The European Middle Ages through the prism of Contemporary Japanese Literature: a study of Vinland Saga, Spice & Wolf and l’Éclipse


Japanese literature
European Middle Ages
Vinland Saga
Spice & Wolf
Yukimura Makoto
Hasekura Isuna
Hirano Keiichirō

How to Cite

Danesin, M. “The European Middle Ages through the Prism of Contemporary Japanese Literature: A Study of Vinland Saga, Spice & Wolf and l’Éclipse”. Mutual Images Journal, no. 1, Aug. 2016, pp. 95-122, doi:10.32926/2016.1.DAN.europ.


Since the past few decades, the European Middle Ages have started to become a recurrent motif in Japan. Either depicted in historical works, appearing in a roundabout way, or even implied through archetypal backgrounds and characters in Medieval Fantasy, it has become a source of inspiration for Japanese authors and screenwriters, even taking a firm root in the video game industry — Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series acting as relevant touchstones. Regarding the field of Literature at large, countless manga are based upon its settings (Berserk, Akagami no Shirayukihime), as well as several light novels (Slayers, The Record of Lodoss War) and “pure” literary works—among them, the Akutagawa Prize’s winner in 1998, L'Éclipse by Hirano Keiichir?. Besides offering the elation of exotic stories and re-enchanting our world, this foreign exploration of The Middle Ages creates a new approach of its realities and myths, sometimes reorganizing them to the point of syncretism with Japanese values. Thus, from folktales to civilizations features, those transcultural medieval elements affect the perception of Europe in contemporary Japan. In this article, in order to highlight the interaction between this part of the European culture and Japanese literature, I study three examples of literary works representing The European Middle Ages: the historical manga Vinland Saga (Yukimura Makoto), set during the Vikings Era and using the literary features of the Icelandic sagas; the light novel Spice & Wolf (Hasekura Isuna), a unique tale depicting the medieval merchant world; and the novel L'Éclipse (Hirano Keiichir?), portraying a young Dominican in the fifteenth century thrown into the world of alchemy and metaphysics. I argue that they are not only transcultural works, but that they also offer new perspectives on understanding how European realities and myths are being adapted in Japan.
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