Vinland Saga 23 – Miscalculation

It’s pretty clear by now that Wit have done a great job with their budget allocation, since these last few episodes have looked consistently great, and I’m sure the last one will be no different. And that’s just perfect, because these episodes are definitely the most important and compelling ones, so the relative “sacrifice” of the earlier string of budget episodes from roughly 15 to 17 was very much worth it in the end (and those were still damn solid episodes anyway because the story is just that good and Wit are rather skillful at making things still compelling with minimal resources).

But while this episode looked pretty good, content-wise it’s a difficult one to talk about, largely because I can’t really go very deeply into the anime original material — which there was a lot of — until I see what it leads to in the final episode. Basically, the new scenes with Thorfinn and Leif were well put together looking at them in a vacuum, but it’s how they will fit into the larger whole that concerns me. One thing that was clear to me watching them, though, is that these were the scenes director Shuhei Yabuta was thinking of when he made this comment in a recent interview:

“There is a sequel to the story in the original manga when you read it, you understand that the meaning of this series is planned and intended. However, at least at the time when we were building the scenario, there was no guarantee that we would make the next series, and even if we were to work on the next series we had no idea when. Considering the situation we were in, I wanted to keep the meaning of the original manga and to make this series satisfying to the viewers as an independent content. “

Indeed, if this season were to be the only anime Vinland Saga ever gets (and I do hope this comment is implying there’ll be more), then it makes sense to bring the focus back to the titular Vinland near the end, as Leif did in the scene with Thorfinn in jail in this episode. And again, on its own, the scene was a good one, but I need to see where it will lead in the final episode before I can confidently say it’s a fitting addition to the present narrative. To be honest, I am a bit nervous, because I think there’s room for a significant misstep in an otherwise stellar adaptation, but since Wit have shown great love for and a deep understanding of the source material, I’ll trust they know what they’re doing here and that it will all work out in the end.

On the non-Thorfinn side of things in this episode, we went back to the great political intrigue from episode 20, with the scene of the major players entering into the great hall doing a masterful job in building the tension with its apt use of silence. You can tell right from the start that we’re in for a thriller, and it doesn’t take long for the “miscalculation” from the episode title to reveal itself — just as Askeladd thinks his battle of wits with king Sweyn is as good as won, a major curveball is thrown his way in the form of an invasion of his beloved homeland of Wales. And what’s worse, Floki notices Askeladd’s flabbergasted reaction to this utterly unexpected development, and promptly informs the king of it, which could make matters even worse.

Askeladd continues to be the fascinating character we’ve seen him develop into over the past twenty plus episodes. In the anime it may have seemed longer, but his aghast reaction to the Wales revelation was actually just a brief second, with him putting on his best poker face immediately afterwards while indulging in some small talk with Thorkell to give the appearance of normalcy and tranquility when his inner state is anything but. Yet even more interesting is what takes place afterwards, when Thorkell inquires Askeladd about the nature of his connection to Wales. The latter seems to hesitate for a brief second, clearly pondering whether it is safe to share this information with Thorkell, but ultimately decides to go through with it. In the end, as cold-blooded and steely-nerved as he can be, Askeladd is still human, and I would say the main reason he uncharacteristically opened up and expressed his true feelings to Thorkell here was simply to experience the relief and sense of fellowship that doing something like that can bring.

We are then left with a fittingly suspenseful cliffhanger as the king calls upon Askeladd to take center stage, as the man himself racks his brain (almost literally here!) to think of a way to can protect his homeland from a surely devastating invasion by the Vikings surrounding him. His peculiar smile at the end is immensely intriguing, and I absolutely can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for us in next week’s conclusion to this epic saga (well, one arc of it, anyway!).

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