Vinland Saga vol. 4 (HC) – Makoto Yukimura

5 out of 5

Volume 7 and 8 collected together.

I’ll often remark, specific to manga / anime, that not every character needs a tragic backstory, as I’ve noted a trend in what I’ve read and watched in which we eventually cycle through even there-for-a-single-chapter types and give them some full due background. Sure, these can be well thought out and affecting, but it also makes my eyes roll a bit, in part because it’s rather clearly story padding, and also because, well, in real life not everyone does have a tragic backstory, and it actually kinda ruins my immersion to suggest otherwise.

The flipside of this, of course, is when a character deserves elucidation on how they became who they are, and Makoto Yukimura has definitely earned that with the sinister Askeladd. It would be easy just to cast him as crafty and wily and leave it at that – he’s already pretty fascinating – but as we’ve learned bits and pieces of his history, its only deepened his presentation, and volume 4 gives us a well-earned deep dive that really helps to cement the “why” of his personality. This is combined with some brilliant plotting that takes a slight step back from Canute’s turnaround, in order to show that the prince is still in need of guidance, relying on Askeladd’s advice with what might be some naievty in order to figure the best way to overthrow his father, King Sweyn. Yukimura trails this out rather brilliantly, allowing for the King to prove through his own quick-witted actions how he’s been able to retain leadership, and then twists the story knife in wholly unexpected ways. It’s at first odd that a climactic chapter is called ‘Prologue,’ but given how this leads into the next stage of Thorfinn’s journey, it makes all the more sense.

Sincerely perfect storytelling; amazing artwork; thrilling in both its visceral, bloody moments and its talking head exchanges.

The HC includes the same extras as before, but they’re no less appreciated: the next chapter of the backup story; some term definitions, and an ‘Ask Yukimura’ Q&A, along with the maps and afterwords that I assume were part of the original, individual tankobons.