‘Trigun’brings the Old West to the Final Frontier
By Adam Tatelman, Staff Writer
I initially credited Cowboy Bebop as the show that helped me “get” anime. By that criteria, I should have mentioned Trigun, the first anime series I ever watched from start to finish and truly enjoyed. Adapted by Madhouse Studios from Yasuhiro Nightow’s manga series, Trigun blends comedy and tragedy just as haphazardly as it does American western tropes with sci-fi.
In the distant future, humanity has colonized a desolate, Tatooine-like planet called Gunsmoke and things are very much like the Old West, except with towering mutants and automatic weapons. There is a ludicrous 60-billion “double dollar” bounty on an unstoppable force-of-nature outlaw named Vash “The Stampede,” who obliterates all in his path. Fed up with making payouts to Vash’s victims, the Bernardelli Insurance Company assigns watchdog representatives Milly and Meryl to track Vash down.
What they find is a misunderstood goofball who, while an impossibly good shot, refuses to kill anyone regardless of the horrific wrong-place-wrong-time situations he routinely blunders into. Forced to tag along and make sure he doesn’t cause any more financial carnage for their employer, the girls are strung along through gleefully twisted visions of every clichéd American western plot imaginable: bank robberies, train jobs, kidnappings, border towns endangered by bounty hunters, robber barons monopolizing the water supply, determined homesteaders imperilled by thieves, and more.
Trigun seems like a comedy western at first, but despite all the action, Vash’s near-childish belief in his morality becomes central. You don’t want to see him just kill the bad guys—no matter how awful their deeds—you want to believe vengeance solves nothing. Characters like the desperado priest, Nicholas Wolfwood, add thematic resonance to the show’s moral dilemmas, being mysteriously two-faced even in their best moments. Two words: Martyr. Complex.
The soundtrack is a quirky, alien mix of synth-rock and twanging acoustic guitar, playing well with the sci-fi/western setting. As the origins of both Vash and Gunsmoke are slowly revealed, the sci-fi elements gradually shift to the foreground, bringing early foreshadowing into sharper focus. The world becomes fuller and richer with each revelation, and its true nature is something far more than just a silly space western, much like the script of the show itself.
I’m not going to say that the dub is perfect, but it’s pretty good. This is the series that established Johnny Yong Bosch as a voice actor, and he’s been a mainstay in the industry ever since, most recently voicing Kung Jin in Mortal Kombat X. Sadly, other standouts like Jeff Nimoy and Lia Sargent haven’t been as prosperous as their talent surely deserves.
Trigun’s quality is undeniable. Although some say the late ‘90s-era animation doesn’t stand the test of time, I was utterly absorbed by its attention to detail and low-rent charm. So if you’re looking for an anime with brains, heart, and a spine, you can’t go wrong with Trigun.