2023 marks the fourteenth year since Makoto Yukimura debuted as a manga author, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. His current ongoing work, Vinland Saga, achieved high praise worldwide for its messaging on war and violence coupled with compelling storytelling and character development. Although many authors prefer to keep a low profile, Yukimura welcomes on-camera interviews (and has taken on many interviews in general) to reach fans globally. During his busy schedule at San Diego Comic-Con, he took the time to speak to ANN about his Viking epic.
Fatherhood is a theme to the central characters, Thorfinn and Canute, but also the story’s other characters as well. Why were fatherhood and father-son relationships a topic you wanted to focus on?
Makoto Yukimura: Surprisingly, it’s all a coincidence. When I started to work on the series, I was mainly focused on the violence and not particularly about fatherhood. But when I realized and looked back on my story, I did realize there are so many types of relationships that represent what you said as ‘fatherhood.’ I’m wondering why this is. Is it some kind of complex that I have or some kind of psychological reason for it? I have no idea.
What was the importance of contrasting Thorfinn and Canute? Both had father/father figures in their life who raised them in different ways: Ragnar as opposed to Thors.
YUKIMURA: It’s probably because I saw that I wouldn’t only be thinking about Thorfinn. To balance out my way of thinking, as well as a storyteller, it is really easy to resonate and connect to the series’s main character. The main character’s philosophy, the cause of action, and their causes become the most heroic, definitive thing. I actually feel this happening to me. To counter this, I created Canute. It’s a reminder to myself to realize that there are people out there who think differently from me because this is a diverse world.
Another theme Vinland Saga explores is revenge, which we see through Thorfinn, Einar, and Hild. During the Viking age, vengeance was required to preserve honor. Within the story, breaking that societal cycle of revenge is difficult, and it takes years to grow out of it. How did you decide how long each character’s journey of forgiveness and healing would be?
YUKIMURA: Deciding whether to write a story that would fuel violence with violence or an eye for an eye or if I want to write a world where somebody will put an end to this. If I were to choose between the two paths of the story, I would definitely choose a path of healing and forgiveness out of this situation. However, at the same time, I do admit that revenge and violence create an interesting drama within the story. If I were a good storyteller, I would probably write more about violence than vengeance.
Similarly, war is a cycle as well. Thorkell has a penchant for violence and fighting, so much so that you’ve called him a child at heart. Why did you decide not to portray him as simply evil and for him to be a very enjoyable character?
YUKIMURA: There are two main reasons that the character Thorkell has been born. The main reason is that I hate violence. To write a violent character, I tend to write him off as a bad guy. Though, part of me thinks that is not fair. To maintain the balance, I created a lovable violent character like Thorkell. Another reason Thorkell represents a childlike person is that I have this sense that a violent person is ultimately a child. I want to express how childish they are for being violent, even if they are a powerful ruler of a country or somebody who thinks with analytical/tactical thinking.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you dislike violence. The title of the series is Vinland Saga. In the beginning, Leif Ericson describes Vinland as a new world without war or slavery. What would you like to tell readers deeply interested in just the violence within the manga?
YUKIMURA: If you’re into my story for the violent aspect of it, at some point, I might not be able to meet your expectations. If you really want to read about things like violence, you should consider Attack on Titan. I actually do hear comments from the fans saying that they like Thorfinn from back in the day. ‘What happened to him? He’s only farming!’ I hear their complaints, though, at the same time, I cannot help it. Sorry.
Vinland Saga has a nuanced approach to storytelling, involving important themes for teenagers who will grow into adults. Many people start reading shonen manga when they are young, which can be more violent, and they may later read your manga. Since fans all over the world read this series, what lesson would you want them to learn from Vinland Saga?
YUKIMURA: Even if the government told me to go to war, I do not want to go to war. Even if I have to go to jail. I wouldn’t want to yield to that and would rather not hold a gun. If everybody on this planet had the same way of thinking—being against violence—even under threat from the government or those in power, we would never have war. My hope is to have the younger generation share this kind of value in the future, so there wouldn’t be war in this entire world. This is the one wish that I have. As an optimistic person, this is the only hope I want to express in my story.
This year will mark your 24th anniversary since you made your manga debut in 1999 with Planetes. You’ve talked about how you like seeing growth in characters, but how do you view your growth as a manga author?
YUKIMURA: I think my art has gotten better. When I look at my older work, I get embarrassed looking at it. Story-wise, I am proud of the fact that I took time to write a story that takes a while to understand. In a sense, I think my patience grew. I don’t know if it’s personal growth or not, but I am more relaxed than before.