Pacifism gets a bad rap in anime and manga. Why, because it’s treated awfully, in terms of characters (Lynn Kaifun, Kira Yamato, Kio Asuno), and storylines (Gundam SEED/SEED Destiny, Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer, Gundam AGE’s 4th arc). This attitude is justified because of how writers push it as their agenda in war stories, presenting war as a problem solved by a power fantasy wherein a character becomes a deus ex machina by forcing peace between both sides (usually by superior, non-lethal firepower).
Vinland Saga is an exemplary work with a well-written portrayal of pacifism. It is not a quick solution; in fact, it is even harder than its alternatives. It is always taking that “first choice”, and never having to resort to that “last choice”–even as the other party employs the opposite policy. It does not employ a deus ex machina, but makes a hard gamble on the reader’s engagement by laying almost a hundred chapters of groundwork before a satisfying payoff.
[Spoilers after the jump]
I’m talking about Chapter 96 (No Enemies). Thorfinn puts his money where his mouth is, planting his feet on the ground even as he is beaten to death. He survives through a combination of mental fortitude and physical training that is ironically earned through his time as a warrior.
There are two reasons why this chapter is a powerful, emotional work:
- Thorfinn’s past is fully explored, as a child warrior in the epic prologue (more than 50 chapters long!). All his lessons are hard-earned.
- Thorfinn remains true to his convictions. In a previous chapter, he professes that he will never hurt anyone ever again. He makes good on his promise. Failure means death.
Today’s the first time I met any of you. I know nothing about you nor do I bear any grudges. So what sense does it make for us to bloody ourselves in a meaningless fight?
The only ones in disagreement are Ketil and King Canute. Why can’t the two of them resolve their dispute on their own through a game of hnefatafl or what have you?
There’s not a single reason why so many of us have to spill blood. I meet you for the first time today. You are not my enemies.
I have no enemies at all.
Vinland Saga is an interesting case in which it hooks the reader into the story using an action-packed, violent prologue, and depends on that goodwill until it can make its point. The real point of the manga is directly stated as early as Volume 2 wherein Thorfinn’s father, Thors, states that “A true warrior needs no blade”. Vinland Saga is not an action manga; it never was. It’s about Thorfinn and his transformation from swords to plowshares, where there is no going back.
Is this the kind of manga we wanted? That’s arguable. I wouldn’t blame those who gave up after the prologue, if the manga they wanted was a Viking Berserk. But it’s a trap! I can’t count on how many times I finished a chapter post-prologue (the period of which we affectionately dub “Farmland Saga”) and thought “man, Thorfinn needs to fight someone soon”.
Vinland Saga cashes in on its compelling prologue and manages to come up with something better and profoundly moving. After years of following this manga, after reading chapter after chapter of “Farmland Saga”, I can say that it’s all worth it.