Full Series Review: Trigun
Trigun is an old favorite of mine. I first saw it on Adult Swim/Toonami late at night on Cartoon Network back in the early 2000s (over ten years ago, yikes!).
Trigun is a masterpiece manga by Yasuhiro Nightow, who also made the manga for the anime Gungrave. It takes place in a future where mankind fled disaster on Earth to create a new home in space. That new home became Gunsmoke, a planet with very little water. The theme of water and energy as precious resources that cause a lot of fighting is a recurring theme.
The main character, Vash, is a widely feared outlaw with a 60-billion "double-dollar" bounty on his head. Over time, the audience learns more about who Vash is, what he is, and why he takes so seriously his commitment to never ending human life.
There is a lot of ridiculousness in the show, but also a real human warmth. You see Vash as something of a missionary of peace, leading by example. He is trying to heal a society that has become broken and degenerated into ceaseless violence. Vash is not quite human, but he is able to remind the humans of what it means to be human.
Characters and Themes:
Vash the Stampede:
This character is often comic, sort of like Kamina from Gurren Lagann. But he has deeply serious moments as well, and when you get to know him through the show, you'll begin to see he's more than just the class clown. Vash is an interesting, unique take on classic cowboy and action hero tropes, being a Sailor Moon style crybaby in one scene, and a "do you feel lucky punk" guy in the next. He's something of a "man-child", so through his character, the show explores the psychology of growing up and the social expectations of masculinity.
Milly, and her business partner, Meryl: Pictured at the right. These two girls are assigned by the insurance company they work for to track Vash, who is known as a "humanoid typhoon", basically a walking disaster. They have to report collateral damage caused by Vash back to their company, and the list is extensive.
Nicholas D. Wolfwood: Pictured Above. A traveling priest, taking some time off from the whole "helping orphans" thing when he gets caught up in Vash's shenanigans.
There's also a black cat that shows up in many episodes in the background.
Villains: Legato, a powerful fighter willing to kill and brainwash many people to mess around with Vash's emotions.
Knives, Legato's boss, who is Vash's long-estranged twin brother. What does Knives want with Vash after so long? What happened in their pasts that made them enemies?
There are other single-episode or single-story-arc villains, but they're not as memorable or interesting as Knives and Legato.
In Vash's past is also a mysterious woman who haunts his memories; Rem Saverem. She was once a mother-like figure to Vash and Knives. (That's all I'm saying, no spoilers!)
Trigun has a lot of themes that recur in various episodes.
Lost Technology: Humans rely on technology from the original ships that carried them to this planet. However, it's been over a hundred years since then, and most people don't know how the plants that generate their energy work, or how to cultivate water from underground sources. The people with the knowledge or control of lost technology are the "haves" in this society, but they are often beset by people trying to kill them and take what they have. Often, the "haves" are innocent and necessary caretakers of the technologies and resources they control; without them, humanity loses. The bad guys are then usually seen as short-sighted, greedy thugs who don't care about using said technology and resources effectively and wisely for the benefit of future generations. However, other times, the owners are bad guys themselves, people who manipulate others ruthlessly to maintain their political control over their towns.
Civilization Collapse and Mass Destruction: Trigun takes place in a world that is post-apocolyptic, but with a small seed of hope and scattered remnants of civilized society. Using visual references to "Wild West" style movies, the sci-fi show pulls up audience associations with the way the American West was presented in such movies as a place of lawlessness and constant gunfights. Also, almost alluding to Japanese "kaiju" or giant monster films (like Godzilla), there is a recurring theme of massive destruction. Vash the Stampede is called the "Humanoid Typhoon" on his wanted posters. This seems odd at first, after all, if there is no ocean on this planet, there is no reason for it to have typhoons.
It harkens back to Japanese culture's near obsession with destruction. This is not only because Japan was on the receiving end of the only atomic bombs to be used in war in history, but even further back we see that Buddhism brought with it to Japan a cyclical view of time, and even before Buddhism spread to Japan, Shinto taught reverence for nature, and yet again before that; the very environment of Japan itself has always been constantly fraught by threat of disaster.
Swift ocean currents and whirlpools, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, mud slides, and the Japanese-named typhoons have always given the Japanese people reasons to be, if not constantly afraid of death, but constantly struck with the awe-filled awareness of it.
This is seen when the code of bushido instructed young samurai lads to meditate on death in order to be a good person, and in many other aspects of Japanese culture. The tension in Trigun is filled with the drama surrounding life on a planet that is not only a harsh environment for humans to live on, but also with the threat of annihilation hanging over them. One of the reasons Vash is hounded by people trying to kill him all the time is not just for the bounty on his head. It's also largely because he was known for destroying an entire town. He killed no one, but many people became homeless and lost their way to make a living. They soon devolved into lawlessness and killed each other. Since that incident, people feared the name "Vash the Stampede", as he was called, far and wide.
Thus, Trigun shows that in a harsh environment, people themselves become harsh and bitter, and sometimes this leads to hatred and fighting.
Vash is basically the antithesis of Light Yagami from Death Note. It is brought to light in the show that his main difference that put him at odds with his brother Knives was over a philosophical argument they had as boys. Basically, Knives thinks that to purify humanity, bad people need to die. He blamed humanity (perhaps correctly) for the original demise of Earth that led them to launch themselves into space and colonize a new planet. Therefore, he sees them as an inferior species, one that can only destroy life rather than preserve it. He sees humanity as a pathogen that needs to be gotten rid of. Vash, of course, though he is Knives' twin (and both of them are superhuman beings), has the opposite view.
Vash shows mercy to everyone and will neither kill nor allow anyone to die. It becomes very psychologically unsettling for him in any situation where someone either kills themselves or cannot be saved by him. Everyone questions this; after all, in a world that's so harsh where society is so cutthroat, why bother trying to save humanity at all? Why is it that Vash is able to see the value in human life when even most of humanity doesn't? Can every "bad guy" be brought to surrender peacefully?
What can I say, I've been a big fan of this show for a long time. I guess the reasons are that I really like the characters and I admire the moral purity of the heroes, their dedication to doing good, even in a merciless world. The villains are some of the best in all of anime. I like that the "on the next episode" blurb between episodes; we usually hear Vash's words of wisdom.
It's one of the few that I like to watch dubbed, because I started with the dub on TV, but I think the dub helps because the overall style of the show is American, without specific references to places.
Mainly, Trigun is something I like for the depth of philosophical questioning. It constantly asks questions, but doesn't so explicitly guide the viewer to a clear answer. This is in my opinion what makes it a beautiful series.
Some of the character designs/animation is sometimes... quirky. There's cutesy comedic relief. The show starts out very goofy and upbeat but then after about 8 episodes becomes much darker, and over time the comedic moments taper off. That's what makes it hard to introduce to someone else, because they might dismiss it, like Kill la Kill, as being just silly, but it's not until later that the overall point the creator of the manga was making with this story becomes more crystallized.