Whether or not the sequel delivers won’t change how awesome this anime was.
When it comes to anime “classics” we grew up with in the 90s, Trigun has done an okay job of surviving compared to something like Outlaw Star or Gundam Wing. Most people who grew up with it remember the series fondly for its space western aesthetic, its awesome guitar opening, Vash being an icon of moral pacifism, and a few other things that let us conveniently forget that the animation was atrocious and the show was basically 80% filler. It was honestly a miracle that Badlands Rumble came out over a decade later and made me cry inside at how good Trigun could look if it was animated by modern standards. And now we’ve got another miracle with Studio Orange being attached to bring Trigun back to life with an approach that I could only summarize as what would happen if the minds behind this show really liked the non-Disney Hollywood’s approach to superhero storytelling.
Trigun Stampede is a prequel story to the original Trigun narrative where Vash has yet to cause the July incident that basically serves as a major basis for it, but it’s been retconned to take place two years prior rather than a hundred. As such, Meryl and Wolfwood meet him much earlier than canon, although Meryl has been changed into a teenage news reporter who’s never shot a Derringer in her life, and Wolfwood has no differences besides his voice actor. Yeah unless you’re watching the English dub, all of the voice actors for the characters are different now, and even with said dub, the only person who came back was Johnny Young Bosch.
Being a prequel, it’s pretty interesting to see how different the characters were before Vash got a $60 billion bounty on his head. Instead he has a $6 billion one, and his hair looks like he used his money on a Korean hair salon rather than purchasing bullets. He’s doesn’t have his “Love and Peace” schtick and is more of an idiot who tries to be badass rather than a badass who masks behind being an idiot. I don’t think he gets a single win in this series. Every time he tries to help someone, he’s either making promises he doesn’t have the ability to keep or his brother Nai is ruining his efforts and making it clear that Vash was better off staying away from the people he tries to help entirely. He’s also a bit more violent with his non-lethal tactics. He doesn’t shoot “technically not lethal” shots and isn’t above using his own gun as a bludgeon if need be.
Some people may not like that change, but personally I never thought Vash was some untouchable anime icon who should never let the Hollywood executives touch his core. I thought he was a fucking stupid protagonist who had to be carried by his friends all the time, so him being even more of a loser makes him incredibly appealing in the way I wished Takemichi from Tokyo Revengers was appealing. It’s fine to be out-of-your-depth in a world of violence, but when you’re actually solving issues with methods that should definitely not work in said world, that’s not what I consider good character lessons. Also, his original spiky hair looked fucking stupid to the point that I couldn’t take it seriously.
Due to taking place before the July incident, Milly Thompson has yet to actually join Meryl’s company in this show. Instead, Meryl gets her own mentor in the form of Robert DeNiro, who basically acts like Laurence Fishburne in Man of Steel in that he’s mainly just there to get a famous actor (or name of famous actor in this case) as a mouthpiece for a role that could easily have been accomplished by the audience themselves. He’s also supposed to be the inspiration for Meryl growing in more of the stressed-out Derringer-wielding hardass we’re familiar with, but he does it in a very Hollywood stereotype way in that it’s really the only reason for his character and he has no backstory or anything interesting outside of that. I don’t think the fanbase cried when he inevitably choked so that Meryl could grow up and Milly could come next season.
But the one who benefits the best from this new Trigun is Nai/Knives. If you’re only familiar with the original anime, you probably remember that he pretty much existed only to be an asshole and didn’t have any screentime until the finale like an early Yakuza antagonist involved with the police. Here he acts more like Sephiroth from Final Fantasy Seven Remake in that he shows up constantly and we actually get to learn that he didn’t really take the fact that he’s a living Plant just like the other Plants who are being exploited by humans for energy. Can’t escape the environmental stories in these post-apocalyptic tales now can we?
Speaking of the story, I’m glad we’ve finally got an action series that knows how to ramp up the action with each episode and not slam the brakes for the sole purpose of adding flavor that doesn’t contribute to the narrative at all. I don’t know how many of you have watched High Card, but that show made the mistake of dedicating sole episodes to establishing who the individual team members are, despite the fact that they they never did anything important outside of those episodes, and nothing really got accomplished in their individual episodes either apart from empty setup that could have easily been done off-screen. So it was really refreshing to watch Trigun Stampede afterwards and see how every episode has a purpose in regards to explaining the lore regarding why the Plants exist or having the characters grow into their original incarnations, especially given how amazing the animation is.
I’m sure those who’ve watched the show know about how great Wolfwood’s flashback to his friend, Livio, was. All told through action using a 2D filter and no narration to clarify things we can clearly see. It’s scenes like that and Vash walking through an empty street for a few seconds without any dialogue where animation surpasses live-action as a storytelling medium. The final episode itself is a work of art where Vash gets his signature spiky hair and the ability to fly (no idea what the context of that is, but it looked cool so I give it a pass), so we get a really amazingly shot final action that would have impressed me more if I hadn’t seen John Wick 4 a few days prior. And seeing Vash fail at saving people again as the coup-de-grace was absolutely hilarious and totally worth it for the aftermath scenes.
Of course, this being Trigun, Vash and Wolfwood get most of the cool scenes. Meryl gets some neat ones too, but they’re mostly independent from her relationship with Vash aside from when she threw him the bullet in the first episode and when she ends up saving him in the last episode. Otherwise, she mainly either observes what’s going on or joins in on group efforts of subduing a bad guy. I don’t think Roberto even revealed his gun was a Derringer until the episode where he croaked it.
It’s kind of weird for me to say this about a Trigun adaptation, but Stampede gets a strong recommendation from me on the basis of being like a really good superhero origin movie for a classic character that establishes how he and his friends became who they are accompanied with beautiful cinematography and some fun moments. I was under the impression when it was first coming out that it’d just be a fun idea to see Trigun come back under one of the best 3D animation production companies Japan has right now, but with a more focused narrative and a bit more of a lean into how much of an idiot our main protagonist is, it is now easily the best Trigun anime we’ve currently got.
Definitely looking forward to more if only so we can finally see the big lady in this new universe. But I’ve got to be honest, I still think Vash’s signature spiky hair still looks fucking stupid and am not looking forward to seeing it again when he gets his hair cut.
P.S. I prefer the English dub mainly for Vash’s voice (yeah some of the supporting cast sounds eh, but Bosch’s inflections when playing as Vash more than make up for it), but his JP VA really does a good job in the final few episodes. Yes I’m aware Vash is voiced by Kirito’s VA in Japanese.
Pingback: Anime and Manga Blog Posts That Caught My Eye This Week (March 31, 2023) – Lesley's Anime and Manga Corner