INTERVIEW: VINLAND SAGA Creator, Staff on Returning to the Viking Epic for Season 2

Read a special translation of the interview between the Vinland Saga manga author and anime staff!

Thorfinn from Vinland Saga

 

In coordination with Twin Engine, Crunchyroll is proud to present an English translation of a special interview between the staff of VINLAND SAGA, including the original manga author Yukimura Makoto, anime director Shuhei Yabuta and series composition writer Hiroshi Seko. The original two-part interview in Japanese can be found here

 

The following is the translated interview. 

 


 

The second season of TV anime VINLAND SAGA will start airing January 2023! To celebrate the TV rebroadcast and worldwide streaming of Season One, not only available on Amazon Prime Video, but also NETFLIX, and more. We've gathered original author Yukimura Makoto, director Shuhei Yabuta, and series composition Hiroshi Seko to discuss the story of the show.

 

The following interview is full of exclusive content such as behind-the-scenes stories and highlights from Season One, as well as insights into the making of Season Two!

 

*SPOILER ALERT: Please note that this interview contains some spoilers about Season One.
                 
 

Vinland Saga

(From the left): Director Shuhei Yabuta, Manga Author Yukimura Makoto, Series Composition Writer Hiroshi Seko

 

 

Vinland Saga's Themes
 

 

Both the original manga and anime adaptation of VINLAND SAGA have obtained considerable popularity worldwide. As the creators, what has been the reason for this success?

 

Hiroshi Seko, head writer: I believe the strength of the source material played a big role in getting so many people to watch the anime. There are plenty of movies and novels featuring Vikings, but it’s rare for the protagonist to be one young boy. I think that’s one of the distinctions that helpsVINLAND SAGA stand out from the pack.

 

Shuhei Yabuta, director: That’s true. Also, VINLAND SAGA is concerned with themes other than a simple portrayal of Viking violence, and I think this alternative focus is an important part of giving the story its distinct voice.

 

Yukimura Makoto, author of the original manga series: Initially, I hadn't set out to make a story with a Viking protagonist. I thought about the theme I wanted to write about and how best to portray it and ultimately ended up settling on Vikings.

 

Yabuta: I remember you mentioning this before — that when you thought about your theme of “how to come to terms with violence,” you picked Vikings because they came from a society and time in history that felt the most positive about that concept.

 

Yukimura: Right. The Vikings of this age had a society where it was common sense not to view those who enacted violence as even the slightest bit evil. I personally hate violence, so a key element in writing this story was relaxing my modern sense of morality. [Laughs.]

 

 

Vinland Saga

 
 
Storytelling in the Original and Adaptation
 

 

Could you tell us about what you had to look out for when adapting this story into an anime?

 

Seko: We had to pay special attention when making the anime-original scenes. Say someone collapsed on the ground. In modern society, someone would apply first aid or call for help, but a Viking probably wouldn't. We kept that in mind all the time.

 

Yabuta: True. We had to bear in mind what kind of people the Vikings were. They formed military groups, certainly, but not well-disciplined, obedient ones. Instead, they were more like a gathering of individuals. And it was a strong sense of camaraderie toward an individual that brought them together. That's what Askeladd's band is like in Season One. We portrayed Askeladd as being able to take charge because others viewed him as powerful. We were also careful not to depict the supporting characters as overly dependent on their leader, as that would diminish their individual charm. We took a similar approach with the relationship between Snake and the Guests in Season Two, making their group seem less hierarchical.

 

Yukimura, what kind of things did you keep in mind when creating VINLAND SAGA?

 

Yukimura: In a normal army, in the modern sense of the word, a superior officer's orders are absolute. If there's an order to charge, the soldiers charge — even if they know some of them are going to die. The Viking bands in VINLAND SAGA have a much more haphazard chain of command. Leadership structure essentially boils down to following whoever’s strongest. Askeladd's men follow him because they look up to his strength, but if that respect fades, or they feel following him is dangerous, they'll go their own way. I write their stories recognizing that their relationships don’t amount to any more than that.

 

Yabuta: They're not motivated by authority or loyalty. When Torgrim left the band, I made sure not to portray it as a betrayal. I wanted to show it simply as a rational, realistic choice and avoid painting him in a negative light.

 

Yukimura: There are plenty of betrayals in history, too. Heck, Thorkell switches sides all the time.

 

 

Vinland Saga

 

 

Anime-Original Scenes

 
 
Yukimura, could you tell us what left an impression when watching the anime-original scenes?

 

Yukimura: First, I was really happy to see a VINLAND SAGA that I didn't know play out on screen. I particularly felt a sense of gratitude regarding the fifth and sixth episodes. Thorfinn is separated from his father Thors at a young age and ends up working for Askeladd, but in the manga I skipped over what happened until Thorfinn was sixteen. The anime did a great job of showing the process of him growing up and filling in that gap, so I really appreciated it.

 

Seko: When I was developing the series outline, I told Yabuta I wanted to show it in chronological order to illustrate Thorfinn's growth.

 

Yabuta: And that really made sense to me, so I agreed. That's why we ended up putting bits of Thorfinn growing up in Episodes Five and Six. I was interested in seeing how a six-year-old would survive after being suddenly taken in by a Viking band, and I also wanted to see how Thorfinn grew from a gentle boy into the young man he becomes.

 

What did you have to be careful of when making Episodes Five and Six?

 

Yabuta: The end of Episode Six is a scene in East Anglia taken from the manga, so we had to have scenes for Thorfinn leading up to that point establishing how his character developed. In Episode Five, we showed how he gained the ability to survive and how he made his contract with Askeladd. In Episode Six, we reveal the process of how Thorfinn gained the ability to fight as well as his internal feelings in East Anglia. I thought the scene showed him truly stepping into the world of battle as part of Askeladd's band, showing his transformation into a warrior.

 

Of course, Askeladd and the other characters were also active during those years, so I did my best to keep them in character. I'm a reader of VINLAND SAGA myself, so I was hoping the viewers would feel a sense of Yukimura Makoto’s style in those original scenes.

 

Yukimura: It's a strange way to put it, but it was as if I'd written those scenes.

 

[All laugh.]

 

Yukimura: I really felt like "I wrote this and just forgot about it, right?" and "If I were writing this, this is exactly how I'd do it." A little obnoxious when talking about someone else's creation, really. [Laughs.]

 

Seko: Not at all! It's a fantastic compliment.

 

Yukimura: It's full of these ideas I hadn't even thought of, so I'm really grateful and impressed by what I saw.

 


Vinland Saga 

 

Vinland Saga

 

 

A Story in Chronological Order
 

 

Going back to the chronological order of the story, Episode Seven features the battle of the fortress in the Frankish Kingdom, which is the very first story written in the manga.

 

Yukimura: I'd discussed it beforehand with my editor, and we had decided to start there because it had everything—it was a bombastic sequence that didn't greatly affect what came next, and it really showed the readers what Vikings are all about. It shows the readers the Viking way as well as Thorfinn and Askeladd's strange relationship, right from the get-go.

 

I wrote about Thorfinn's childhood after that, but since I'd started out by showing him at sixteen, it meant that no matter how much danger he fell into, the readers knew he would survive. That's an issue with telling a story out of chronological order. [Grimaces.]

 

Yabuta: Oh, I wouldn't say that. We have the series outlined this way because we wanted to make the anime in chronological order, but the way you started the manga serialization really had the power to capture the reader’s attention. It's the time when Askeladd's band was at their peak, and it's an incredibly fun story to read.

 

Seko: Definitely. The manga has a far stronger hook. I read it in Shonen Magazine when it was first published and thought it was the start to one hell of a manga. If there were a contest for the best manga starting chapter in the world, it would definitely be one of the Top 3. But since the manga was already being published when we started the anime, I decided I wanted to follow Thorfinn's story chronologically after considering the course of events written after that opening. That all comes together in Episode Four.


 

Yabuta:  When considering the structure of a long series, working with a story that's already been largely mapped out is a big advantage. It gives us the luxury to outline the story in a balanced manner and pick what to prioritize based on later developments.

 

Yabuta, what did you keep in mind when drawing up the storyboard for the surprising cold open in Episode One?



 

Yabuta: I realized that laying out the storyline chronologically would mean it would have a much weaker hook than the manga series, so we made that scene to ensure the viewers' interest. I also thought that showing Thorfinn's growth had to start with Thors, so we tried beginning with a scene featuring Thors to make it clear that Thorfinn's tale began there. Oh, and I just really wanted to see Thors and Thorkell fighting side by side. [Laughs.]



 

That opening battle scene was a wonderful sequence that really gets the viewers excited for what's to come.



 

Yabuta: The manga has a surprising dearth of naval battles, so we decided that if we were going to show the fans something completely different, we might as well fill that niche.  I made the 3D CG with the action and camerawork as a set, then had the animators animate it. I put a slight spin on the methods I'd used previously as a 3D director and tried applying them to the action scenes.


 

Seko: I wanted to see the Battle of Hjörungavágr, too.  In this work, it was a battle where Thors was supposed to be dead, and in the historical fact, hail fell, so I thought that it would be quite dramatic. As far back as the outlining phase, I’d been thinking that if we were going to arrange things in sequential order, we should start with that scene.

 

Yabuta: We spoke a lot about how the scene would develop. My vision of the scene got bloated as I was drawing the storyboard, so I completed it after consulting Seko again. This is only my second project as a director, and that scene really showed me just how hard it can be to convert the manuscript into the storyboard.



 

 

Vinland Saga

 

Vinland Saga
 


Season One Highlights

 

 

What do you think are the highlights of the first half of Season One?

 

Yukimura: I was quite surprised by the opening scene these two were just talking about, and I really liked Episodes Five and Six's original content, as well as the attack on the fort in the Frankish Kingdom in Episode Seven. When it comes to anime, people will usually say “give it at least three episodes,” but as the author, I want to say “give it at least every episode!” [Laughs.]

 

Seko: In the first half, I really like Episodes Three and Four. As a scriptwriter, not limited to this work, I always have a desire to "touch viewers heart," so I think that is the number of stories that are condensed. We really wanted those two to be emotionally hard-hitting. No matter how many times I see the unstoppable Thors and his death, I always cry. In fact, we made the series a chronological story just to show that scene, that was to portray the death of Thors on time.  

 

I also like Episodes Nine and Ten a lot. In Episode Nine, it was Thorfinn’s first combat between Thorkell. And Episode Ten was an interval that didn't have huge plot developments, but it definitely affected the fate of Askeladd’s band. It's quiet and exciting at the bottom of my heart. You also feel that something big is about to go down.

 

Yabuta: I love Episode Ten. The last scene is something I really loved in the manga, so I tried to direct it in a way that would create the same emotions I felt reading it. It was a really hard but really fun episode to make.


 Vinland Saga

 

Vinland Saga

 

 


 

 

Interview Part 2 Begins Here

 

The second season of TV anime VINLAND SAGA will start airing in January 2023! To celebrate the TV rebroadcast and worldwide streaming of Season One, not only available on Amazon Prime Video, but also NETFLIX, and more. We've gathered original author Yukimura Makoto, director Shuhei Yabuta, and series composition Hiroshi Seko to discuss the story of the show.

 

The following interview is full of exclusive content such as behind-the-scenes stories and highlights from Season One, as well as insights into the making of Season Two!

 

*SPOILER ALERT: Please note that this interview contains some spoilers about Season One.

 

 

Einar, Season Two’s New Character

 

 
Let's talk about Season Two next.

 

Yukimura: They put a lot of additional detail into the characters and backgrounds of the farm arc. It shows very neatly how each character ended up there, and as the writer of the original manga—and I’m repeating myself here—I really felt a sense of gratitude. [Laughs.]

 

Yabuta: The lynchpin of the start of Season Two is definitely Einar. He left a strong impression on me when I read the manga, so when we were outlining the series, Seko and I started with discussing where his strength came from. I didn't think we could start mapping out the series until we understood the source of his strength.

 

Seko: We spent a lot more time working things out prior to outlining than we did in Season One. We made a little change to the process of how Thorfinn and Einar become friends, so we had to talk a lot about how we would approach that.

 

Yabuta: The atmosphere and pacing of the farm arc is different from Season One's — a different feel from most anime, really— so we ended up discussing a lot how we could make it entertaining for viewers who hadn't read the manga.

 

One thing we talked about was what kind of condition Thorfinn was in as he returned from Season One. We couldn't use him effectively as a character without working out just how much savagery remained in him. Thorfinn and Einar's relationship was also an essential part of the story in terms of its watchability and entertainment factor, so I'm glad we spent so much time on it. When we completed the series outline, it felt like we'd made some serious progress.

 

Yukimura: When I read the script, I could really feel how much Yabuta and Seko agonized over it, how much they cared about Einar and were trying to process him as a character before setting him out into the world.

 

Yabuta: We tried hard to portray him with the same strength and kindness we felt from him in the manga. The challenge was how to combine those two to make his character. Einar’s way of relating to Thorfinn in the beginning is superficially different from the source material, but his fundamentals haven't changed. Think of it as new scenes being born in the process of trying to make an Einar close to his manga version.



 

Seko: Right, and ultimately, we land on the relationship that Einar and Thorfinn have in the manga. We did everything we could to make sure they ended up there.



 

Yabuta: In a world where violence is easily justified, Einar is incredibly strong, cheerful, and kind, despite being a slave. I really think he's a superhuman and I just couldn't help but think about what made him that way. He's just that cool of a character. I had the chance to speak with Yukimura after production started on Season One, and he gave me the impression of a person who can just naturally write a character like Einar.

 

Yukimura: Okay, that topic really caught my ear. [Laughs.]. I certainly don't think of Einar as superhuman myself. But when you put it like that, he really isn't in a situation where you could keep cheerful. Hmm. Einar’s superhuman. You may be right about that.

 

Yabuta: He's living in even worse circumstances than Thorfinn. Thorfinn may not be directly involved in the death of Einar’s father, but he’s still a symbol of violence. Yet the way Einar interacts with Thorfinn, and the way he strives to live so resolutely, so optimistically? He’s definitely a superhuman. I think that portrayal shows Yukimura's strength as a writer. And since I don't have that kind of special talent, I needed to have a lot of long talks with Seko to realize the character of Einar.

 

 

vinland saga

 

 

The Message of VINLAND SAGA

 

 

In an increasingly violent world, what kind of meaning do you see in portraying those kinds of characters in an anime?

 

Yabuta: People might think it’s a pipe dream or just idealism, but I think it's scarier to imagine a world where people don't tell that kind of story. There may be people who do evil in the world, but there's no way that good people are going to disappear, either. I think it's necessary to have people who speak to that ideal. We couldn't make the anime of VINLAND SAGA without feeling that. And I think that's the meaning behind making this show during this kind of time.

 

Yukimura: I think people need to have goals in order to live. You'll end up bogged down in decision-making without one and just end up lost. I’m talking about having an ideal. And if you have to have one, I think that you might as well make it big, hang it somewhere far, far away. That way you'll never get bored of pursuing it.



 

Seko: Earlier, Yukimura shared that he hates violence. I do, too. I think the stuff is terrifying. Just the other day, I watched Russell Crowe in Unhinged (2020), where his character loses everything and starts to kill people while saying "I have nothing left but violence." If the last thing left for a person who has lost everything, or who has nothing to lose, is violence, it is impossible to bind it by law. And it can be said that the history of human beings is the history of violence. Humans and violence are inseparable from each other. With that in mind, I feel that each of us needs to think about how to deal with violence. Especially in this modern age where violence of various scales is abundant. And I think that VINLAND SAGA is trying to give an answer by challenging the "violence" head-on. 

 

By Season Two we'll only have part of the answer, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing where the story ends up and what Yukimura's "ideal placed in a furthest place" will be. There aren't that many works of art that truly confront violence head-on like this one, and I'm eager to see how audiences will react to it.

 

Yabuta: With how things are in the world, there'll definitely be more times when we'll want to talk about VINLAND SAGA.

 

Yukimura: As Seko repeated for me, I really don't like violence, which is why I've thought long and hard about how to deal with it and attempted to express that through this story. I'm sure some might look at me, a manga artist living way out on the edge of Asia, and tell me to cut out my naive nonsense, but I feel it’s something I have to say.

 

A few days ago, I received a message on social media from a reader in Ukraine. “I'm in the middle of an evacuation. What would a true warrior do at a time like this?”

 

They were in the midst of a far more terrible situation than anything I've ever experienced, so I didn't know if I had the right to answer, but I gave one. I said, “Even in the midst of a war, I think a true warrior would try their hardest to think up a way to make up.”

 

I think that wheat fields stand as a contrast to violence itself. The farm arc being broadcast and steamed with the world in this state might get people thinking about things.

 

Yabuta: We've portrayed tilling land and growing wheat as humanity being productive. All we can say now is how this will change as VINLAND SAGA goes on? I think it can be seen as a starting line for all of us moving forward, so I do hope plenty of people the world over watch it. 

 

Vinland Saga

 

Vinland Saga

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