Trigun Anime Review
US Release By
Sci-fi Western Action-Comedy/Morality Drama
26 25-minute episodes
1998-04-01 - 1998-09-30
What's In It
- Gunfights Galore
- Ill-Understood Super Technology
- Crashed Space Ships
- Giant Cybernetic Mutants
- Little Cybernetic Mutants
- Incredibly Scary Nihilists
- Extreme Chases
- John Woo-Scale Tragedy
- Violence: 3 (significant)
- Nudity: 1 (mild)
- Sex: 2 (moderate)
- Language: 2 (moderate)
On a dusty, backwater planet that looks remarkably like the Old West, one name is feared above all others: Vash The Stampede. The Humanoid Typhoon. A man so dangerous, so destructive, so unstoppable, that there's a $$60,000,000,000 bounty on his head. He's also such a total dork that nobody'd ever guess who he really was until the shooting starts. He tries to do good, but good things just never seem to happen around him, and he refuses to stop moving until he's reached his goal... but what might that be?
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Trigun starts out a rollicking action-comedy on the dusty streets of a sci-fi western world. Populated by colorful and likable characters--the dorky yet principled "Jesus with a six-shooter" Vash at the center of them--and loaded with enough semi-goofy gunfighting to keep anybody happy, that alone would have made the series worthwhile. But in its second half it delves into an increasingly serious and utterly unforgiving examination of what "Thou shalt not kill" really means, and how being a pacifist means more than just not pulling the trigger. It's not a "smart" series, nor a technically impressive one, but its earnest heart and brutal unwillingness to let the hard choices work out cleanly in the end makes it truly memorable.
Funny comedy, an ongoing story that is anything but funny, and a gripping conclusion laden with serious, powerful, and thought provoking subject matter--Trigun has a little of everything. Best of all, the themes are comfortably compartmentalized, so it all fits together into a thoroughly enjoyable series with a message that sticks with you after it's over.
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Trigun is an interesting series, and although you wouldn't know it from the first dozen episodes, a surprisingly deep one. A lot of the hype it generated may have been for the wrong reasons, but it was well deserved.
Things start out downright silly, and although the series and its characters comfortably manage to hold on to their sense of humor through all but the darkest moments, it has a very definite focus and it slowly builds to an impressive climax through its 26-episode run. Don't let the largely episodic framework fool you--it is going somewhere. Like its characters, it just isn't in any hurry to get there.
What impressed me most about Trigun is that it's good almost in spite of itself. Although usually lots of fun, it's not a "quality" series, and certainly not an obviously smart one. It isn't wildly creative, most of the stories are made up of unconnected incidents and aren't terribly well constructed, the overarching plot isn't fit together with any great precision, the drama is heavy-handed, and it doesn't seem at all self-aware.
Despite all this apparent mediocrity, Trigun is not only a lot of fun but it tackles the true meaning of pacifism in a surprisingly deep and effective manner. It's so successful at this partly through the feeling of honesty that its less polished construction gives it, partly because of the earnest emotional heart of its stories and characters, and partly because, in the end, it refuses let things work out cleanly.
In a nutshell, that's what makes Trigun special: It's unpretentious yet unafraid to ask the hard questions.
That said, Trigun is more like three series in one. Primarily, and almost exclusively for the first half of the series, it's a classically-styled anime comedy, filled with a variety of tremendously likable characters, lots of amusing situations, and just enough depth to keep you emotionally invested. Trigun is also a reasonably creative sci-fi Western spiced up with plenty of gun-slinging action. It combines an anime-appropriate weird backstory with the dusty streets and might-makes-right attitude of the Wild West.
But where Trigun is most surprising is its earnest examination of the Christian principles of love of life, forgiveness, and redemption. (These ideals are held in many religions, but the focus in Trigun is clearly on the Christian flavor.)
These three different threads--comedy, action, and moral drama--all tie together surprisingly well. After a relatively light and largely episodic first season, it uses the season-opening recap episode to unequivocally declare the change in mood and remind the viewer of the important bits of story hiding among the slapstick. Even then, it eases into the transition slowly enough not to be jarring. The result is fun, exciting to watch, and, if you're willing to get caught up in it and devote a bit of thought, rather deep.
In the end, though, the characters hold Trigun together. There are a variety of exaggerated and somewhat generic minor players who are at least fun. However, the main characters, despite outward appearances, are a surprisingly interesting and multifaceted lot.
We start out with Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, two lively ladies from the Bernardelli Insurance Society who sport a particularly amusing motive for tag-along characters. They're both over 20 and not textbook anime babes, a refreshing change of pace. And, despite seeming like the classic hothead and empty-headed sidekick, they have more to their personalities than I was expecting. Milly is most surprising--out of all the characters in the series she ends up seeming the most like a real person. When things get particularly brutal, her emotional character and simple strength are memorable.
Their quarry, and the center of the whole mess, is Vash; he's the ultimate gunslinger, has the devil's own luck, and is also a total dork. There is, of course, a lot more to Vash than is apparent at first, including an impressively weird backstory. At times he uses his "friendly idiot" persona as a defense mechanism, but for all his skill and the huge emotional burden he carries, he really is a goofball at heart. I liked that.
Vash alone is more than enough to make Trigun a quality comedy--his ability to take a situation bordering on serious and almost without fail turn it into an idiotic mess right around the point it crosses the line into sappy is appealing. (You can't help but love his idiotic proclamations of "Love and Peace!" in the face of drama.) His antics also save the series from taking itself too seriously.
Where Vash gets interesting, though, is his refusal to kill anyone--anyone at all--and his insistence that anyone can be forgiven their past. This Jesus-with-a-six-shooter allegory is a bit odd, but the strength of his convictions makes for some fascinating moral drama toward the end of the series, which I'll get to later. For a lot of viewers, the unswerving nature of Vash's dedication to his single precept will seem illogical, annoying, or even downright silly--all of which are pointed out by other characters--but that's exactly the point: It is a religious belief that isn't necessarily "logical" or easy to understand.
As a blunt contrast to Vash we're given the traveling "priest" and smooth operator Nicholas D. Wolfwood. Despite the trappings of holiness, Wolfwood is far more pragmatic in his treatment of human life, and the arguments between him and Vash, as well as Wolfwood's eventual confrontations with redemption, make him a particularly interesting character in his own right.
There's also Legato Bluesummers, Vash's nemesis and an insane nihilist (in the most literal sense), who is frankly among the most frightening anime villains I've ever seen. I'll leave it at that, but suffice it to say he's the perfect contrast to a life-loving moralist.
Through Vash, the series, almost from the start, bluntly addresses a simple precept: "Thou shalt not kill." This simple, powerful concept has been ignored, rationalized, and explained away throughout history, but Trigun digs far deeper into this idea than most stories have the bravery to do. Better yet, even though it seems to present clear-cut answers, a variety of differing opinions are raised by various characters and situations, and the series is hiding plenty of murky gray area behind its obvious philosophies.
Trigun also addresses an issue that's conveniently left out of many pacifist discussions: Holding all life sacred isn't as simple as not pulling the trigger, and the risk isn't just for the person who has forsaken killing. More interesting still, even though this conundrum is arguably the point of the whole series, it is addressed through action rather than words. Since it isn't discussed as bluntly as the other moral concepts, it's surprisingly easy to overlook, despite how clearly--indeed, unflinchingly brutally--it is demonstrated.
The backdrop for all this is a Western world with a strong sci-fi twist that doesn't pop into focus until the backstory is explained toward the end. Although the setting lacks creativity and seems to be loaded with 30-foot-tall mutants with no apparent reason for existing, it's still relatively well realized. By saving the explanation of how things came to be the way they are until the end (almost certainly not quite what you were expecting), it offers just a hint of mystery as well.
Technically, Trigun basically falls into the "good enough" category. The art and animation aren't spectacular and the background art isn't wildly creative, though it does capture the barren, dusty world well. On the plus side, there are some nice touches, the character designs are classic-yet-memorable, and the quality of the production is always high enough to carry the story. There are a few impressively over-the-top fights, but these aren't the series' strong point.
Musically, on the other hand, Trigun is more noteworthy. From aggressive electric guitar work to a few very mellow Western-themed tunes and a pretty song that factors into the story, there is plenty of appealing music to hear. There's also Legato's chaotic industrial-sounding theme, which fittingly straddles the line between severely creepy and downright scary. The only fault in the music is that most themes are frequently re-used, but it's not as bad as many multi-season TV series and works well enough as part of the theme-based storytelling.
The Japanese voice acting is another of Trigun's strong points. Vash has a voice with plenty of whiny dweeb in it, but not in an annoying way, and the dramatic (and smoothly cheesy) parts of his persona are carried equally well. Wolfwood is also smooth, fun, and generally likable (with one of those ever-popular Osaka dialects). Hiromi Tsuru does a great, lively Meryl, although there's not much depth to the role. She's balanced by Milly; her high-pitched voice takes a bit of getting used to, but she's likable and generally believable when she gets serious. I didn't spend much time with the English dialogue; Vash is the high point, but isn't quite as much fun as the original.
On balance Trigun is first and foremost a comedy--and a funny one at that--with real substance later in the series. There's enough semi-goofy gunfighting to keep anybody happy, an ongoing story that is anything but funny, and a gripping conclusion laden with serious, powerful, and thought-provoking subject matter. Best of all, the themes are comfortably compartmentalized, so it all fits together into a thoroughly enjoyable series with a message that sticks with you after it's over.
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The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is an obvious pick, and by far the most similar series to Trigun even though the setting is space opera. Tylor is similarly a comedy with a lot of hidden depth, though it's not as blunt as Trigun. City Hunter also features a slick-but-goofy hero and a mix of comedy and action, and GTO might be worth checking out for the same reason and a somewhat different (but in a way remarkably similar) underhanded moral.
Notes and Trivia
Trigun is based on a manga series by Yasuhiro Nightow. The manga version originally started publication in 1995 with the title Trigun, but after changing publishers in 1998 was renamed Trigun Maximum, which it is now generally known as to distinguish it from the TV series. It is available in English from Dark Horse on 10 volumes under the Trigun Maximum title.
The opening theme of each episode of the series is accompanied by a different set of images highlighting the characters from that particular episode. On the old Pioneer 8 volume releases (both the original and Signature Series DVDs and VHS versions) the opening for the first episode was used for the entire series. The Collector's Edition and "Remix" releases restore the original unique openings.
There is one major error in Pioneer's translation, and it's particularly glaring because it's in a pivotal line in the next to last episode. Since the mistranslation itself is bad because it's a spoiler, do not read this if you haven't seen the series yet. The error is related to Rem's last words to Vash, which are translated as "Take care of Knives." The actual line is "Knives wo..."; due to the word order in Japanese the verb is missing, so it's not clear what she asked Vash to do to/with him--it could have been anything. The "Take care of Knives." translation works well enough, since it is fairly ambiguous (it could mean kill him, stop him, or care for him). The error is in the closing moments of episode 25 when Vash decides what he must do. In the original dialogue the verb is left off of his statement as it was with Rem's, leaving what it is he's decided to do equally ambiguous. The translation, however, is specific, thereby giving away the drama of exactly what he's planning on doing, when just repeating her words--"I'm going to take care of Knives."--would've worked.
US DVD Review
The original set of DVDs have the minor disadvantage of being in Pioneer's then-standard 3-episode-per-disc format (with 4-episode first and last discs), so the set is 8 discs long, but otherwise they're very solid. As with most Pioneer releases, the video is sufficiently crisp and shows no significant artifacts (though there is just a bit of edge shimmer/rainbow halo), and the 2-channel audio is good in both languages. The mid-episode eyecatches (a cool little guitar flourish with a picture of Vash) are included, and the episodes are divided nicely, with the credits and previews on separate chapters. The fun animated menus (they look like various pieces of Western paraphernalia, and some are quite creative) have a chapter index and audio/subtitle controls, plus a variety of character sketches and other images (like the covers from the Japanese laserdisc releases) spread out through the series. There are only two minor annoyances: The dub actors aren't matched with their roles, and the originally unique openings are replaced by the one from the first episode throughout the series.
There is also a two-box-set limited edition that improves on this; they feature the original episode-specific openings, 5.1 audio in both languages, and a collection of design-related extras. Six individual DVDs with these improvements are available as "Trigun Remix."
Trigun generally implies more than it shows, so Pioneer's 13-up rating is appropriate, although the last episodes do feature very strong emotional content.
Violence: 3 - Few people die onscreen, and there is very little gore, but there are some brutal scenes toward the end.
Nudity: 1 - Essentially nothing.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - There is a bit of innuendo and some mature themes, but nothing is ever shown.
Language: 2 - Generally clean, although there is a bit of swearing.
Available in North America from Funimation as a bilingual DVD box set of the entire series. Previously available from Geneon on two bilingual 3-disc "Collector's Edition" box sets or 6 individual "Trigun Remix" volumes, and prior to that from Pioneer on 8 individual bilingual DVDs (re-released at some point as the "Signature Series"). Was originally also available on 8 subtitled or dubbed VHS tapes.
At last check RightStuf had the new Funimation set on sale for $30, which is about what one disc of the original release cost.