The opening of the new feature, “Trigun: Badlands Rumble,” which begins its theatrical run in Los Angeles on Friday, sent animation expert Charles Solomon back to the archives to take a look at the DVDs of the classic anime series.
Since “Trigun” debuted in 1998, audiences have been trying to figure out just who (and what) the central character, Vash the Stampede, a.k.a. “the Humanoid Typhoon,” is. To bounty hunters, he’s an outlaw with 60,000,000,000 Double Dollars on his head. To Meryl Stryfe and Millie Thompson of the Bernardelli Insurance Society, he’s a walking disaster who’s cost the company a fortune. To his evil twin brother Seeds, he’s an obstacle who must be eliminated.
To otaku, he’s a beloved figure whose popularity has never waned, an indelible figure with a spiky blond crew cut, long red coat, yellow glasses and black boots and gloves.
Based on Yasuhiro Nightow‘s manga, the fantasy-adventure “Trigun” is set in the distant future on a desert planet that looks like the American Old West. Vash stumbles from town to town, unsuccessfully pursuing peace, doughnuts and “the elusive mayfly known as love.” Meryl and Millie follow in his wake, trying to minimize the destruction. But Vash’s only real friend is gun-slinging preacher Nicholas D. Wolfwood.
Many anime heroes rejoice in the role of the warrior, like the Gundam pilots who pay homage to the samurai code of bushido; others begin as unlikely nerds who grow into the role of warrior when it’s thrust upon them. Sometimes nutty, sometimes earnest, Vash strives to avoid conflict. Why, he asks, should he get into a gunfight with someone when he can buy a stack of salmon sandwiches for the cost of one bullet? But every bounty hunter on the planet is after him, as are the bizarre henchmen, the Gung-Ho Guns.
Vash’s often comic demeanor cloaks a profound reverence for life. Despite the many times he’s attacked and all the destruction he inadvertently causes, he neither kills anyone nor allows anyone to be killed if he can prevent it — even if that means undergoing the humiliation of stripping off his clothes in the town square and yapping like a dog to distract some murderous thugs.
Yet few anime characters command as much power as Vash. When his “angel arm” — the gun that forms part of his prosthetic left limb — is activated in his battle with Rai Dei the Blade (Agent #9 of the Gung-Ho Guns), Vash levels a deserted city and burns a hole through one of the planet’s moons. Had he not diverted it upward, the weapon would have decimated the planet’s population. Voice actor Johnny Yong Bosch articulates both Vash’s suffering at the sight of the needless destruction he causes — and his hormonal exuberance whenever he see a pretty girl — with sensitivity and panache.
The “Trigun” series ended with Vash’s climactic battle against Seeds. At the conclusion of their duel, Vash walked away, carrying the badly injured body of his vicious brother. Fans have been waiting to see further adventures of Vash, Wolfwood, Meryl and Millie for more than a decade. With “Badlands Rumble,” they finally get their wish, and the new feature will send many viewers back to the delightfully offbeat charms of the original “Trigun.”
— Charles Solomon
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