Here's The Thing

Why I Love Trigun

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #102. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.

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Confession time: When I was a young fellow, I couldn’t get into anime. I’d heard rumblings of how cool and different it is from typical US animation and I wanted to watch it, but my first attempt didn’t go so well. I guess I expected something other than gorgeous visuals and socio-political commentary from Akira.

It wasn’t until Toonami (don’t @ me) that the somewhat pointlessly named medium got its hooks into me (“anime” is about as uselessly broad a term as “film” at this point). That was thanks to Trigun.

The series kicks off with a clumsy weirdo protagonist who can’t go five minutes without making a fool of himself. The show pretty much begs you not to take him seriously. Then things begin to shift. By the time the story is barreling towards its conclusion, you feel emotionally drained by just how real shit gets. Here’s the thing: Trigun is a mish-mash of comedy, drama and tragedy that ended up shaping what I want from TV and movies for the rest of my life.

Trigun is what made me fall in love with characters and stories that balance goofiness with awesomeness. It got me to appreciate how much more impact something like an upsetting as death can be when juxtaposed with silliness. Some might argue that this can lead to tonal whiplash, but I’d say only when it isn’t handled well. This series handles it well.

Vash the Stampede. The 60 Billion Double-Dollar Man. This tall, lanky, spiky-haired oaf is essentially the main protagonist, and I love him. He’s a clumsy fool, but what makes him great is that, little by little, you start to realize that he’s anything but.

Vash’s goofiness isn’t simply a ruse to make enemies underestimate him; it’s him putting on a brave face.

When we first meet him, he’s thwarting badguys by tripping over them by mistake. Then he inspires an entire town to stand up to a gang of armed robbers even though he himself confronts them without his personal firearm. Then he stops an infamous duo of outlaws – an elderly father and his gargantuan son who can launch his fist like a rocket battering ram – and saves several innocents in the process, which doesn’t sound like much until an episode recap much later on examines the situation. Turns out this was the first time anybody sees him draw his gun, and he stops the baddies with only six bullets.

Vash’s goofiness isn’t simply a ruse to make enemies underestimate him; it’s him putting on a brave face. He’s lost several people who were close to him, but he can’t bring himself to shut anyone out. He knows he’ll probably outlive all of his friends (Vash ages very slowly and is estimated to be around 130 years old during the events of the series), but he persists. He promised his first love that he’d never kill, no matter what, and has the scars to prove just how difficult it’s been to walk that path.

Vash is a tragic character, but he’s also funny and capable to a superhuman degree. What makes him work so well is how the story starts to change around him. The more we learn about how much of a badass he is, the more he gets to show it off. The more we learn how terrible his backstory is, the more his past comes back to haunt him.

There are three distinct moments that mark significant jumps in tone: seeing him lose his temper for the first time, experiencing the first on-screen loss, and the moment when he’s forced to sacrifice his ideals to save his friends. That first on-screen death is a doozy, as it’s given quite a bit of gravitas (and the surprisingly sorrowful accompanying guitar riff from composer Tsuneo Imahori drives this point home even further – look up “Scattered Rain”). This is the moment Shit Gets Real. This is where the balance shifts and the humor starts to take a backseat to some serious and depressing stuff.

Ever since completing the series, I’ve had a major thing for movies and shows that can balance serious, humorous and badass action…ous. Read or Die, Avatar: The Last Airbender, to a lesser extent Thor: Ragnarok – I totally adore this kind of stuff and it’s all thanks to Trigun. If you haven’t seen it, you should, and if you have, then you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

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Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved video games since the 80s, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them from time to time for sites like 148Apps, Gamezebo, Gameosity, and Fanbolt. You can catch his occasional rants on Twitter at @RobsteinOne.

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