There are a few series that older anime fans hold up as being classics. Truly great examples of anime from the good ol’ days before everything started sucking and moé took over. Since I’m technically a younger fan (even though I’m 20 years old, which is older than most of today’s anime fandom from what I can tell) I never had the chance to see these series when they first showed up, and these days some of them are out of print and expensive or hard to find. Well FUNimation recently re-released Trigun, a series that gets included in the previously mentioned classics. So I took the opportunity to finally check it out.
Trigun tells the story of Vash the Stampede, a lone gunslinger with an insanely high bounty on his head who leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. Meryl Strife and Milly Thompson, two employees of an insurance company, seek out Vash in an attempt to prevent him from causing any more damage. When they find him, they learn that Vash isn’t the man they thought he was and end up joining him on his journey.
Trigun starts out enjoyable enough as a kind of silly western. There are gunslingers, damsels in distress, corrupt sheriffs, and every thing else you would expect from a western. Everything is handled in a goofy manner, with Vash solving most problems through dumb luck and goofing around as opposed to shooting everything in sight and the series doesn’t take itself too seriously. Vash himself is an interesting character, having the ability to kill anything and everything around him, but choosing instead to solve problems through non-violent means. This is respectable in the beginning when the only thing Vash has to deal with are normal thugs with big guns who are barely a threat most of the time. Once it gets to the point where he has to deal with people who sometimes have strange powers and are entirely willing to kill innocent people to get to Vash, his pacifist ways make him seem more idiotic than honourable.
The real problems with the series crop up in the second half, when the story starts to get darker. Now, the story getting darker isn’t the problem, quite the opposite. It’s built up and handled in a way that makes it work, and if not for the problems that arise during this part it would easily be the better half of the series. No, the real problem is the weird sci-fi stuff that gets crammed into the story in order to set up the series main antagonist, Millions Knives. It just kind of comes out of nowhere and feels like it was just forced in for the sake of establishing the villain and really detracts from what was an enjoyable series up until that point.
The other major problem in the second half is the Gung-Ho Guns, a group of villains that Vash has to fight constantly in the later episodes. As previously mentioned, during the first half most of the villains are normal gunslinger thugs, though there is the occasional one who is abnormally powerful. Once the Gung-Ho Guns show up the show practically devolves into a shounen fighting series, with villains who have odd powers that the hero has to figure out how to overcome. They’re basically monster of the week style villains with no real character or backstory, save for Legato who gets enough screen-time to actually have a personality. Trigun didn’t necessarily get bad when things started getting darker, but it did lose some of its charm in the process.
It’s a little unfair to try holding a dub that was recorded years ago up to today’s standards, but people have put forth Trigun‘s dub as one that was good during its time. So it seems appropriate to see how it holds up today. To put it bluntly, it just doesn’t.. I’m not going to say Johnny Yong Bosch isn’t a good actor because I know he is, I’ve heard performances from him that were great. But it is painfully obvious that Vash was one of his first voice over roles. His performance during the first several episodes was just awkward and whenever Vash does a loud obnoxious laugh it just sounds weird and forced. He gets better as the series goes on, but he never really does a great job in the role. The same holds true for most of the cast, but Dorothy Elias-Fahn does give a good performance as Meryl throughout the series.
The art and animation also don’t hold up very well. The character designs tend to be inconsistent from one shot to the next. In some cases Vash’s face will look completely different from one second to the next, or his spiky hair will be too long or too short, or his arms will be longer than they’re supposed to be. There’s one extreme example where Wolfwood’s arm is so poorly drawn that it looks to be half the length of his other one. There isn’t much variety to speak of in the background art either. Trigun takes place on a world filled with desert wastelands, so pretty much every town the characters visit looks exactly the same; plain white buildings and sand covered ground. There are plenty of older series whose art and animation hold up well when compared to today’s standards, but Trigun certainly isn’t one of them.
For being held up as a classic, Trigun fails to impress. What starts as an enjoyable western/comedy slowly turns into a dark sci-fi story that just isn’t all that well done. It devolves into a series about fighting weird super-powered enemies, and loses most of what made enjoyable in the process. The animation is poorly done, and the art bland and unimpressive. Despite its status as a classic, Trigun is really just kind of mediocre.