‘TRIGUN STAMPEDE’ Regressed On The Aspect Of ‘Trigun’ That Needed The Most Improvement
I did not watch the 1998 Trigun anime before I had first witnessed episode one of TRIGUN STAMPEDE. But if I had, and you’d have asked me what I wanted most out of a kinda-sorta Trigun reboot, I’m quite certain what my answer would have been: a bigger action role for the two female leads, Meryl and Milly. Also, more silly Vash antics, just because I enjoy them. TRIGUN STAMPEDE didn’t deliver that, though. In fact, I’d argue it slipped in the opposite direction.
TRIGUN STAMPEDE let us know immediately that it was going to be different from the Trigun anime that had premiered twenty-five years earlier. But because Trigun is a time-tested and beloved series, the debate about whether or not you like TRIGUN STAMPEDE has become somewhat tied up with whether or not you can “let go” of the old Trigun. But, of course, things are more complicated than that.
To be transparent: I watched episode one of STAMPEDE, then all of the ’98 Trigun, then the rest of STAMPEDE. The one place where I felt like my Trigun experience actually detracted from, rather than supplemented, my experience with STAMPEDE was with its portrayal of Meryl. Because I knew the decision was made to demote her. And to get rid of the other female character entirely. At least for the entire first season.
The starting point: Meryl and Milly in ’98
In the 1998 Trigun, Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson are agents from the Bernadelli Insurance Agency who are tasked with attempting to mitigate the damage done by the Humanoid Typhoon, AKA Vash the Stampede. They are gun-toting women who can take care of themselves as they traverse Trigun‘s brutal landscapes. Meryl is the boss, and Milly loves working for her. Having a capable female duo who are in self-managed and can save the man character’s ass in a fight was even rarer in 1998 than it is now. And it’s still rare! Watching Trigun for the first time in 2023, they felt like a breath of fresh air to me.
Alas, there were issues. In the second half of the series, Meryl and Milly stop being on the front lines of the action as much. Instead, they are regularly pigeon-holed into being caretakers—both of kids and of Vash himself. Don’t get me wrong, them looking after Vash warmed my cold, cold heart. But I wish there had been more to counter-balance the “woman as caretaker” vibe. Especially since, at the beginning of the second cour, some asswipe lady at Meryl’s home office expressed concern that, because Meryl was traveling so much, she would never find “womanly happiness.” I wish Meryl had punched her in the face.
Even when Meryl and Milly do fight, they serve as support. Neither of them score a major KO in the entire series. The one big KO Meryl “appears” to get turns out to have actually been Vash, way back in the bushes. I mean, Meryl’s got a cape full of Derringers—use ’em, girl!
The summation of these two attitudes is exemplified by the only other female combatant which appears in the ’98 Trigun, Dominique the Cyclops. Dominique is a total badass, but she’s regularly undercut. This time, by Vash saying super gross, sexist, and sexualizing things to her. At the end of their battle, Vash says, “Don’t clean away people. Clean the house of the man you love. Like mine, for example. Just kidding!” Oh, you’re just kidding? Ha. HAHAHAHA. OOF. Not great.
Watching Milly and Meryl in the 1998 Trigun left me feeling like their role in the series was a “good start” that could use improvement. Improvement that could be provided by, say, a series which debuts 25 years later with the benefit of a modern lens.
The situation in TRIGUN STAMPEDE
In TRIGUN STAMPEDE, we’re introduced to Roberto De Niro, a jaded senior journalist with an alcohol problem and a ridiculous name. He’s heading to his new assignment, to find Vash the Stampede, with a new rookie, Meryl Stryfe. He doesn’t call her “Meryl,” though. He calls her “rookie” and treats her like she’s a pain in his ass. Every time Meryl shows curiosity, drive, or knowledge, he actively shoots her down with “cool” lines like, “A textbook answer from Miss Good Grades.”
That’s all episode one. Unfortunately, their relationship barely improves. Meryl regularly tries to take an active role in situations and do the right thing, and Roberto always contests and complains. Meryl will win these bouts, because she more happening in her head than a desire to do the bare minimum and to drink some booze.
The big “improvement” in their relationship comes in episode 9. Roberto asks Meryl to find him a place to smoke. Meryl replies, “Yeah, yeah. Or you could do it yourself—” Not “or,” Meryl! It’s not your fucking job to find this lazy man a place to indulge in his extracurricular vices! Tell him!
Instead, Meryl changes course and rushes excitedly over to Roberto. “Senpai! Did you just call me ‘Meryl?!’ You finally said my name!” she says breathlessly. Roberto denies this. They have a fun little argument about it, accompanied by light-hearted and inspiring strings. Haha, my boss sees me as a person! Yay!
Furthermore, Roberto has a gun. Meryl does not. They are regularly put in situations where Meryl cannot defend herself. She regularly has to rely on Wolfwood, Roberto, or Vash to save her. Yes, she does save Vash by calling out to him in episode 12, but you get my meaning. Hell, there’s one scene where Roberto is in an alert stance with his gun, and Meryl is sitting by dejectedly, her hands crossed around her knees.
Granted, no one in TRIGUN STAMPEDE “jokes” that a woman’s place is cleaning up a house or opines women experience optimal happiness if they do. But that’s a pretty low bar to clear. I’m glad they cleared it, though.
Beyond that, until the final moments of TRIGUN STAMPEDE’s first season, a character who was presented as a badass girlboss in 1998 is someone who helps out but ultimately needs saving. Someone whose position is so low, she gets excited when her naysaying boss does the basic decency of saying her name. Meryl seizes every scrap of agency given her. But instead of doing more than she did in the ’98 Trigun, STAMPEDE‘s circumstances make it such that she does less.
And Roberto—who I think we were supposed to like??—is the worst kind of male boss, constantly telling her she’s being naive or meddling or (gasp!) going beyond what they’ve been asked. At least, until his dying speech, when he (to his credit) avoids blaming her by insisting he was just “unlucky” and (not to his credit) asks for booze multiple times.
To be fair, trying to actively do something while a jaded senior male who you could easily run laps around, capability-wise, tells you that you can’t do it—that’s is definitely a key part of the Female Experience (TM). But I’m not sure that’s what Studio Orange was going for.
Why TRIGUN STAMPEDE‘s second season could be better
Meryl’s role on the front lines lessened in TRIGUN STAMPEDE, compared to Trigun. The series also cuts the female protagonists by 50% in swapping Milly for Roberto. Which, even (especially?) when you have a main cast of four, is noticeable.
However, TRIGUN STAMPEDE‘s first season finale gave me hope that the second will improve on all of these fronts. (A “final phase” is coming.) Meryl inherited Roberto’s gun (and smoking habit?) after his death. It’s not a cape full of Derringers, but she’s finally equipped for self-defense (or, heaven forfend—possible offense?). So that’s great. More importantly, Meryl’s getting her own rookie now: a “weirdo” by the name of “Tom … Thompson? Milly Thompson.” (Friends, I screamed.)
Episode 12 confirmed a lot of fan theories that this first season of STAMPEDE was, in its own alternate timeline way, working up to the starting point of the ’98 Trigun. That’s certainly the case with Meryl. The Meryl in the final moments of episode 12 is the Meryl from the ’98 Trigun. I appreciate that character arc.
But why did she have to be stuck with someone so undermining to get here? Why did the senior have to be a man, unless they were making a point about Roberto’s toxicity? In this series where most characters have a gun or some kind of ability, why didn’t didn’t anyone hand her a weapon like, “Hey, you might want to protect yourself”?
I really do hope TRIGUN STAMPEDE will let Meryl and our new BFF Milly stand on the front lines with Vash and Wolfwood. I beg you, let them be the all-out badasses they have the potential to be.
(Featured image: Studio Orange)
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