Anime Reviews: Trigun
Though it hasn't aged well and it does contain some terrible filler, Trigun still stands tall as one of the premier gateway series for new fans of the genre.
Production: Studio Madhouse
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 4/2/1998 to 9/23/1998
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, mild language, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Vash the Stampede is a name known and feared all across this sandy, barren world. Rumored to have been the man who single-handedly destroyed the town of July 23 years ago, the "Humanoid Typhoon" Vash the Stampede is worth $$60,000,000 dead or alive, making him not only the most dangerous outlaw but also the most valuable bounty in history. Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, two industrious employees of the Bernardelli Insurance Co., have been assigned to track down the legendary outlaw and prevent him from causing another disaster. With only a vague description to go by, Meryl and Milly soon encounter a tall man with blonde hair, a red coat, and an oversized silver revolver--an exact match of their description--but he's a pacifist and a bumbling idiot who gets out of tight scrapes with persistence and luck alone. Could this man truly be the legendary outlaw, and if so, what is his story?
The Good: Impeccable soundtrack; unpredictable story; iconic characters
The Bad: Hilariously inconsistent animation; filler episodes kill the mood; poorly-aged English dub
The Ugly: Some unfortunate woman had to give birth to those giant people
Man, how did this one slip my mind until now? When it comes to anime, Trigun is one of the most influential and popular titles of the 90s, and I've somehow gone this long without putting my opinion of the show into a review. Guess it's time to fix that. For those who aren't in the know, Trigun is one of the great sci-fi Western anime that came out in 1998 (the others being Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star) and got heavy play on Cartoon Network's [adult swim] programming block and, to this day, still serves as one of the great Gateway Anime for recruiting new fans. In short, it's a pretty big deal. So, what made Trigun such a landmark series, and does it still hold up today? Let's take a look~
To start, the first thing that hits you about the series is its soundtrack, and man, the opening theme is a beast of a tune to get the show rolling. After that's over, there are plenty of acoustic Western-inspired background tracks like "Never Could Have Been Worse," "Fool's Paradise," "Blue Funk," and "Vash's Theme," some calming tracks like "Philosophy in a Tea Cup," "Colorless Sky," and "Suna no Hoshi," and then there are the occasional rockers such as "Yellow Alert" and "Hash Hash." And with that said, special mention needs to be given to "Perfect Night," which is a damn creepy tune perfectly suiting the character it belongs to. All in all, a near-perfect soundtrack, with the exception of "Kaze wa Mirai ni Fuku," the ending theme with infamously lousy vocals. Oh well, I guess it could be chalked up as the wacky exception that proves the rule.
But enough about that, let's dig into the meat of Trigun, shall we? Like any good 90s anime, the story of Trigun starts off innocently and simply enough with a certain degree of mystery, and that mystery drives the rest of the plot. This is all fine and good, but the twists that come are genuinely surprising and fairly tricky to predict. If you can claim you know exactly where the series is going, you're either lying or you've seen it already. It's rewarding enough as an anime veteran, but for newbies to the genre, it's part of what makes this series so legendary and iconic, but if we're gonna talk about being legendary and iconic...
...we gotta talk about the characters. If you're an anime fan, whether new or old, you know who Vash the Stampede, Nicholas D. Wolfwood, and Legato Bluesummers are. Even if you've never laid eyes on this series. This is for mainly two reasons: One, their designs are immediately recognizable and appealing. Two, their personalities are immediately recognizable and appealing. We all know Vash is a pacifist who is a superhuman when it comes to gunplay, Wolfwood is the priest with the giant railgun cross, and Legato is the telepathic omnicidal villain who fears nothing, and while several of those tropes may be more common nowadays, it's here where they first gained steam and became insanely popular. Of course, these three aren't the only memorable and iconic characters (Meryl, Milly, Rem, and Knives, anyone?), but they are the ones that are the most popular. And I can't blame 'em.
Sadly, now we've gotta discuss those points where Trigun falls apart. First and foremost, this is not Studio Madhouse's proudest moment in regards to the art and animation. Character movements are often choppy and sudden, and the artwork is off-model far more often than on-model. You gotta love it when a character bends down to pick something up and they suddenly look like a gorilla substituted its head with an apple. Or the Han Solo-inspired "dodge a bullet by slowly moving your head to the left" trick. And I'm not talking about comic relief scenes here--those are off-model on purpose and obviously so--I'm talking about villains being nasty and making extremely derpy faces. Just...this is not an example of a well-animated series. For the love of God, don't go into this expecting to be wowed by great animation, because it just won't happen.
And that's not the worst thing about the series, either. The filler episodes in Trigun range from okay ("Quick Draw," "Peace Maker," "Hang Fire") to insufferable ("Escape from Pain," "Little Arcadia"), and regardless of their individual quality, they detract from the pacing of the show, sometimes halting it entirely. Sure, there are some good character moments here and there, but you're probably better off just skipping them. Oh, and to add insult to injury, the animation in these episodes is among the worst in the series, at times being truly wretched.
Finally, the English dub has just not aged very well. Johnny Yong Bosch is very charismatic as Vash, and he easily delivers the best performance in the cast, and even then I'd say he's only on-target about 60% of the time. Obviously, this does not bode well for the rest of the cast. Typical flubs to watch out for include: Wooden line deliveries, making dumb sounds just because the character's mouth is open, pausing during the...line frequently, half-hearted shouting or emoting, mispronunciations, and so on. I'm sure the dub was top-notch when it came out in 1999 or so, but nowadays, it's sloppy to say the very least. It's certainly no Cowboy Bebop, that's for sure.
Now, with all my griping aside, if you have yet to see Trigun and you call yourself an anime fan, or if you're just getting into anime and need a good title to cling to, then look no further. There are some rough edges, sure, but there's a reason this series is one of the perennial favorites among long-time anime fans; it's pretty much mandatory viewing at this point. To make an analogy, it's like watching Predator: It has flaws, and there are even some moments of badness, but it's a bona fide classic that serves to remind us that without it, the current landscape of the genre would be vastly different.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10. Although this is easily Studio Madhouse's least impressive show of animation quality and there are about a half dozen episodes that should have hit the cutting room floor, Trigun withstands the test of time due to its unique soundtrack, memorable plot, and of course, its top-tier cast of memorable, iconic characters.