Watched via DVD/Adult Swim



PLOT: While Trigun initially did poorly in Japan, it has today come to be known as a most-loved fan favorite in the United States. Well, that is at least with older fans. Despite its now old age, it has actually managed to continuously trickle down to new fans thanks to its perfect appeal to Western audiences.

Trigun follows the mischief of expert marksman “Vash the Stampede” aka the “Humanoid Typhoon”. Everywhere he goes destruction soon follows, causing there to be quite the hefty bounty on his head. With a bounty as large as “60 billion double dollars”, it’s no shock that bounty hunters from all over come and risk everything to capture the elusive Vash the Stampede. You can probably guess how cyclical the shows gets. The first half of the series features Vash moving to a new location, helping some townies out, having bounty hunters try to blow everything up, saving the townies/being betrayed by the townies and kicking butt, battling the bounty hunters, and fleeing to a new place; repeat. Honestly the first 6-12 episodes were incredibly boring. If I hadn’t promised to finish this series as an anime swap, I’d have dropped it immediately.

Luckily the series really picks up halfway through the series, which I found to be rather humorous. Typically it’s the reverse with so much anime today, where they start strong and fall off due to lacking any real plot. Trigun on the other hand mysteriously left all its best cards until the end. About midway through we are finally given a glimpse into Vash’s past and how he became the man with an enormous bounty on his head despite having a pacifist nature. The last several episodes did a wonderful job of deeply exploring Vash’s personality and testing his morality at the expense of others around him. It seems a bit silly to say, but Trigun turns into a real test of what it means to be “human”, which you’d never guess from the first half of the show which is full out crazy humor and Western-style battles.

My biggest frustration was, why’d it take so long to get to all the good stuff? I suppose you could say that the beginning episodes were to establish character, but more than anything it gives the wrong impression of who Vash really is.

I think Trigun runs into that problem of wanting to present the comedy and gravitas of the manga but has a hard time balancing the two. Vash is such a popular character because he’s both serious and a goofball, but the show doesn’t do the best job of connecting the two parts of him.

PLOT: Trigun takes place on the planet Gunsmoke, which has been settled after humans left Earth. Gunsmoke is full of desert and buildings in the style of old Western movies, and naturally everyone lives a pretty lawless existence. Amongst all of the chaos, two insurance agents, Meryl and Milly, are sent out to evaluate claims about the most destructive man on the planet, Vash the Stampede. The man they find is a goofy guy with broom-like hair, so Meryl and Milly spend more than a few episodes trying to find the real Vash the Stampede.

Trigun is made of three main parts that are unevenly distributed: comedy; over-the-top bad guys; and serious drama. You can already see where the comedy comes in, as Vash acts like a total dork and constantly says his catchprase (“This world is made of love and peace!”) with a goofy smile. The over-the-top bad guys are always encountered because Vash wants to save everyone, and along the way he causes tons of damage and creates more enemies. There is no shortage of action in Trigun, though unfortunately it gets more than a little tedious after so many episodes without any real story.

The serious drama is primarily courtesy of Vash’s mysterious backstory, which is a pretty good one, especially when you consider how ridiculous he likes to be. At times, Trigun addresses mass violence and the cost of human life, as well as somewhat lighter topics like what it really means to help people. Trigun can be a surprisingly deep show, and its best moments are towards the end of its run when it fully explores Vash’s backstory. There’s a reason Trigun has stuck with so many anime fans, and it’s not just because of Vash’s fashion sense—the show has a solid emotional core, even though it gets obfuscated by so many episodes of filler early on. Trigun would’ve been a stronger show if it had adjusted its pacing to better allow the serious parts of the story time to breathe, but that’s a common complaint with anime from this time period.

You make a great point. It would have been easier to digest this series if the comedic elements had been dispersed more evenly throughout the series instead of being segregated solely at the front of the show.

SETTING: It’s easy to see why Trigun is such a hit in the West when you look at the themes and setting. Vash is essentially a ronin, left to wander the vast wasteland of the desert, unable to settle down because of the bounty on his head. He’s an expert marksman who always manages to hit first in a shoot out. While his intentions remain pure, society has withered away and become corrupted by the powerful who exploit the weak. Along his travels Vash helps those in need and sets the balance of the world right again.

Remember those old black-and-white Westerns you found so boring when your grandpa would watch them? That’s essentially what Trigun is, but for a new generation. While the desert and rundown buildings remain the same as the typical age-old Western, modern weaponry has advanced. Well, sort of, now we have gigantic guns and weapons that defy logic and the laws of nature for the sake of looking cool. Alongside that there are villains whose physical appearances are finally worse than their morality.

SETTING: I never thought about it this way until Whitney said something, but Trigun really is the anime equivalent of a Western, but with aliens and steampunk elements thrown in. The towns are all lawless, and everyone hangs out at the saloons, which gives the show a similar feel to Cowboy Bebop’s bounty hunter plot device. In fact, Trigun also incorporates bounty hunting, which could be another reason I pair these shows together in my memory (along with them both being on Adult Swim). Either way, Trigun’s setting is pretty singular amongst anime but doesn’t feel very unique in the end because it’s ripping off of so many Westerns. The plot device of Gunsmoke being a planet settled by humans is interesting enough, unless you’ve already seen Firefly, but Trigun doesn’t have much else that’s original to offer in terms of setting. Admittedly, Vash’s backstory does bring in some very intriguing new elements, but I can’t really go into that because of spoilers.

I wasn’t interested in the main setting at all, but I loved the brief flashbacks into the world Vash grew up in. I would have loved to see more world building of the expanded universe beyond that of “Gunsmoke”.

CHARACTERS: The characters remain extremely one dimensional for the longest time. Aside from the last six episodes or so, there is hardly anything left to redeem the cast.

To start with there is Vash, a tall blonde with a “mohawk” and dashing red coat. He’s full of charisma and is always flirting with the ladies. His typical schtick is to act clueless and “luckily” save the day at the last minute. For the longest time he had Meyrl and Milly duped as to his actual identity, due to his non-threatening appearance and behaviors. Halfway through the series we get to see his backstory which explains in part why he is so stubborn and naïve about acts of violence. The ending of the series redeems his character by putting him up to the ultimate test.

Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson work as agents for the Bernadelli Insurance agency to track the Humanoid Typhoon. While Meryl is hot-headed and quick to retaliate, Milly is tranquil and laid back. I found their characterizations to be rather disappointing as they fail to be very strong for female characters. Milly can often be seen acting like a child and stuffing her face. Meryl on the other hand is explored only in enough detail to pin her as Vash’s love interest. Aside from the forced sexual tension, there is little left to her character. There are a couple exceptions. The women of course are seen several times protecting children, and then there is some later tension that slightly humanizes the girls. Still the pair ultimately remain completely wrapped up in their rules as girlfriend types.

Nicholas D. Wolfwood is the fourth main character, who sadly has the least amount of screen time. I think his character was the most three-dimensional and served best as an example of what it really means to be human. While Vash was the main character, it was really Wolfwood who brought the whole cast together and mixed things up.

Wolfwood really does have some of the best parts of this show and makes Trigun memorable in the end. Vash may be a fun character to have around, but Wolfwood brings the emotional depth.

CHARACTERS: Trigun’s main appeal is simple: Vash. Not only does he look cool, but he’s your quintessential goofball hiding a serious badass side. He’s pretty funny once he gets going, but it’s also easy to take him seriously, which works in his favor, and it’s easy to tell that his silliness is a façade. As far as this character type goes, Vash is my favorite of them (outside of Haruhi’s Koizumi), but that could just be my nostalgia for him speaking. Regardless, Vash’s character spoke deeply to many Adult Swim-watching anime fans, and there’s a good reason for that. He’s the perfect balance of light and dark, and he switches between them well.

As the insurance agents following Vash, Meryl and Milly worry a lot about his destruction and always end up around the situations Vash gets himself into. They’re a cute odd couple, with Meryl being in the short, fiery one, while Milly’s the gentle giant who totes around a gigantic gun. I do have to agree with Whitney that Meryl and Milly don’t get as much development as they deserve. For the better part of the show, they’re only around to wonder about Vash’s true identity and counteract his emotional swings or to show off their awesome guns. At the end of the show they get some time in the spotlight, Meryl more successfully than Milly, but it’s still not near as much focus as the men get.

Wolfwood’s an interesting counterpoint to Vash, as he’s a priest who travels and wants to raise money to help orphans, but he also fights without hesitation. He’s not around as long as Meryl or Milly, but he receives much more development than either of them.

The other major character of the show is the major villain, Knives, who’s very interesting to watch, especially in comparison to Vash. Most of the show’s villains are pretty ridiculous and exaggerated, but Knives balances them all out and seems a worthy counterpoint to Vash.

I neglected Knives because I felt I was already rambling too much, but I think aside from Wolfwood he was my favorite character. He’s a perfect foil to Vash and his character is used well to demonstrate how him and Vash are both too polarized.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: The animation for Trigun is like a roller coaster. Most of the early-on episodes were very poorly animated and cheap. It was hard to even tell what counted as “on model” because no two instances of a character looked the same. From time to time the animation harkened to other prominent animation styles of the ‘90s like Slayers, with jutting cheekbones and giant wide eyes. Other clips had the cast looking more like the cast from Escaflowne. Added to the confusion was the momentary lapses into comedic slap stick animation where Vash’s face would meld into a variety of emoticons. Even in the last several episodes where animation quality was at its finest you could seen the animation style nosedive at any filler or transitional moment.

As for character designs, I didn’t mind the general design of the characters. Well, I should rephrase that, I didn’t mind the main characters or the townsfolk, but the villains just drove me up the wall. For example, the Nebraska Family consisted of a “mother” who was 3-4 stories tall with a jutting forehead, who only grunted, and threw men at people as a battling style. Sure it’s nice to have bad guys that people can universally dislike, but these characters were just over-the-top ridiculous and stupid to look at and watch. I’d have liked to see a much more compelling cast of villains to overcome.

Nebraska family

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: For most anime fans who saw Trigun on TV, it defined how cool characters should look. Between Vash and Alucard from Hellsing, red dusters were in, and yellow lenses on glasses made a statement. Even Vash’s broom hair was the height of cool! And that’s not even talking about his belted-up left arm and big gun. Other characters have great designs, too, with Wolfwood’s suit resembling Spike’s outfit from Cowboy Bebop, while he carries around a badass cross like it’s no big deal. Meryl and Milly both have nice designs, too, even though they easily fit into archetypes, and I love their weapons. The bad guys in general do go overboard, but the main characters look good enough to mostly make up for that.

On the other hand, Trigun’s animation is all over the place. When it looks cool, it’s awesome, but the show can just as easily look like any middle-of-the-road ‘90s anime, which is to be expected from a time when animation was more expensive and quality fluctuated more by the episode. The show definitely has its strong moments, and it handles the finale well, but there’s a lot of middling animation quality to go along with the filler episodes of ugly baddies-of-the-week.

OVERALL: Given my hesitant views on Trigun you might think I believe it was a mistake to air the series. In fact, I think watching Trigun on television is probably the best way to watch this series. Most times you happen into a television show you get thrown into the middle, which is a great place to start with Trigun. Furthermore, the beginning episodes are so episodic that they actually lend themselves better to casual re-runs where you slowly piece together the information, while getting the gist of it down quickly.

So would I recommend watching this series? That’s tough to say. First of all, the setting and story are very easy for Western audiences to connect with. Not only that, but it only takes watching half of the show to easily connect with it (as long as you watch the right half). I think the biggest challenge newer anime fans will face is getting past the one dimensional characters and art style. Really so much wonderful anime has come out that it’s hard to recommend watching this series instead. I’d say, watch it if you can borrow it or find it on TV, especially if you are into ronin/vagabond stories and Westerns, but I don’t think it’ll ruin your title as an anime fan if you haven’t seen this already.

OVERALL: I have pretty mixed feelings on Trigun. When it aired, I thought it was a very fun show that had a lot of good jokes (who doesn’t love Kuronekosama?!) and also had incredibly cool costuming and characters. After watching a lot more anime, though, I can see where the show could have improved, and I can’t stand the filler episodes that populate its middle stretches. It’s very uneven at times, which doesn’t increase its appeal if you’re used to the tighter writing of anime that are based on existing light novels or are planned one cour at a time. However, there’s a reason why Trigun was so popular back in the day, and it’s not just because of Vash’s red duster. The show has a good core, if you can get through the loose writing first. I hesitate to say that Trigun’s appeal is only with people who saw it when it aired on TV, and I still think it’s worth watching today. I might not have run out to buy it yet, but I plan on getting it someday, if only for the nostalgia of it. The show encapsulates a lot of what was so great about anime on Adult Swim, which I think is important to remember, especially with how much anime has changed since then.


2 thoughts on “Trigun

  1. I typed out an extremely long response to this and wordpress bonked out on me. Long story short: this is one of my favorite series. I agree it gets much better towards the middle. It went from whimsical to silly. I didn’t think they did too bad of a job combining comedy and depth. I would say Gintama was able to pull it off better.

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