Vinland Saga vol. 5 (HC) – Makoto Yukimura

4 out of 5

Collects volumes 9 and 10 in one hardcover.

Just what I wanted in my viking epic – a farming arc!

But for real, this is ridiculously engaging, even though we’re essentially just watching the unemotional Thorfinn and the over-eager Einar sweat over their corner of land to which they’ve been tasked, as slaves, to plant and cultivate. Yukimura does break to catch us up with Canute’s ever more plotted machinations to become king, and there are occasional slashes of violence, but this is otherwise – at a surface level – very sedate stuff. And yet it’s also page-turning, certainly in part because we’re already invested in Thorfinn, and wanting to see him break out of this PTSD-esque shell, but also just because of how excellently our mangaka weaves through comedy and politics and day-to-day tidbits of slave / farm life, hinting at confrontations – between the hard-toiling slaves and the other classes of workers / “free men” on the farm – and even sprinkling in some charming flirtations between a female slave (Arnheid) and Einar, with neither of these elements being padding, but rather adding to the dense emotional / contemplative undercurrents of the series.

The push and pull of the friendship that starts to develop between our two leads, as well as Thorfinn’s progress, is mostly masterful – the only exception being an extended dream sequence that Makoto uses to finally bump Thorfinn out of his shock. I appreciate that media allows us to indulge in these narrative devices, but when they’re too specific, they always feel a bit lazy to me, even if they’re imaginative in their application. Vagabond is an excellent example of using frequent dream sequences in a more “realistic” fashion – very loose, rather open to interpretation. I realize that my dreams aren’t necessarily representative of everyone’s, and I’ve sat through my share of overly descriptive dreams from others, but I still maintain that their use in this form comes across as too purposeful; too heavy-handed. And Yukimura has shown he has the ability to enact such character shifts without these devices – such as with Canute – so I feel like there would have been a more organic way to effect it here as well. I suppose it could’ve been included so there’d be some more direct action, but it comes in the last 30 pages of 400, so it’s a bit late to go there – if you’re not caught up in the story by that point, then… maybe you should be reading a different story.

(Except totally don’t do that.)

Features another fun ‘Ask Yukimura’ bit at the end, and the conclusion to the extra story, as well as translation notes and the maps / afterwords from the original tankobons.