In late September of 2001, my girlfriend at the time dragged me to the parlor of one of the remaining all-girl’s dorms on campus on the pretense of ‘a surprise’. As it turned out, she’d discovered the MWC anime club. Yes, I attended anime club as a date. Several times. As I’ve said many times before, I am a geek beyond the pale of normal geeks and I date the same.
Well that relationship didn’t last, and (I’m not sure if it’s sad to say or not) the lasting effect it had on me mostly stemmed from introducing me to that club. Also hating Invader Zim, but that’s another story. Anime club turned out to be the place where I would get to know my current best friend of nearly fifteen years now, Pele (We met the first day of college in the mail room. She growled at me. Then I ended up trying to get a date with her roommate and ended up hanging out with her instead.). It was also where I was introduced to a number of my favorite anime including Escaflowne, Saber Marionette J, and Kodocha no Omocha.
That first night, however, we watched Cowboy Bebop (something I already enjoyed from my new-found access to cable in college), and the anime that (aside from The Slayers) has influenced my work more than any other: Trigun.
Trigun is a space-western set on the planet Gunsmoke (I don’t think that’s ever stated in the anime. It is on in the manga, and in the teasers that ran on Adult Swim when it played there). It follows Vash the Stampede, a gunslinger of many layers who are first seems like a complete goof but quickly begins showing that there is much more to him than that.
In circles that discuss anime, Trigun is notable for transitioning from a madcap ‘villain of the week’ to dropping into a deeply philosophical and thoughtful back half that dropped almost all of the earlier silliness. And doing it well. This transition is often called Cerberus Syndrome and it can get ugly if handled badly. The fact that Trigun pulls it off has made this one of the more beloved anime for fans of a certain age like myself.
That said, none of this can guarantee that it started out as good as it became. Was the first episode indicative of what we’d be getting later? Does it set up the series well; introducing the important players and giving them proper characterization?
Well thanks to the good people at Funimation, the first episode of this series is free to watch on YouTube, so we all can take a look and judge for ourselves! Let’s watch: Trigun, Episode 1: the $$60,00,000,000 Man.
If you prefer the subbed version go here.
Right off the bat, we get the opening sequence. Trigun is from the error during which every other anime was trying to outdo the other in terms of kickass music. I’m not even a fan of pure instrumental openings, but the Trigun opening, HT by Tsuneo Imahori (click the song name for a Youtube link, click the artist’s name to buy a copy) is excellent, right up there with other favorites of mine such as The World Without Logos by Yasushi Ishii (the opening to Hellsing), and The Real Folk Blues by the incomparable Yoko Kanno.
This isn’t me fanboying here, this is very good music. The opening itself provides better set-up for the show than most anime openings, with Vash fleeing from gunfire with a sandwich jammed in his mouth segueing into more serious images of him wandering the desert night.
We open far out in the desert, as a bar that seems to be the only place within a hundred miles. We see that the music is provided by a jukebox and hear a bar patron talking about how Vash the Stampede has apparently killed everyone in an entire town again. There’s also some world-building mention that building a mansion of wood is a sign of insane wealth.
The spiel is overhead by a yellow-haired gentleman in a badass red duster who everyone just saw in the opening credits, so it’s no mystery that this is Vash, Aka ‘The Humanoid Typhoon’.
As the guy is talking and Vash is trying not to react, the bartender goes outside and freaks out over something, running away. Then a goddamn BOOMERANG tears the op half of the place clean off. A boomerang! If you’re not sure if that’s stupid or awesome, you have not watched enough anime, my friend.
The guy who was talking and his poker buddy look up, decide it’s time to run, and then Bullets. Bullets forever. For a full twenty seconds—which is a lot of time in animation—a group of men outside shoot the bar into nothing, destroying the bar, the tables, the jukebox, the remaining walls and even the seats. All that’s left is the sign, which has crashed to the ground and remains standing. It then falls dramatically to reveal that the sign has protected Vash and the part of the bar holding his drink.
He stands up looking incredibly badass as he pushes his shades up. The Boomerange returns, just missing him, but he doesn’t flinch. It lands in the metal hand of an absolutely HUGE dude with a mohawk and a physique the makes me think Doctor Robotnik had a son.
Big dude is triumphant at having finally found Vash (one wonders what he would have done that fusillade of lead and boomerang had annihilated the guy). Vash in turn, decides to let his gun do the talking. He draws, aims… and we cut to two suns high above and the sound of… automatic gunfire?
That cuts to the title card: The $$60,000,000,000 Man. Sums in Trigun are odd. Later in this episode, we’ll hear miles called ‘isles’, and the currency is the double dollar. It’s never satisfactorily explained how much sixty billion double dollars actually is, but it does inspire everyone and their brother to come gunning for Vash.
We now arrive in the ruins of Dankin Town, apparently reduced to such in one night by Vash—but there are zero fatalities despite many, many injuries. The sheriff gives a description that could describe either Vash or the giant dude to a guy with an oddly designed rifle. Rifle guy thanks him and leaves.
Cut to Farnarel Town where Mille Thompson and Meryl Stryfe enter a dank bar and order a banana sundae and tea. The barman… freaks the absolute hell out over this and he and his patrons open up a gamegate’s worth of creephattery (even the cat! By the way, this would be Kuronekosama and he is in every episode as an Easter Egg) on them until Millie drops the mother of all Gatling guns she was apparently carrying under her cloak and clocks one of them. Then she lifts it with ease and the dude back off wondering just how big the ass-kicking they’ve earned will be. The bar’s cook provides the girls with a second description that is totally the big dude and not Vash. Millie saiys ‘That’s out man alright’ and we cut to the big dude and his lackeys hunting Vash.
Big dude is an awful boss.
Meanwhile, Vash is hiding and picking off the gang members, scrounging them for bullets. A flashback shows that right after Vash drew on the guys in the opening, he tried to fire only to have no bullets. What follows is a fun sequence of the gang members hunting Vash and Vash foxing them, ending with a hilarious conversation between him and one mook who then accidentally gets hit by the big dude’s weapon.
The big dude… he’s the worst part of the episode so far. At least in the dub, his speech is stilted and weirdly posh when he first talks to Vash. He doesn’t have a name, and his character design is distracting, with huge, stretched earlobes.
Anyway, the girls show up and we learn they think Big Dude is Vash. They’ve been sent from an insurance company for some reason, but before they can explain, the rifle guy from before shows up. Named Loose Ruth, he’s here for the bounty on Vash—and thinks the Big Dude is him.
Ruth, Big Dude and the Insurance Girls (as they come to be called) compare notes and find out all the accounts are contradictory. In the meantime, the wind kicks up, revealing the red lining of Ruth’s coat—meaning he matches the description Big Dude has of Vash!
Ruth and Big Dude’s gang start to battle and the Insurance Girls scram. Vash gets up and runs too, matching pace with them and nicking the donuts they brought to offer ‘Vash’. They explain to him that they’ve been sent as disaster investigators to keep tabs on Vash to make sure he doesn’t cause any new damage.
Vash lets the cat out of the bag, but Meryl doesn’t even consider he might be Vash. Instead, she pays him to run into town and sound the evacuation because ‘vash’ is nearby.
Back with Big Dude, the girls try to make nice with him only to discover that he’s teamed up with Ruth and plans to use them as hostages to lure Vash out.
There’s a brief bit where our villains discuss sexually assaulting the Insurance Girls (because of course they do. Ugh.) Luckily, just as it’s revealed that Meryl is armed, Vash shows up and cuts the girls free. Big Dude calls him Vash, but the girls still don’t believe a guy acting as crazy and cowardly as Vash could possibly be him.
Big Dude corners Vash and gives hm the option of being killed or jumping to his death and for the first time, we get a glimpse of Serious Vash as he notes that he disapproves of suicide. Big Dude launches his boomerang, but Vash manages to turn the boomerang’s returning system against him, tangling him in it and choking him while at the same time redirecting the weapon into Ruth.
While he’s hammign it up though, a grenade Ruth had primed goes off—sending the cliff crashing down onto Farnarel Town, destroying it. The Humanoid Typhoon has struck again.
Some time later, Meryl is writing her report, blaming the whole thing on Ruth. Millie thinks ‘that crazy guy’ (Vash) might be Vash. Meryl is certain they haven’t seen Vash at all.
We close with Vash leaving and two men discussing what happened at Farnarel. It seems no one died even though Vash the Stampede destroyed the place.
And that’s The $$60,000,000,000 Man. How was it?
Fun but uneven. I’m not sure if I need to blame the voice acting, the dub writers or the actual writers for both Big Dude and Ruth’s dialogue, but they were really weak links here. The Insurance Girls and Vash are voiced well, though I noticed that they kept Japanese Vash’s ADR for some screams and other noises, which is weird, but funny. Incidental voices are actually really good.
The animation is nothing to write home about, but they made good use of the more jerky animated style with Vash’s frantic evasive tactics. It’s actually worse in the slow moments, like Millie and Meryle in the bar. The character designs though are all memorable and not distracting. Vash’s arguably should be given all the loops and buttons, but it really doesn’t.
I particularly like Millie’s design. When you have big, strong women, there’s a tendency to make them either Standard Hot Amazon #135, or muscled behemoths a mustache and a slim jim away from being Macho Man Randy Savage.
Her, Millie looks like… a big, tall strong woman. Like one you might know in person. She’s not particularly muscular or fat, she’s just a big woman. There aren’t a lot of characters like here in any media, much less anime, and it’s well-executed here.
Before I really got into thinking about the inner workings of story, I was confused by the actual plot to this one. After all, why do a story about confusion over who Vash the Stampede was and then preface it with a theme that shows him front and center, start with him in the bar, etc?
Years after my first viewing, I now understand. The ‘who is Vash’ question isn’t about fooling the audience, it’s about World Building and characterization. See, Planet Gunsmoke, for all the fact that it’s a Western setting with anachronisms abounding, is beset by supervillains. Both Big Dude and Ruth are colorful characters with signature weapons (everyone who matters in Trigun has one!) and a kind of flare you only really get in a supervillain. They wreak havok wherever they go and don’t care.
Well as we see at the end, once we’ve sort of been convinced that Vash isn’t responsible for any of the bad things he’s been credited with and then the dynamite goes off, Vahs has awful luck on top of tons of dangerous psychopaths chasing him willing to blow everything up to get him. Vash might not deserve his bounty, but he has earned it in a fashion.
And from the outside, looking at this from the point of view of the people of Gunsmoke, Vash’s destructive savior tendencies aren’t all that easy to distinguish from the destruction caused by someone like Ruth. EXCEPT. No one dies.
Vash cares. Vash cares a lot about people. He’s a superhero to be honest. And by that token, he does whatever he can to make sure everyone lives—even the bad guys.
Which brings us back to the ‘who is Vash’ plot. Our viewpoint characters are the insurance girls, even though we do spend time with Vash alone. What you need to remember is that they’re after the villainous Humanoid Typhoon, a lawbreaker and womanizer who destroys towns for fun. From their perspective, this guy can’t possibly be that man because he’s nervous and exaggerated and decidedly not evil. He even takes ten double-bucks to go warn the town to evacuate.
This in turn allows the audience to see the big picture of what’s going on here in a way I don’t think they would if we’d spent the entire episode with Vash.
How indicative is this premier to the series? Well that’s hard to say. It quickly introduces and gives good characterization to out main players, handily establishes the world, and is fun in its own right with just a few hints of the progression to come.
The thing is though, Trigun changes as it goes on. The comedy slowly dials down, the drama and action slowly dials up, and it’s all very organic. Show someone episode 1 and then 16 and they’ll be confused as hell how we got there. For some people this slow change is actually a mark against it because they came in expecting fun times all the way through. And that’s fair. To me, the opening, the outright disgusting cruelty of the villains and Vash’s little moment on the cliff are all nice little non-obvious hints at what’s to come and that makes this episode fair play.
I won’t say it’s perfect in this regard. The actual main villains don’t show up for a long, long time and there’s no hint about them except for one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot in the opening, Vash is really never this—for the lack of a better word–‘cowardly’ ever again in the series either. From here on out, we get pretty clear hints that’s an act.
Big Dude and Ruth are also easily the least interesting villains of the series too. The boomerang is cool and all, but he really only uses the one trick with it. Ruth’s rifle is a repeater rifle he has to spin to make work. Nothing else really going for them.
So overall, a good start, but not the best and probably one of the lower-rung episodes for what is honestly an amazing series.
Before I go,however, I have to address this because someone is going t feel snubbed if I don’t. People have been sending me suggestions for Let’s Watch segments and a lot of the time I can’t do them because they’re not freely available. People suggest me stuff in Netflix fairly often, for example. One of the few who did link me to a free (on youtube no less) episode linked me to a series called Heaven’s Lost Property, saying that it was sort of the anti-Rune Breaker.
…Which it is after a fashion. If you want to check it out, here’s a link BUT listen to me first. HLP is what’s known as an ecchi series. Ecchi is a Japanese term commonly used to signify that a work is sexually oriented without being porn. Specifically, HLP is an ecchi comedy. Most of what you hear about ‘weird’ or ‘creepy’ anime comes from this genre.
HLP is no different. Yes, it has the same element from Rune Breaker where a character falls ass-first into having a magical, nearly omnipotent super-slave and by the end of the first episode, the protagonist of HLP learns they need to treat the ‘slave character as a person… but most of the runtime over the two episodes I watched was devoted to the stereotypical Japanese panty obsession. Is hit you not, the second episode ends with a flock of panties that behave like birds (including flying by flapping their… wasitbands?) unleash on the world. There’s a shot of them roosting in trees for the night.
Yeah, I’m not going to do a Let’s Watch for HLP, or any ecchi series to be honest. Not my cup of tea and I’m pretty sure most of my readers wouldn’t appreciate a thoughtful analysis of panty-birds.