Not only is Vinland Saga an excellent anime series, but it’s also something of a rarity. Very few manga or anime try to create a story in an authentically-historic setting, but how historically accurate is Vinland Saga, exactly?
To analyse the similarities and differences between the anime and the real world, we’ve broken the series into three sections: story, location and characters.
We’ll be focusing on the anime for this dive, but will also make references to the rest of the Vinland Saga manga, so beware of minor spoilers.
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Is Vinland Saga Based on a True Story?
Whether Vinland Saga is a true story or not depends on your threshold. Most people wouldn’t consider the Vinland Saga anime to be a true story, but it has a lot of individual moments that, in themselves, are true events.
At the time in history when Vinland Saga is set, England was indeed being invaded by the Danes, led by King Sweyn, while there were also discussions about which of his sons would replace him when he died.
At the end of Season 1, we see Prince Canute's rise to power, something which is quite close to reality.
As explained by the British Library, upon King Sweyn's death, Canute is recognised as a ruler by the Vikings but still has to defeat Edmund – seen at the start of Season 2 – before he takes England for himself.
Canute's power expands further upon the death of his brother Harold, which also takes place early in the second season.
Despite this rooting in major history, many of Vinland Saga's smaller events are embellished.
Thorfinn played no role in any invasions and would not have come into contact with Canute.
Some of the timings of events have also been distorted. Most notably, Thorfinn's expedition to Vinland (around 1004) happened before Canute became king (1016).
Most of Vinland Saga’s storylines follow a similar pattern – there are big moments rooted in history, but many of the scenarios leading into them are fabricated to fit the dramatic narrative.
Are Vinland Saga’s Locations Historically Accurate?
One area where Vinland Saga is notably accurate is its locations, particularly the historical context in which they exist.
While there are not many exact locations mentioned in the series, the English regions shown in Vinland Saga are quite a good representation of what it would have looked like at the time (minus the glamorous anime sheen).
At the time of the anime, Vinland also existed as a legendary land that some Norse and Vikings aspired to reach. Nowadays, Vinland is recognised as North America.
Most of Vinland Saga Season 2 takes place on Ketil's Farm in Denmark, but there are no details regarding where in the country this might be exactly.
Most of the boats and swords used in the anime are also accurate for their time, although the sizes of certain things are skewed for dramatic effect.
Are Vinland Saga’s Characters Real People from History?
The most interesting thing about Vinland Saga’s historical accuracy is its characters. Most of the key characters in Vinland Saga are real, but their features have been dramatised.
Vinland Saga’s main character is based on the real-life Thorfinn Karlsefni, who is one of the most famous explorers from the Norse region around the time the series takes place. Thorfinn wrote a series of stories about his explorations which are known as The Vinland Sagas.
Unlike in the anime, Thorfinn didn’t come from a Viking father – Thors is an anime-only character – and did not appear to fight in any conquests.
A crucial character in the real-life Thorfinn's journey is Leif Erikson, who also appears in the anime. While only a bit-part character in the first two seasons of Vinland Saga, he is a vital part of the discovery of Vinland.
Canute is also based on the historical ruler of the same name (sometimes spelled Cnut).
Canute is initially mistaken as a woman in the anime; he was also known in real life for having beautiful looks. As king, Canute was also one of the first Viking rulers to support Christianity, which plays a large part in the first season.
However, Canute was always seen as an exceptionally strong person even as a kid, a trait we don't see until Vinland Saga Season 2.
While there's always a chance he was as timid as in season 1 – historical records often embellish a king's abilities – there is no evidence of that.
Thorkell is one of the most accurately-depicted characters in Vinland Saga. Known in real life as Thorkell the Tall, he was a feared warrior who defected to the English and thought against Canute before returning to his side and becoming one of his strongest generals.
However, Thorkell is still blemished through his personality – the real-life Thorkell was much more measured and calculating than the battle-hungry version seen in the series.
The most notable fabrication in Vinland Saga is Askeladd, who has no real-life equivalent and was purely designed to play the mentor to Thorfinn.
In Vinland Saga Season 2's Slave Arc, the majority of new characters are fictional, with no obvious real-life counterpart. Einar and Arnheid, Thorfinn's fellow slaves, are designed for the story, as are other key characters, such as Ketil and Snake.
As historical action series go, though, Vinland Saga is a quite faithful retelling of a time when many historical accounts were dramatised and incomplete. However, its biggest achievement is bringing this time period to life in a way that feels just as exciting as any contemporary story.
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