4 out of 5
Volumes 5 and 6 collected in a single hardcover.
When an ongoing story is as mind-bogglingly consistently amazing as Vinland Saga, finding things to criticize can start to feel somewhat nit-picky. On the one hand, these chapters accomplish character turns – twice – that hit with astounding impact, representing, rather distinctly, both the emotional and action-epic sides of the narrative. That these characters are then brought directly head to head in the collection’s conclusion speaks to the intelligence – whether pre-planned or instinctual – of Yukimura’s plotting. And more impressively, these turns are effective regardless of how you’re consuming the book. That is: with weekly / monthly releases, sometimes the forced time gaps of such a cadence can create more drama than is actually inherent in the text, because you’re building up anticipation during the wait. But if you read the material at your own pace, collected, sometimes you’ll find that drama really isn’t there, and the story doesn’t hold together as well… So a real “test,” in my mind, of the enduring nature of a story, is if it’s impactful independent of how it’s experienced. True, I can only attest to reading this stuff in one big swoop, but I feel like that’s the hightest bar to clear, and Vinland Saga cleared it without even visibly trying, as these character arcs were not the forefront of our tale thus far – Thorfinn’s progress; his animosity with Askeladd; and Askeladd’s plotting – but still landed steady and true as the narrative produced them.
…On the other hand… I’d nit-pick that Yukimura stretches the Thorskell drama a bit too long. Askeladd has been running away for, like, four tankobons worth of chapters now, and I’m not sure if Thorskell had been built up enough this early in the story to justify that extended chase. That said, I’m partially baiting myself here, because this drawn out pacing is what helps to make some of the aforementioned plot points effective, but that’s only on hindsight. In the moment, after several chapters of Thorskell smirking and Askeladd making a dissatisfied face, it can feel like the two have become somewhat one-note.
Meanwhile, tempering this potential slowdown, Yukimura’s art is nothing short of stunning, returning to the same intense choreography of the opening battle, proving that that’s not a one-off bit of showmanship. This is seamlessly blended with comedy beats, alongside the more introspective dialogue moments.