We have been meaning to review Trigun for some time but now the stars have aligned in a way to make this extremely relevant. Funimation has recently license rescued Trigun and is putting it out on Blu-Ray and DVD. Madhouse released a Trigun movie on April 4th and Yasuhiro Nightow is writing a new chapter of the manga in celebration. Since Trigun first appeared on Adult Swim it has a solid fan following in the U.S. despite not being that popular back in Japan. We will be looking at what made the Trigun so enticing to English speaking fans and how is the manga different from the anime that was such a hit in the US.
I remember Trigun fondly, the DVD was given to me at random and little did I know a little while later it would appear on the afore mentioned Adult Swim to then go on to be one of those shows that defined anime for new U.S. fans in the early-2000s. And seriously did any of us really think the Trigun movie was going to happen? More than 10 years after the television series ended a movie comes out for a franchise that seemed to be rather ignored in Japan. I don’t know how or why it all finally came together, but I am super happy about it. But anyway, this post isn’t about the movie but the manga!
On a desert planet Vash the Stampede is a wanted man with a sixty billion double dollar bounty on his head. Known as the Human Typhoon he is supposedly responsible for the destruction of the town of July. Hot on his trail are Milly and Meryl, two women from an insurance company tasked with dealing with him. Vash is also soon joined by a shady but charismatic preacher named Wolfwood and the two become fast friends. Vash and company travel the wastelands looking for the Gung-Ho Guns, a group of killers, who may be responsible for the tragedy of July but also have a score to settle with Vash. And Vash is looking for the mysterious figure called Knives.
Within these travels Milly and Meryl pop in and out of importance, and many other civilians and villains alike ebb and flow around Vash and Wolfwood. At the beginning many of the tales are one offs where Vash gets himself entangled in the problems of others he meets in town. As the story goes on more is revealed about just who Vash is, what his connection with July is, and why the Gung-Ho Guns have their sights set on him. We also start to learn about beings called Plants that are used for energy in the towns. Trigun combines the wildwest and science fiction in a tale woven about despair and hope, action and inaction, and destruction and redemption.
Vash is one of those extremely iconic characters. Anyone who has been to an anime convention in the last many years has almost certainly seen someone cosplaying him. A goofy and lighthearted man who seems harmless when people first meet him. As the manga digs deeper in we see a more complex and tortured character. We learn that he has had deep emotional and physical scarring that has created a powerful warrior. But despite all that has happened to him he remains cheerful and optimistic. He is always trying to help the people around him and fight for peace while maintaining his vow not to take life. This attempt to move beyond the past and remain committed to a bright future despite the darkness of the present and it is centerpiece in Vash’s story.
I couldn’t agree more about Vash’s iconic status. With a shock of blonde hair, a carefree attitude, and a 60 billion double dollar bounty on his head, Vash the Stampede sauntered into the hearts of many fans and has held a place there ever since. Vash is an interesting soul who happily, effortlessly, and quickly bonds with the people he meets on his journey. It becomes clear that Vash just can’t get enough of people, he has a blind optimism towards them even. As it goes on it becomes clear that Vash has something to prove and it comes with mixed results. There is also a struggle that goes on within his heart because he has no problems putting himself if harms way for those he meets, but at the same time knowing and meeting them is putting them in harm’s way because with Vash around something is bound to happen.
In contrast we have Wolfwood who seems to be a man much in the same mold as Vash. Wolfwood also seems to be cheerful, goofy, and harmless like his partner and much like Vash he has a scarred past but it has given Wolfwood a more cynical view of the world. Wolfwood does not hesitate to take a life if necessary being the most obvious sign that their fundamental philosophies and perceptions of humanity are quite different. Part of the friendship between Vash and Wolfwood involves the struggle for both men to reconcile their friend’s worldview with their own which makes their dynamic so memorable.
The bond between Vash and Wolfwood is central to Vash’s character because he absorbs people’s emotions to readily. Vash in turn wants to help them, to show them his way of doing things, and in many ways make them believe in goodness in the world. Wolfwood very much wants to make things right, to protect people, and like Vash never asks for the redemption he so clearly seeks but doesn’t believe he deserves. But Wolfwood has his own issues, path, and ideas about the way the world works. Wolfwood is the otherside of the coin from Vash, but not so lost as Vash’s enemies. At times Wolfwood wants to believe in Vash’s view, and there are moments where it seems Vash may break. Both of these men throw everything they’ve got into changing the other’s outlook, but it’s hard to say if they ever fully succeed. It’s a testament to their strong friendship and wills that they influence each other but still have a path making it a refreshing and memorable interaction.
Milly and Meryl start as sort of an introduction to getting to know Vash. When Wolfwood is introduced they fade slightly into the background sometimes dropping out for as much as a volume at a time but they are always return. They can be seen as Vash’s constant link to humanity and alternate with Wolfwood as someone for Vash to play off of. If the insurance girls represent humanity than the Gung-Ho Guns represent a greater inhumanity. Each member had joined the organization for their own reasons but had thrown away a piece of their existence. Some believe in the genocidal goal of the organization while others have their own agendas using the organization. Each member has some crazy gimmick fighting power and as in many fighting manga one of the joys is seeing what power the next person has. There is everything from killer jazz musicians to rollerblading swordsmen. It is important to note that as the manga goes on the personality and motivations of the Gung-Ho Guns gets more divergent from the anime even if they stay mostly the same characters.
The Gung-Ho Guns are, for the most part, an incredibly insane and sadistic bunch of people epitomized by their surrogate leader Legato Bluesummers and the ever maniacal Knives. As their paths with Vash start to converge the pasts of each come out and we learn quite a lot about how they came to be. As more and more factions emerge it’s clear that humans, space, Plants and all of these people are interconnected. The goals ultimately are destruction and genocide with Knives eying the planet for his own purposes. The villains here have harsh and dark things they have to live with making their decisions deeply rooted and not easily swayed. Some of these moments along with a few fights throughout the series make Trigun border on horror at times. The violence and gritty nature increases as the story goes on following the path of its characters descent into an ever-growing deadly situation.
When the anime starts it is very faithful to the manga but since the anime ended long before the manga the last half slowly diverges in its own fashion. The main question people ask is if you have seen the anime is it worth reading the manga afterward. I would say that it is but you must be prepared that while there are major changes between them overall the end in very similar. It is just the road to the end that is different. The second question people ask is if you have not seen either which should you partake in. I would pick the manga but I think they both do different things very well but the manga wraps things up in a more epic manner. I also like the style of the Gung-Ho Gun they introduce in the manga. But there is much to be gained from seeing both.
With the anime more than a decade out some fans have fallen off but don’t think the love that still exists for Trigun is nostalgia, the manga is a wonderful full-force ride that gives all the way to the ending. An ending that seems informed by the anime or perhaps Nightow just knew very well where he was headed and advised the anime staff so. Either way both work have story and characters worthy of seeking out but upon viewing the anime I think you’ll want to read the manga and vice-versa. Even after both I am anxious for the movie and ever more so looking out for the coming manga chapters from Nightow.
Trigun’s greatest appeal in the U.S. is the manga’s mixture of western and eastern aesthetics. Yasuhiro Nightow has mentioned being influenced by any and all types of comics including American comics so while Trigun is unmistakably a manga it draws on many of the strengths and appeals of Western comics. This hybrid of styles gives Trigun both a familiar and exotic style which I think can be one of the biggest broad market appeals. The art especially in the fight scenes can be sometimes hard to follow but its detailed, frantic, and sometimes macabre style sets it apart. But the characters and the world keep fans interested. I think that Trigun is and will continue to be an evergreen title in western fandom.
Look at all that lovely Trigun loot (*books in Japanese)! To win it, all you have to do is leave us a comment telling us what your power would be if YOU were one of the Gung-Ho Guns!
Entries are due by Sunday, May 2nd. The winner will be notified on Monday, May 3rd.
This contest is over.