Even as a ‘Trigun’ Newbie, ‘Trigun: Stampede’s First Episode Didn’t Feel Right
2.5 out of 5 bullets Vash forgot to put in his gun.
Trigun Stampede, the Trigun retelling making its debut today, is the first piece of Trigun media I have ever seen in my life. We all have those series we just never got around to. Until this week, one of mine was Trigun. The 1998 original series, which in turn was based on a manga by Yasuhiro Nightow which ran from 1995 to 1997, has achieved legend status on both sides of the Pacific. In North America, it was largely aided by being part of Adult Swim’s Toonami block in the early 2000s. But I didn’t watch Toonami in the 2000s. I didn’t even know the red coat guy was named Vash The Stampede before I watched episode one of Trigun Stampede. I tell you this to impart upon you exactly how unbiased I am about the original. I’m not precious about it at all. I have no historic attachment to it in the slightest.
Episode one of Trigun Stampede did, however, make me curious about watching the first episode of the original Trigun series. So I did.
Dear readers, I vastly preferred the original.
Reboots are a tricky business. You need to walk an almost impossible line between honoring the original work and delivering enough freshness to justify the reboot’s very existence. You have to consider what about a decades-engrained, beloved character’s appearance or personality could use an update, and then come up with a solution that will have the smallest number of fans possible coming at you (because some amount of fans doing so is inevitable). What new characters could stand among the old ones and hold up? Is there a new way to re-frame or organize the narrative, and would that risk pay off? How can the show as a whole avoid feeling too derivative so it can have its own personality?
It’s not that Trigun Stampede is bad. But it is Serious, especially when compared to the 1998 version, which has a much more light-hearted and fun presentation from the outset. I have a hunch that Stampede is at aimed fans of the original who, now that they’re revisiting Vash’s narrative, want that narrative’s grandiosity centered. Along the way, Orange—the studio behind Stampede—made some bold decisions that will certainly prove divisive. But, then again, it’s a hell of a task for a reboot not to be divisive.
A space epic from the get-go
Spoilers for Trigun Stampede‘s and Trigun‘s first episodes below!
To its credit, Trigun Stampede begins by making its biggest difference obvious. The original Trigun‘s narrative is a slow zoom out from the desert of No Man’s Land and Vash himself. Hell, we’re not even 100% clear, for a couple episodes, that this guy actually is the famous Vash The Stampede.
By contrast, Trigun Stampede establishes itself as a space epic from the beginning. Our first shot is Vash as a child on a giant spaceship (we’re able to parse his identity by the end of the episode). We see the ship begin to implode, and we watch Vash’s mother figure, Rem, not join him and his twin brother on the escape pod—for no clear reason, I might add, because she seems to die immediately after sending them off. We watch the escape pod clear the exploding ship, and then we jump in time to the “present day” on No Man’s Land. In other words, Trigun Stampede zooms in at a pretty rapid clip. We already know there’s a big spaceship-ridden world out there, and we happen to be on this desert planet.
Trigun 1998 initially strikes you as a whimsical tale about some unlucky guy wandering around a bummer of a desert. In Trigun Stampede, there are bigger stakes from the get-go. The episode even ends with Vash mentioning his fear of Millions Knives, a.k.a. his brother, and establishing the latter as the villain—both behind the spaceship explosion and some larger narrative we don’t yet understand. As another token of setting up the bigger narrative from the outset, episode one also introduces us to the inter-dimensional beings Plants, the fact that they’re lost technology, and how important they are for humanity’s survival on No Man’s Land.
A reimagined Vash
Stampede’s early establishment of its tone as a space epic has some other effects, as well. It’s not as funny as the 1998 version. Even Stampede’s version of Vash, at least up front, strikes you as more sincere and less ridiculous than his 1998 counterpart. How this strikes you depends on what you want out of Trigun: a sincere hero’s journey, or a shounen stereotype-defying weirdo. Even though it was made 25 years ago, there were several aspects about the 1998 version of Vash that I found actively more refreshing than Stampede’s cooler counterpart. The 1998 Vash can put on his Serious Shounen Face, but that’s clearly an act. He’s an eccentric goofball at heart. I don’t know if this more sincere Vash is capable of pulling off that duality.
There’s a moment when, similar to the 1998 Trigun’s first episode, Vash realizes he’s out of bullets. To stop disaster from striking the nearby town, he cries out for someone to give him a bullet. As someone who had just met Vash for the first time ever, this scene was weird to me. I now realize it’s “very Vash,” but presented by itself, Vash struck me as pathetic and somewhat annoying here. It’s a scene that the 1998 Trigun’s more slapstick humor—the kind of ridiculous facial expressions which briefly transform Vash’s face into a cat’s—would’ve helped sell.
Perhaps this is the moment to talk about the animation style. Orange, who also does Beastars, is one of the most celebrated CG studios in Japan. Trigun Stampede looks good. But the characters do look a little … rubbery, to borrow a term from a commenter on the YouTube video above. The animation is slick, in several ways. Whether this slickness works for you or not, again, depends what tone you want your Trigun reboot to strike.
I will say this for Stampede Vash, though: He is very hot. And Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, who you most likely know as Inosuke in Demon Slayer or Kirito in Sword Art Online, does a great job of making him boyish and likable. And he probably doesn’t bungee jump from rooftops to see naked girls. Which is good.
Some Major Twists In The Supporting Cast
The reimagining stretches to other characters, as well. Trigun Stampede introduces an entirely new character to the franchise: Roberto De Niro. Yes, you read that correctly. Roberto is a senior reporter, and Meryl Stryfe is working under him as a recent college graduate and therefore “newbie,” whose dream is to become a famous TV reporter.
Roberto struck me as a downright unlikable character. Again, I’m saying this as someone with no historical bias to the 1998 Trigun. He’s bossy, he’s a drunk, he’s sardonic in the mean kind of way, and he’s dead weight to the plot. Also, why the hell is he named Roberto De Niro? Is that supposed to make us think he’s cool? A badass? When I ventured to the original Trigun and was introduced instead to Milly, a goddamn delight of a character, I got downright upset at Stampede for sticking Meryl with this asshole. Maybe he’ll redeem himself in later episodes. But I liked him even less on a rewatch.
This brings me to the biggest point of annoyance I had with Trigun Stampede. It’s something I didn’t think to be annoyed about until after I watched the original Trigun afterwards. Based on their first episodes alone, the original Trigun is more progressive in its presentation of Meryl than Trigun Stampede. The original Trigun presents you with two gun-toting women who, sure, work for an insurance company, but Meryl is effectively the boss. Meryl’s in charge, Milly looks up to her, and they’re presented as competent and charming. A female duo like this, in a shounen especially, is a rarity. I also appreciate that Milly has a body type you don’t see often in anime, or cartoons in general: She’s girly, but she’s also big and (I assume) muscular.
Trigun Stampede reduces Meryl to a recent graduate who is working under a jaded, lazy man. She lost her seniority and authority. Under this circumstance, her know-it-all nature hits differently. She feels haughty. Worse, Roberto is always deriding her for being ambitious or informed: “A textbook answer from Miss Good Grades,” and the like.
There’s a rumor—completely unsubstantiated—that Milly shows up later. I hope this is true. Taking out a fan-favorite main character from your reboot would be a bold move. I’m exactly two episodes into the 1998 Trigun, and I’m already drawing up a protest sign which says, “Justice For Milly.” But since this Vash is a little more grounded and sincere, that does take up some of the space Milly occupies in the 1998 version.
Still, I hope Milly shows up in Stampede because Roberto dies. Roberto sucks.
However, I was given key art for Stampede which features Vash, Meryl, Nicolas D. Wolfwood, and—yes—Roberto. So I’m not sure I can advise you to get your hopes up on either of these fronts.
In conclusion, Trigun Stampede is worth a watch if you’re either a fan of the original or the kind of person who loves a good epic space story. I’m sure I’ll get around to watching it and will be caught up by the end of the season. But for now, I think I’ll finally watch the original Trigun series.
Both are streaming on Crunchyroll. The 1998 version is also on Hulu.
(image credit: Yasuhiro Nightow, SHONENGAHOSHA/TRIGUN STAMPEDE Project)
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