Endearing, enduring anime ‘Trigun’ turns 20

What do you get when you mix science fiction and westerns with a Japanese spin?

You get Trigun.

It’s the tale of Vash the Stampede, a not-so-lone gunman on the planet Gunsmoke, who has taken a vow to never kill anyone. Vash aimlessly wanders through the first half of the series and then, in the second half, finds himself in, not a life-and-death struggle for himself, but a fight for everything he believes in and everyone he loves. And it’s those two things in the second half that wind up in direct opposition to each other in what could be called the series’ true climax.

Vash is joined by two Bernardelli Insurance Society employees, Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, in the first episode. Initially, their job is to follow him around in order to minimize the damages inevitably caused by his appearance. Later, they go from tag alongs to allies and eventually become central to the true climax of the series.

Later on in the series, Vash is occasionally joined by a cigarette smoking and hard drinking priest, Nicholas D. Wolfwood, with a mysterious past.

Together, the group goes from a ragtag band of people who stumble into adventures to a team fighting to save Gunsmoke from a being intent on humanity’s destruction.

From crickets in Japan

April 1 marked the twentieth anniversary of the anime’s debut on Japanese television.

It wasn’t exactly a hit, though it was successful.

It wouldn’t be until a few years later when it debuted on the Cartoon Network and then Adult Swim in the U.S., where Trigun would find much of its audience. It would also spread to channels in other western nations like Canada and Brazil, becoming more successful abroad than in its country of origin.

Maybe the Western audience was a natural fit for Trigun, though I’m not going to claim to be smart enough as to tell you why as many pretentious fans of anime like to do. To me, I just like to say things clicked in other places in a way they didn’t click for Japanese audiences.

Anyway, Trigun, despite its rather rickety start, separates itself from the majority of anime not only for its setting, but also for the fact that the bad guy wins.

You heard me. The bad guy wins.

Forgettable to intense

Now, to get to that part, you half to trudge your way through a rather forgettable first half of the series.

The only episodes that you need to watch from the first 10 episodes of the series are “The $$60,000,000,000 Man,” “Hard Puncher,” “Lost July” and “Murder Machine.” If you only watch those, you can still keep up with the story and miss out on a lot of filler. Not that you shouldn’t watch the episodes I didn’t mention, it’s just that you’re not missing anything by skipping them.

Things don’t really kick off until the episode “Diablo,” where the audience is introduced to the main antagonist of the series: Legato Bluesummers. Following that, I’d recommend watching the remaining episodes, save for “Little Arcadia,” which is the only filler in the latter half of the series.

The last half of the series sees Vash challenged by Bluesummers’ Gung Ho Guns. While he isn’t their actual master, he is the closest thing to a leader they have. Throughout his trials and tribulations in dealing with the Gung Ho Guns, Vash finds himself dealing with guilt and suffering tremendous losses, with one in particular striking him and the audience hard.

Now, one can argue that Bluesummers is not the main antagonist of the series. If Trigun were a video game, he would not be the boss at the very end. He is the right-hand man of Vash’s oldest enemy, who doesn’t want to kill Vash, but swing him to his point of view instead. To accomplish that, though, Vash’s idealism must be destroyed.

Bluesummers makes it his mission in life to do that. In a way, his quest to destroy Vash’s spirit is a love letter to his master. When he finally accomplishes his goal, it’s sad and tragic, leaving the viewer with a not-so-good feeling.

Which means, the anime works.

After that show down, when Vash finally meets Bluesummers’ master, it’s more like an epilogue than the story itself. Not that it’s a bad thing, but you can almost get a self contained story by just putting the episodes “Rem Saverem” and “Under the Sky so Blue” together.

Final thoughts

Now, there are some definite negatives when it comes to the anime.

Like I already mentioned, the first half of the series is largely unnecessary and doesn’t lend much to the overall narrative. I understand the need to have a certain number of episodes, but man, so much of it seems unnecessary.

Then, there’s the major gripe for me: Anime Iconography. Essentially, those are the giant sweat drops, overly cartoonish faces and other things that just break into the story in a jarring fashion. There are a lot of these in Trigun. So many so that they get annoying and distract from the story itself. It’s like the Trigun sucks you in with its narrative, just to slap you and say “ha! It’s a cartoon!”

I can understand the need for comedy, it balances out the seriousness of many of the heavy stories. But sheesh, it’s just difficult to get absorbed in something when they go from being human to being a giant cartoon head crying a river.

Aside from that, there’s not a lot to complain about.

So, would I recommend Trigun twenty years later when the market for anime has been overly saturated?

Yes, despite its flaws, Trigun is an enjoyable experience. It’s a fine example of a time when anime was still fresh and imaginative, which was part of the appeal it had to international audiences at the time.

Now, that genre has lost much of its luster, it seems to shine bright. Like a diamond in manure. It may not be as good or deep as .hack//Sign, but it is worth a watch.

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