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October 25, 2000

The Wild, Wild East

Two summers ago, at Anime Expo 1998, I was privileged to witness a new
anime show which was to become quite hot in Japan: Trigun.
Trigun does something fresh with a respected genre, paying
tribute to Sergio
Leone
and the spaghetti westerns which have since become
classics.

I admit I'm not too plugged in to the licensing announcements of
American anime companies, or the American arms of Japanese ones, but
I've heard that Trigun is supposedly coming to the
U.S. soon. So now might be a good time to revisit my viewing of this
intriguing series.

Trigun is a 26-part anime series, somewhat episodic, but
constructing an overall story arc. The setting is Old West in flavor,
though the Old West of The
Good, The Bad and The Ugly
, or Wild, Wild West.
Technological anachronisms abound, as do trick guns and bizarre
characters. After a brief period it becomes clear that this society is
the remnant of an interstellar colonization effort. What went wrong in
the colonization is the main thread of the story arc.


Trigun the anime is based on Trigun the manga, authored
by Yasuhiro Nightow in 1995. A new manga, Trigun Maximum, is
still running in the magazine Young King Ours
today.

The cast of characters includes the Good Guys, such as Vash the
Stampede (early in the series identified as being responsible for much
mayhem, with a bounty of $$60,000,000,000 [the '$$' is not a typo]),
and the Bad Guys, who are so bad, they even get a Team Name: the Gung
Ho Guns. I've said that Vash is a Good Guy, potentially giving away a
story point, but it's pretty clear to the viewer, if not to the other
characters, that he is good, noble and crazy, in the best Lupin/City
Hunter tradition. It is true that mayhem happens around Vash, but
Vash is usually trying to stop it.

I could go into the details of the driving story arc, but that *would*
be giving too much away. Suffice it to say that Vash has enemies,
powerful enemies, who want to destroy him. The chief Bad Guy directs
his lieutenant, Legato Bluesummers, to harry and humiliate Vash, and
Legato generally does just that, commanding the Gung Ho Guns, a
rogue's gallery of characters the likes of which always populated the
old Wild, Wild West television shows. Just a sampling of these
rogues:

The tone of the series ranges from whimsical, hilarious and goofy to
downright depressing. Characters enter our awareness, show their
humanity, and all too often die. Vash is the Fool, traveling from town
to town on a journey of discovery. Sometimes he is able to help
people, other times he has to watch them slip through his fingers.

Joining him on his journey are two insurance agents, sent to find the
source of all the claims their company has been flooded with recently.
One is Merril Stryfe, diminutive but tough, and the other is Milly
Thompson, tall, cheerful, and not the brains of the team. But she
does carry a big gun. Most of the main characters
carry a gun of one sort or another, usually a trick gun (i.e. a gun
concealed in an unexpected way, or a gun with flashy performance
features).

Does all this hang together? Remarkably well. Even viewed in raw
Japanese, which I don't speak, I found the stories engaging and fun. I
was a bit taken aback by the dark turn of later episodes, but they do
eventually resolve into a--sort of--happy ending. I once was told that
the Japanese have a word which describes moments which are both happy
and sad. Here Nightow and the anime creators bring that word alive. If
you can handle an anime where not all the Good Guys live, and the
happy ending doesn't include a wedding and a castle, Trigun is
definitely worth your time.

Posted by dpwakefield at October 25, 2000 03:37 PM