Wookiee Hut Animated Series Reviews presents:
Trigun

Animated Series Review by Diana DeRiggs, MaceVindaloo, VagBoy

Author/Creator: Yasuhiro Nightow

Screenplay: Yousuke Kuroda

Animation: Madhouse Studios

Director: Satoshi Nishimura

Publisher/Distributor: Pioneer Entertainment

Rating: Super Star Destroyer

We know, we know! ... How corny is it that westerns or sci-fi or cowboy space operas are standard fodder for animé stories. Gunslingers, womanizers, perverts, priests, big bounties, big boobs, etc. Trigun does have that stuff. And yet ... and yet ... Trigun is not about any of that, though that stuff does make good eye candy. Originally broadcast as television episodes in Japan and in the US on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, it's 26 episodes following the doings of Vash the Stampede, the Humanoid Typhoon. It seems everywhere he goes, buildings blow up, the sand that covers the desert planet fuses into glass, mayhem follows ... yet no one dies. Turns out that many outlaws take on his name to instill terror into the local populations they rob, and thus Vash's reputation grows through no doing of his own. And despite his love of humanity and his feeling that all creatures have a right to live, the man with the huge bounty on his head is actually guilty of destroying cities with one blast of a gun called the Angel Arm. He actually does deserve his nickname; he knows it and it keeps him on the move ...

He's also a sweet, lovable, totally embraceable, woman-crazy goofball, who happens to be a solidly talented gunman. He also loves donuts. He's a drifter, hiring himself out as a bodyguard, helping widows and orphans, and has vowed to kill no one. Injure them, yeah ... but no one need die on his watch. What can you expect from a man who, having beaten the bad guy, makes him repeat the mantra, "This land is made ... for LOVE! and PEACE!" Or when asked his profession, he claims, "I am a hunter of Peace, seeking the elusive mayfly called Love." Sounds syrupy and wussy, but wait'll you hear his delivery of these lines ...

The other characters who populate the world of Trigun are equally paradoxical and intriguing. In fact, the character development of this series is the big difference between this and other animé in that it works in the context of the overall stories, is absorbing and actually rather believable. Even the incidentals are good and necessary.

The animation is very well drawn, with scenes and characters rendered in the appropriate level of detail. Cinematic techniques like slow motion, cut-and-change, etc. are used very effectively and in many cases, very beautifully and evocatively. On a desert planet with two suns and five moons (hey! that's familiar!), you'd think there would be a lack of background richness, but the backdrops are art-directed extremely well to convey mood and environment, and engineered to show the focussed action. To convey lighthearted goofiness, extreme anger, happiness, etc., the animators opt not to use a more realistic drawing style and go for the classic children's manga comic-cartoony style. This allows the effort and finances to be put into the scenes which actually require the details and coloring to convey the ideas and moods to get them (see the screen shots for a sample). The stuff that doesn't really need it doesn't get it. That's a big plus in this tale, as the story itself has an extremely dark edge and the lighter moments are often a relief and dramatic contrast.

The 26 episodes represent two seasons of television, so the feel of the episodes change quite a bit between season one and season two. The first half features more of the goofy Vash, where you wonder how the huge bounty on his life is justified. The second half becomes much more introspective and about Vash's background and M.O. It becomes clear that he has a dark, scary past he can't live down and many demons to battle, both in his head and heart, as well as the self-described demon gunmen who are trained specifically to kill him. Fans of Trigun do have preferences, with many liking the cartoony style at the start with fun, comedic chase scenes featuring a crying, whining, hysterical, horny, funny Vash. Or they may prefer the more emotional, poetic, romantic episodes at the end. In fact, it seems that many are drawn to Trigun simply for episode 23 ...

The transition from one set to the next is not a smooth evolution, and there are a couple of episodes that really didn't need to be there, while some episodes spent too little time on their subjects at hand. It's as if the animé studio was surprised that they got contracted a second season and were caught completely unprepared and had to scramble for the first few episodes in the second season before settling in on a direction. Apparently, the occurrences in the animé are completely different from those which are still being written and published for the manga. Despite this, the story is cohesive, which is not usually true of most episodic animé.

The conflict between good and evil is presented in rather a basic manner, in that there is no doubt which is which, but the fun is how that trip is ridden. There are a bunch of really, really, REALLY evil bad guys, but only two really matter. Despite all the attempts on his head, Vash knows he can't allow himself to die because he actually is the only thing in the way of the evil ones' ambitions and the lives of those who'd go after the bounty on his head. Sounds like a lose/lose proposition for poor, goofy Vash.

On his way to the series climax, Vash meets up with Milly and Meryl, the infamous and somewhat clueless "Insurance Girls"; Nicholas D. Wolfwood, an itinerant preacher with a horrible twist; the Gung-ho Guns, who are trained to kill Vash; Legato Bluesummers, the ennui-imbued sadist and mastermind; and Knives, whom you'll have to figure out yourself. Each of these inspire "online shrines" all over the Internet; Trigun is just about everyone's favorite animé. (I personally have a weakness for men in glasses in kilt-like clothing ... with rugged baby faces and effortless native talent paired with appealing goofiness. So ergo, I have a problem in that I am unreasonably addicted to Vash. He reminds me of a boy in school I once knew ... um, but I digress!) There are also some really annoying characters, but then again, if it's not all Vash (or Wolfwood, come to think of it ... I do like bad boys ...), then it's annoying ... (Digressing again!)

The English voice talent is great in this production. In fact, it's one of the few animés where the dubbed effort is better than the original voices. Vash is in turns heroic, whiny, childish, crazy, all with the same voice actor. Milly is ditzy and wise, Meryl is efficient and in denial about how she feels about Vash. Wolfwood is street smart and a rather unconventional yet believable priest. All of this is conveyed excellently by the voice actors, and if you had to choose between Japanese voices with subtitles or the dub, I'd definitely go for the dub in this case. (Note and beware, this is not usually true for translated and dubbed animé!)

The music is good soundtrack music, however I wouldn't bother buying it separately from the DVDs. It's now become a cliché to use heavy metal-style tracks for animé, or jazzy, bluesy, metally, R&B-type things. It's all the fault of John Williams, who created scripts and themes for movie music galore, making it cohesive and not just pasting in music to fill in the quiet spots, so that we never have to suffer through such idiocy as Heavy Metal 2000. So Trigun's effort is good, but not worthy as a standalone. For that, I'd recommend Hellsing.

So yeah, there are indeed some weaknesses to this cult-like classic, but they are really minor quibbles in context of the 26 episodes. After you watch all of them (yes, you must see all of them and in order!) you won't even really care about the faults. There is poetry here, and is chock-full of lessons of morality, ethics, compromise, etc. These episodes are good in themselves, but they really need to be seen in the context of the whole 2-year series to get a handle on why it's such a great story. It's worth it!

You can get copies of the DVD legally (and perhaps otherwise) via sellers on ebay.com, as well as from many discount sellers online. If so, be sure you get the "Japanese with subtitles + English dub" version -- there seem to be versions coming out of Asia which have Chinese with subtitles + English dub, and there is no benefit to having that -- you won't get to hear the original voice acting. The 8-disc DVD sells for about $200 on amazon.com, but there are "limited editions" and "full seasons" sets available for much less. So there is no excuse for you not to see this classic. If you are serious at all about animé, you need to go beyond the world of Pokémon and Sailor Moon, and graduate to Trigun!

It's not quite for children, being there is a lot of gunplay and killing. But the killing gets Vash all riled up and he lectures the offenders, or beg simple townsfolk not to kill for vengeance. There is blood, but it's usually ketchup, which Vash conceals in his long, red coat to appear like blood when those who want the bounty think they've shot him. There is a lot of regret and yearning, but there is also redemption and lessons on making choices ... so maybe it's not as inappropriate for teens as parents might normally think. There is also no nudity (other than seeing Vash's scars a couple of times), and any sex is simply implied in the viewer's mind.

By the way, it's called Trigun because Vash uses three guns. There's the nice shiny silvery 6-shooter he uses for most things ... and the other two are a secret. Yes, it's a wild west, Gunsmoke type of planet with townsfolk seeking revenge for one murder or another ... and there are many, many very cool guns (check out Wolfwood's "punisher" or the heat the girls pack!). But it's way better than that, which is saying a lot. Enjoy!



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