Sigma males, Alpha males, Beta males, Omega males– and there are even Gamma males right now (too hot to handle due to radioactivity?), one for each alphabet letter! That’s how ridiculous the behavioral pseudo-science for men has gone. You can bet that every one of these made-up personality classifications has its own representative characters in media.
Hollywood, in the process of telling their compelling stories about psychotic and narcissistic males as main characters, has inadvertently turned these cautionary tales into cult idols for young men and boys who are too worried about their masculinity.
Most of these media comedically portray and then chastise these traits and behavioral issues rather than setting an actual positive view of masculinity. So it’s easy for some to miss the point.
But recently, an unexpected good ‘example’ might have flown under many people’s radars. That show would be Vinland Saga and its second season.
What is Vinland Saga?
For the uninitiated, Vinland Saga is a war anime about Vikings near the end of the Dark Ages (circa 900 AD).
This show revolves around Thorfinn, a young Dane whose father, Thors, was killed by a mercenary named Askeladd. But in a stunning twist, Askeladd unceremoniously took Thorfinn under his wing for ambiguous reasons, often acting as his new mentor figure in lieu of Askeladd killing the boy’s father.
Thorfinn, however, vowed to take revenge on Askeladd; Askeladd obliged his newfound angry stepson by promising to reward him with duels if he performs well as a Viking mercenary in his army.
Vikings here were thus portrayed as bloodthirsty, warmongering, and amoral. They raped, murdered, enslaved, and pillaged everything in their way in the name of gold and status. Vinland Saga’s Vikings, particularly Askeladd’s band, were the quintessential avatars of toxic masculinity dressed as Norsemen.
They cared and only respected domination, aggression, and violence. The strongest were revered, while the weak were merely prey.
But whether the Viking portrayal and vilification were authentic to the time period is a topic for another time. Vinland Saga‘s author clearly wanted to use the setting as a vessel for its most thought-provoking messages and lessons.
Vinland Saga Explores Anger And Daddy Issues Through Thorfinn’s Vengeance
The premise and Thorfinn’s circumstances might sound outlandish (it’s an anime, after all), but there’s a deeper implication here.
Because nothing shouts male daddy issues better than wanting to fight your toxic father– or in this case, the man who replaced your father.
Throughout the entirety of Vinland saga’s first season, Thorfinn became anger and angst incarnate– a teenage boy forged and tempered in the fires of war, throwing away his morality and future for revenge. At the same time, he was slowly becoming the person he hated the most; Askeladd had become his complicated father figure, whom he also wanted dead.
Eventually (and to avoid specific spoilers), his purpose shattered after he was robbed of his revenge.
Needless to say, the first season of Vinland Saga was stressful (but for good reasons). Like many Hollywood films about Sigma males and villains whom misbegotten incels and red-pilled Tate fans kept idolizing, Vinland Saga’s first season was another cautionary tale.
Thorfinn’s life in Season 1 was an exaggerated analog of a male’s life with a dysfunctional upbringing, starting out with a childhood and teenage years full of risk, danger, anger, and self-loathing.
It was, however, a prologue for what a great person Thorfinn would become later on.
Vinland Saga Season 2 Is The Enlightenment a Lot of Men Needed
Fast forward to Season 2, the show has time-skipped 4-years ahead after Thorfinn ruined his life in pursuit of revenge. He became a slave and had to work hard on a farm in order to buy back his freedom.
The show sharply took a dramatic change in direction. It wasn’t a distressing Viking war epic anymore– it became a journey of introspection, self-discovery, and healing all under the pretense of farming.
Thorfinn went from a vengeful and hateful brat to a compassionate man who realized that he had to atone for all the deaths and misery he caused just to figuratively buy a ticket of opportunity for a duel with Askeladd.
And the show portrays that what Thorfinn became was made possible because he was surrounded by men who were the very antithesis of the show’s version of Vikings, which best represented toxic masculinity.
His best friend was a slave named Einar, a farmer who lost everything due to Viking raiders, and one of his most compelling mentors was an old farmer who taught him to move on from his hate.
By the season’s climax, Thorfinn had become a pacifist who took a beating to save the farm that nurtured him back to sanity and gave him a purpose other than being a force of violence and vengeance.
Vinland Saga’s Thorfinn Challenged Toxic Masculinity And Presented A Solution
There are a few notable paragons of masculinity in Vinland Saga Season 2, but Thorfinn takes the cake here.
In Season 2, he’s a slave, he has no clothes, his hairstyle was wack, no ego, no riches, and he’s fully grown at five feet tall– a height that, even back in the Dark Ages, was considered way below average for a male, much less a Viking male. So the show immediately eliminated the power fantasy here in which male viewers would want to self-insert themselves.
That doesn’t mean Thorfinn wasn’t worthy of being a protagonist. Because by Season 2, all he had left with him was his reflexive leftover fighting skills (which he doesn’t want to use anymore due to trauma). But more importantly, he was left with a pacifist philosophy that his original father tried to impart to him: He has no enemies. No one has enemies.
So somehow, he was still a better role model than taller, more handsome, ambitious, muscular, and powerful protagonists.
“I have no enemies.”
That’s the line that summed up Thorfinn’s new outlook and worldview. In a world where “might makes right” and people yearned to dominate others, he had the courage to choose not to fight despite his strength. Instead, he wanted to rebuild, self-sacrifice, and retreat.
Big emphasis on the ‘retreat and accept defeat’ part because that’s a thought that would disgust most men caught up in the idea of power and showing strength.
Thorfinn chose peace and eventually believed that there was no good reason why everyone should fight or hurt one another and that no one should experience war or slavery. He understood that violence only breeds more violence.
Rather than waste his energy proving his might and gaining wealth or status, he has chosen to dedicate his life to improving everyone else’s; in this case, he wanted to build a refuge for all the victims of war in the show.
Whereas the typical shonen or action media protagonist would immediately get up and retaliate after taking a punch, Thorfinn would immediately get up and stand his ground while literally offering the other cheek, as biblical as it sounds.
Hence, some of Vinland Saga’s pacifist themes were influenced by the concept of Christ himself. But Thorfinn would only fight if it matters, not because his ego was tarnished or his spot in the social hierarchy was challenged. You have to admit that a lot of world leaders today could learn from that.
Thorfinn had become the Kenshin Himura of this generation, one of the most important pacifists in media from the anime and manga Rurouni Kenshin.
Along with Guts of Berserk and Musashi from Vagabond, he has become an exemplary protagonist and a role model that breaks free from the mold of ego-driven masculine power fantasies. All of them teach men to introspect, feel, and empathize while still being strong, whether through physicality or heart.
Drawing a Clear Line for Positive Masculinity
Olmar is another character in Vinland Saga Season 2 who was instrumental for the storytellers in imparting the dangers of following a culture of toxic masculinity.
He was a blatant depiction of the typical rowdy and zealous young man who wanted to find his identity in violence and might. This materialized in his goal of becoming an ideal ruthless Viking warrior like his older brother.
But by the end of the season, Olmar admitted to himself that that was not a healthy life and chose a path where he could build instead of harm. To be strong and kind at the same time.
Being able to process emotions, being responsible, and having strength through benevolence rather than physical might is what the show wanted its viewers to learn. That’s something Vinland Saga emphasized in two seasons, and it was worth the journey.
More than anything, it was refreshing to see a piece of fiction that tells its target viewers what to be rather than being satirical warnings of ‘don’t be like this’ or ‘don’t be like that.’ A few similarly themed films come to mind, of course. Desmond Doss from Hacksaw Ridge (a war movie) is comparable to Thorfinn, along with Robert Pattinson’s Batman in The Batman (2022).
Regardless of your gender or orientation, there’s something therapeutic to learn from Vinland Saga, especially its second season. And before you spend too much time pondering whether you’re an Alpha, Sigma, or whatever made-up social hierarchy revolving around dominance, maybe devote that time to watching Vinland Saga instead. The world could use more people who understood its noble intentions.