August 13th, 2009
The first DVD in the Trigun (1998) animated series comprises of five of the arguably best installments, kicking things off with an initial peak before settling comfortably into worthwhile. Trigun may appear misleading in this regard, warmly asserting the quality of writing and animation higher than it actually is, but I presume most animated series go through a wonky period where the producers are searching for a good balance of affordability and production. It’s just this one is a little more visible.
Trigun is compelling as it amalgamates a series of polar ideas together to create a familiar yet distinctively refreshing identity for itself. The main hero Vash, is dressed in a way which might have some viewers confuse him for the equally stylized Alucard from the (also popular) Hellsing manga/anime series. Both don the long red coats and wield guns with ultra long barrels, conducting themselves in a clam and sophisticated manner, but it’s here where Trigun diverges.
Vash is a pacifist gunman. Despite his ace marksmanship, he refuses to kill or even injure those who oppose him. When forced to play the reaper it burdens him to his emotional core. His personality has no vestige of hate; a pure soul who’s means (gun slinging) contradicts his ends (love and peace throughout the world). Vash only plays the ace gunslinger role when it is most appropriate though; when innocents are in danger. For the most part Vash’s personality switches between gentle, soft and caring, and self-deprecatingbuffoon with the most obscene laugh imaginable. His character is somewhat schizophrenic and colours the mood of the show, breaking up the serious action and drama from the comedic relief. He’s the device which achieves this, the one we all came here to see. When the two moods collide it also makes for interesting circumstances as Vash will hilariously attempt to avoid gun fire or shoot a round of lucky shots to cut himself a break. He’s skilled, no doubt, but his wacky natures subverts any perceived professionalism.
This latter point sets the scene for the series’ story. In recent times, a man known as Vash the Stampede has been causing a trail of destruction among townships on the dessert planet Gunsmoke. (As the name suggests, this series is steeped heavily in the wild west thematic). Originally Vash leveled the city of July. In response authorities placed a massive bounty over his head of 60,000,000,000$$ (sixty billion “double dollars”). As a run-off effect, bounty hunters begin searching the land in pursuit of Vash and the bounty on his head, themselves creating the destruction of which is believed to be the doing of Vash.
Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, two insurance agents from The Bernardelli Insurance Society are instructed to also pursue the gunman, so that they can evaluate and report on the actual events, providing validity for the innumerous number of insurance claims filed due to Vash’s wave of destruction. Initially, after following the rumour vine they run into a man who fits the identity of Vash, yet due to this subverted professionalism, they’re unsure as to whether he is the Vash the Stampede. After continually running into Vash and the ensuing trail of destruction, the two come to much deliberation, before decided that he is the “Humanoid Typhoon”. Later a traveling Spike Spiegel-esque priest tags along as a support, making up the main cast.
The central casts have great dynamics among each other. Meryl and Milly for instance balance each other out. Meryl is short-tempered and always looking for affirmation, Milly is kind hearted and accepting of others, believing in reason.
Each episode follows the exploits which…follow Vash’s notorious reputation wherever he goes. The premise is very simple, Vash is travelling from town to town, the insurance girls try to inconspicuously follow him and trouble abounds. Usually a moral is attached to said trouble. The confrontations are always made interesting as each band of bounty hunters are elaborately designed to accentuate certain elements of their personality. The personality ties into the motives of the character and hence a different facet of the overriding moral of the Trigun series. It’s all very well executed with slick dialogue and an above average serving of cel animation.
Most episodes are self-contained, but when necessary the show will open into a multi-episode format to tell a single narrative. The entire run is mostly smooth, although there are occasional dips where the story and bounty hunters feel too iterative, but it quickly changes gears entering the later half.
For the early part of the series, the gun fights are played out without much consideration to why Vash, the pacifist gunman whom refuses to harm anyone, has been accused of such terrible acts. A past is peeled away at, but it isn’t until later that it is revealed, which is where things get a little weird. Randomly one of the episodes is set in space, where Vash and his brother Knives are discovered as plant-form humans and raised by the crew of a ship housing humans cryogenically frozen and ready for dropping on another planet. (Yeah, we totally messed up with Earth.) Rei, a young lady on the ship is the care taker and defacto mother of the two boys. She defends the normality of the children against disagreeing members of the crew. I think she is voiced by the same actor who did Hinoto in X. Rei teaches passes down her philosophies of pacifism and resolution without harm to the two boys. Knives believes otherwise, thinking that sacrifice is a mandatory part of resolution and hence walks down the path of the villain while Vash adopts Rei’s ideals. This point of separation is the ideological conflict of the series; resolution with or without sacrifice.
The backstory continues with Knives killing the crew (Rei included) and landing on the deserted GunSmoke with Vash along with a series of pods with the preserved humans. Vash, distraught from the Knive’s action and newfound tyrannical attitude towards Vash, shoots the maniac in the leg with a gun he provides (the same one he uses in the series) and flees. Some hundred years later, where Vash is now an adult, he carries out the destruction of July.
As the series enters it’s later half and Vash is challenged by the Gung-Ho Guns, a group under Knives who seek to harm Vash by forcing him to hurt themselves and others. It’s a No More Heroes sort of set up, with Vash facing off against the radical personalities. The Gung-Ho Guns bring to surface Vash’s more recent past, forcing a recreation of the July city incident (which originally made Vash notorious) where Vash’s arm, against his own will turned into a super cannon which destroyed much of the area. The reoccurence of this event (albeit, in a different location) is seemingly conducted by Knives, but the story doesn’t make this too clear, besides that it is all unintentional of Vash’s behalf – still, very weird. Teamed with accidental killings and inflictions of harm, Vash is haunted, particularly during this later half of the show. It makes him ashamed of his own creation.
This aspect of Vash’s identity cast him as the misunderstood hero, again; a clash of polar logics. He uses guns to demote the use of violence. He is a pacifist who has destroyed the lives of many people. His personality switches from serious to light hearted on a whim. These complexities craft a genuinely deep character, despite the ludicrous logic that he’s a plant who can turn his arm into a mega proton cannon. This history, while in some regards emotionally pulling (ie. his long lasting sympathy of Rei), is definitely a detriment to the series as it simply leaps beyond logic, becoming entangled in its immodesty. I enjoyed the series more as the misadventures of Vash the Stampede rather than attempting to elaborate on something which didn’t have to be played up to begin with.
Knives continues to toy with Vash’s personal beliefs as he takes control of GunSmoke’s populace and forces them to commit suicide. Vash then travels through a lull period while he grapples with his past regrets, once this is over, the series steadfastly approaches its conclusion where Vash and Knives face off in the final episode. Overall Trigun is a fantastic anime series which I thoroughly enjoyed, besides the weird, unnecessary parts of course.