'Vinland Saga' Season 2 is a Triumphant Condemnation of Violence

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Perhaps never has a TV show performed such a miraculous 180 as the masterwork that is season 2 of Vinland Saga. In an arc early on criticized for being "boring," writer Horishi Seko manages to concoct one of the most well-structured condemnations of violence depicted across any medium, and part of this display is owed in large part to how well he (and director Shūhei Yabuta) celebrated it in the previous arc. With the finale now behind us, I set out to provide a Vinland Saga season 2 review that covers the themes of the show and how it is changing the way we as viewers perceive masculinity, violence and systemic injustice.

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Will there be a season 3 of Vinland Saga?

Unfortunately, as of right now there is no firm confirmation. That said, season 2 wasn't formally announced until 2022 (three years after season 1 aired in 2019), so sticking to that same timeline we may not hear an announcement until 2024 or 2025.

SPOILER ALERT: This Vinland Saga season 2 review contains major spoilers for the whole series.

A 'Vinland Saga' Season 2 Review

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After the chilling events of Season 1's conclusion (the deaths of King Sveyn, Askeladd and Thorfinn's conveyance into slavery), the first season opens with an episode void of Thorfinn. Eventually, after following the trajectory of Einar—an entirely new character—through a viking raid and into slavery, we find Thorfinn also enslaved on a farm in Denmark.

This setting, which is profoundly different from the blood stained battlefields of the first, gives rise to an entirely new exploration of the violence and class system that pervaded the Viking era—with many of the themes ringing true today. And thus, what begins with a tragic origin for a newly introduced character eventually subsides into an almost saccharine exploration of the delight of hard work—especially work that is distinct from any form of violence.

Vinland Saga season 2 delights in its incredible pacing and variety. Seko takes his time with Thorfinn in this season. His callous shell takes almost ten episodes to begin to fall away; the viewing experience requires—like Einar's—an immense amount of patience. Nonetheless, as the season progresses, the plagues present in the first season of course begin to rear their heads again.

Thorfinn and Einar are constantly berated and mistreated by the farmhands, another nod to the arbitrary class system of this era in Denmark. The farmhands themselves were formerly slaves, yet once they have an ounce of power, they begin to wield it violently. It begins to set up the key rendezvous between Thorfinn and Canute at the season's conclusion.

As the season progresses, we witness Thorfinn tormented by the ghosts of the countless lives he has taken. His takeaway is not only to reject violence going forward, but rather to atone for these sins by trying to provide a life free of war and slavery. And in this plan, we finally start to witness foundation of a plan to set out for Vinland—what is now a part of western Canada. In his plight, he comes up against former ally Canute, who now seems to embody the exact ethos Thorfinn looks to dissolve. But when they finally meet near the season's conclusion, it becomes clear their goals are not as dissimilar as Thorfinn believes.

Canute is accruing as much power as he can in an effort to eventually use it for "good," creating a world of comfort for Vikings. But his plan ultimately only provides for those who possess a bit of power themselves. Thorfinn, conversely, aches to create an eden with no barrier of entry.

In one of the season's most gratifying moments, it is revealed that their discussion leads Canute to alter his plans, seeing a version of his path forward that does not require the forceful reacquisition of land from vulnerable farmers.

How season 1 informs season 2

Not only does the anime's second season see Thorfinn harshly rejecting the gruesome reality he grew up in, but the series also serves as almost an accusation to the viewer and our complacence in enacting such violence. By concocting one of the most critically acclaimed seasons of action anime in recent memory, the first season was part of a bait and switch forcing us as viewers to reconsider what drew us to the show to begin with.

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Universal-International Pictures

I was reminded of a scene from Alfred Hitchock's The Birds, in which one of the townspeople shrieks at Tippi Hedrin: "I think you're the cause of all this. I think you're evil. Evil!" The sequence is shot so that she delivers it direct-to-camera, ultimately delivering it directly to us, the viewers. We are the cause of the mayhem running rampant in Bodega Bay. It's Hitchcock begging the viewer to think of our own role in the production of violence.

Similarly, the first roughly fifteen episodes of Vinland Saga's second season—with regard to the high-throttle first season—do the same thing. The viewers who opined that they found the series too slow were falling into a well-laid trap from Seko. Why do we crave such violence in the shows we watch? And the answer was quite simply set up by Seko himself. We crave it because we have been—like Pavlovian dogs—trained to expect it.

If the second season of Vinland Saga is a masterful condemnation of violence, the first season is an equally masterful celebration of it. The myriad directors of the first season do an exceptional job of providing a gory feast for the eyes while we witness Thorfinn falling deeper into the never-ending pipeline and cycle of violence he is steeped in.

Why Vinland Saga's second season matters: "I have no enemies"

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It's no secret that the glorification of violence we see in a lot of pop culture (see: The 28 Best Anime Fight Scenes of All Time) has a symbiotic relationship with some elements of toxic masculinity pervasive online, especially for young men. Many legendary anime herald deeply twisted characters, like Death Note's Light or Attack on Titan's Eren. And while a nuanced reading of these anime yields the message that these are not characters to be idolized, a superficial viewing of them can lead watchers to—consciously or subconsciously—identify with these at times fully evil characters.

Conversely, Vinland Saga's second season provides an entirely different model of masculinity, anchored by the line first dictated to Thorfinn's father in season one: "You have no enemies." In a world entirely built around the notion that every one is your enemy, Thorfinn's rejection is a major departure from every character we've seen in the show—and a lot of action anime in general.

This dictum has sparked a whole new ethos across social media for young men watching the show, with a reverberating feeling that the series makes viewers want to "be better." If Thorfinn, steeped in one of the most violent eras of human history, can reject this entire apparatus, the modern viewer too can begin to unload some of the unnecessary isolation and individualism pervasive to our era.

Vinland Saga season 2 is one of the greatest achievements in the modern era of anime. From its striking visuals to its masterfully delivered themes, the season and its unorthodox pacing result in an unbelievably pay-off for a patient viewer. More than just the beauty within the diegesis of the show itself, the turn of Vinland Saga is breeding a wholly new way to think about masculinity and asking its viewers to—like Thorfinn—embark on a journey of self improvement.

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