of whom laugh in his face–but here Yukimura utilizes unconnected soldiers internalization to convey how pointless war is to the person fighting and dying in it. It’s powerful stuff.
This isn’t only a deeply meaningful chapter in the volume, though. There is plenty of fighting with one on one fights between Thorfinn and Garm, Thorkell taking an entire tree into a battle like it’s a club and lots of all-out war scenes. Fight scenes pepper the book throughout, keeping the story exciting and never allowing it to dip into long stretches of character work or plot development. It might be the most balanced volume in the entire collection because of this. It’s also exciting to see how nearly the entire book revolves around a single battle. It opens with characters sneaking in, another group following, and other players entering the fort only to complicate things further. There are multiple parties involved, including the Baldr and his grandfather Floki, adding additional wrinkles to the already complicated, but never confusing interweaving of character subplots. Seeing Baldr go along with Thorfinn simply because he wants an end to all the fighting is inspiring, especially if it means losing everything.
There were two or so volumes of this book that felt like they got away from the greatness of the first few volumes, largely because the series was attempting to shift gears away from war and violence and move to a focus on finding peace. In a world where violence and killing is the only way to find a solution it was inspiring, but also a bit boring. Volume 11 changes all that, proves you can have a mix of the two and find even deeper meaning in the series’ argument. This is without a doubt a perfect blend of action, character, and deeply meaningful story. Don’t pass on this one, as the series only seems to be getting better.
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