Trigun – Anime Review
Synopsis: Vash the Stampede is a wanted gunslinger with a habit of turning entire towns into rubble. His path of destruction reaches across the wastelands of a desert planet. Oddly enough, for such an infamous outlaw, there’s no proof he’s ever taken a life. In fact, he’s a pacifist who’s more doofus than desperado. There’s definitely a whole lot more to Vash than his reputation lets on. (Official Funimation Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Trigun is generally remembered as part of a trio of anime from the late 90s focused on outlaws, bandits and bounty hunters. I’m of course talking about Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star, the later of which is getting a rebroadcast later this month on Toonami. These three series are all remembered quite fondly, and highly regarded. That said, I think Trigun’s high regard comes from rose tinted lenses, and keeping good company.
While Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star are generally quite visually appealing, Trigun is not. Trigun’s visual sense and style has plenty to love, but the animation episode to episode leaves so much to be desired. Trigun looks unappealing far more often than when it looks stunning. There’s a handful episodes that bring crisp, fluid and well detailed animation. Those are the series greatest highlights. But more often than not Trigun is marred by overly simplistic, wonky animation that disappoints frequently. In fact some truly epic moments that should look absolutely amazing fall flat on their face thanks to a stunning lack of detail, wonky off-model designs and stilted movement. Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star aren’t prize pigs either the whole way through, but Trigun, unlike the others, rarely impresses.
Delving past the superficial, let’s talk about the characters. Trigun boasts a rambunctious cast. We have the titular Vash the Stampede, a silly, yet morally centered hero who refuses to kill, a quite common trope of 90s anime and manga, one that still continues in some capacity through to today. Vash is the crux of the show and how well you take to him and his antics, as well as his overly tragic backstory, heavily dictate how well you’ll receive this once beloved series.
Outside of Vash we’re treated to a small handful of true supporting cast members. Meryl and Milly are two insurance evaluators tasked with tracking down Vash, known as the human typhoon, who leaves destruction and devastation in his wake. These two girls can also be quite fun when their comedic antics take center stage. But when the series gets deadly serious, and it does, Meryl and Milly fail to shine. The same goes for one Nicholas D. Wolfwood, another character who works when the series is light and fun, but doesn’t hold up once Trigun brings its darker narrative to the forefront. Vash is the only character, outside of the series primary villain, to successfully weather the transition.
This failure for characters to shift between comedy and drama is most evident in one particular relationship. As the series takes an increasingly grim turn none of the work to make the relationships feel real between the tonal shifts gets done. This makes certain developments feel forced or distant to the viewer’s heart.
Pulling back a bit, let’s discuss Trigun’s narrative. Initially the series opens as a more light-hearted, generally comedic take on this sci-fi world turned wild west setting. Audiences are treated to a number of one off tales involving Vash arriving in some new city or location and chaos gradually ensuing. Few of these episodes stand out, with many feeling dull or simply unmemorable. There’s a few episodes one might describe as outright offensive and are sheer boredom inducing.
A lot of the trouble stems from a lack of interesting side characters or villains of the week. Trigun runs through so many small time, one off characters, so few of them interesting, that I struggle to really recall any of their faces.
Trigun’s saving grace, in some respects, is that hard tonal shift. Part way through the series, to reflect the tonal shift the manga underwent when changing magazines during publication, Trigun’s anime does a hard turn away from comedy and dives head first into tackling the dark backstory of this strange world. The show continues to pepper in the comedy, at least for awhile, but otherwise becomes consumed in addressing the secrets of Vash’s past and this world’s history.
It’s a make or break moment for the series. While the turn towards drama isn’t entirely out of left field, it feels wholly at odds with what was presented in the first half of the anime. The show also becomes much more sci-fi oriented than before and could be too big a leap for those actually enthralled by Vash’s earlier comedic adventures. However I think it’s this back half that justifies, or perhaps even explains why Trigun is still held in such high regard alongside Bebop and Outlaw. It’s this sudden shift, this surprise dark turn of events, and rather unique sci-fi tale that brings something truly interesting to the table and gives Trigun some much needed life and memorability.
That said, it’s not enough for me to think highly of the series. Trigun is an anime that doesn’t really stand the test of time. It’s animation leaves so much to be desired, especially among titles considered its contemporaries. It remains at odds with itself, one part comedy, one part sci-fi drama. It has merit viewed as part of the ‘outlaw’ trio, the three shows that hit it off with Western audiences on Toonami/Adult Swim. Otherwise its a series best left to the passage of time.
Note: If you do decide to give Trigun a go, I might suggest sticking to the Japanese language track. While the dub does boast the talent of Johnny Yong Bosch, Dorothy Elias-Fahn, and others, the voice direction leaves much to be desired and many smaller characters sound stilted.