This is going to be an article full of feels… so many feels!
Trigun is one of my favorite animes. This is the result of a combination of factors that can be summarized up into:
I’d like to talk about them in order and, don’t worry, as usual, I will mark the sections containing spoilers.
Before we get into the meaty part, I am going to refer to the 1998 Anime series, not the Manga (that I read way too many years ago) nor the “Trigun: Badlands Rumble”, the movie from 2010 that I’ve yet to watch.
Trigun is an adaptation by the director Satoshi Nishimura (studio Madhouse) of the homonymous manga written by Yasuhiro Nightow. It is a Space Western story and follows the adventures of Vash the Stampede for a brief amount of time while trying to show us his philosophy and how this is impacting his and other’s lives. As the story progresses, more is discovered about Vash’s mysterious past and origins.
The story takes place on Gunsmoke (No Man’s Land) a desert planet in a far away galaxy. The human race has left planet earth because of unknown reasons and now finds itself on this deserted planet. Here humanity struggles to survive to the lack of natural resources. This caused a de-evolution into a society similar to that of the first explorers of the American’s west. Gunmen battles on the streets while sheriffs struggle to avoid the violence to spread.
One of the main resources of energy (and even water and food) are Plants. These mysterious systems are heavily relied on by humanity that builds cities surrounding them.
I guess the simplest way to explain the theme of this series is to show you a short clip that summarizes it.
Simply put: can we save everybody? Can we subvert the idea and perhaps the natural order of “kill or be killed”?
This short video is a haunting one. I find this scene incredible from a writing standpoint - Rem (the woman) and her reaction when she sees Knives killing the spider (0:17) and the single shot of the two brothers (1:14), so similar and yet so different. So close and distant at the same time.
This theme is the main focal point of the entire series. The thing that hurts the most is that I am not even sure Vash is right here. We see him struggling for the whole duration of the story not to kill anyone. Protecting the good without harming the evil.
At first sight, this looks like the author wanted to create a perfect hero. I think there is a better read though. Vash keeps fighting without even knowing if there is a meaning in it. He doesn’t know if there will be an end. We watch him struggling to do the right thing without even believing it is actually the right thing. Is he just being a hypocrite? Will he not just make the spider die anyhow by continuously saving the butterfly?
I don’t know. The author doesn’t seem to know either and the anime doesn’t claim to give you an answer. It just leaves you with the pain of the question.
This draws quite an imperfect hero who is probably just lying to himself while trying to do what he thinks is the right thing and being punished for it.
Trigun displays an incredible cast of characters. Protagonists and antagonists are compelling and because of this, the series received overall praise during the past twenty years.
The main protagonist is Vash the Stampede. He is a mysterious man, arguably the best marksman on the planet. He has a massive bounty on his head for having destroyed an entire city on his own. Because of this hunters are always behind his back. For the same reason, Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, two Bernardelli Insurance Society employees, follow him to prevent him and who want to kill him from causing excessive damage.
Vash is a pacifist. He has the goal to protect everyone he meets without harming anyone. Not even the evilest of villains. Because of this, he suffers incredible pain and losses. Many times while watching I struggled because of the emotional pain inflicted to the character. As discussed in the previous chapter, Vash has a naive and simple view of life. He keeps himself in sync with it by thinking of his mentor Rem Saverem (the woman in the video above). She taught Vash while still young and acted as a mother to him and his brother Knives. During this period, she explains a philosophy of peace and non-violence that remains with Vash forever.
Another important character is Nicholas Wolfwood. A priest and yet another mysterious gunman. He has a bleaker and more practical view of life and how to deal with evil. It is hard to talk about Wolfwood without making any spoiler, but he is what Vash would have probably ended-up being if not for Rem. They become closer and closer during the series and it makes it for an important subplot of the series to watch the growth of both characters as they influence each other.
The big bad of the series is Millions Knives. He is Vash’s brother. Knives’ philosophy is completely opposite to Vash’s. He looks at life in a more black and white way. Evil exists and must be eradicated. We must protect innocents and destroy who harms them. Sad to say, but in his view, humanity is the evil to eliminate.
The perpetrator of most of Knives’ actions is Legato Bluesummers, an emotionless nihilist. He continuously puts Vash in “kill or be killed” situations through the use of a group of outlaws, the Gun-oh-guns.
Despite having often a humoristic tone, Trigun seems to have made a mission of making you cry. This especially in the last few episodes.
We see an example of this ability when Wolfwood dies. This happens on two fronts: the death itself and the way the others cope with it. We are used to seeing heroic characters dying in a stoic manner. Maybe even happy to have achieved their goals. This is not the case for Wolfwood. He has just saved Vash and saved the lives of the people he loves. Despite this, he cries while dying and re-affirms he doesn’t want to die. He finds it unjust and even blames God for having created an unfair world in which he has to die immediately after having found love and friendship.
This also continues after. Milly, Wolfwood’s lover at this point in the series, has to deal with his death. It is excruciating to see the scene in which she cries and laugh at the same time while claiming she is fine. Similarly, we follow Vash, while he separates from the girls and travels to another village. He is apparently joyful while buying some donuts (his favorite food). He sits down and starts eating them just to break into tears one moment after, consumed by the guilt of having convinced Wolfwood not to kill. Because of this, the man has paid with his own life.
A second example is when Legato forces Vash to kill him. The scene itself is powerful.
I consider this one of the greatest defeats for a hero I have ever seen in almost any media. Vash has lost. He has killed someone and, even worse, this happens to him after his best friend has been killed for following his ideas.
The aftermath is again devastating. Vash goes through the crisis. Unable to cope with what he has done, he thinks of himself as a killer. We hear him screaming in pain behind closed doors while Meryl and Milly are unable to do anything that can help him.
Well… nothing is perfect, right?
I am not here to talk about the relatively poor animation and generally flat drawing, but I can see some problems in the story too.
The Anime doesn’t really help us understand some of the things that happen. One example is Legato and his strong motivation. He almost appears surreally insane. Why such a devotion to Knives’ cause? (I know, the manga explains it but, we are not talking about that here).
Similarly, the story never goes deep on what Plants really are. We understand that Vash and Knives are Plants – this is why they hold such power. We never understand where Plants come from and why only the two brothers, amongst all the Plants we see, have human form.
There is also some waste of time. Whereas the first few episodes might be useful to establish the setting and Vash’s famous “fake smile”, this section of the Anime goes on for a bit too long. I would have preferred a shorter intro to the anime and I think it represents a risk of abandonment for the story to have such a long and undertoned introduction.
This is my review of one of my favorite animes. Let me know what you think in the comments and if you like my work here feel free to subscribe to my mailing list.