Written by Ross Locksley on 26 Mar 2023
Distributor Crunchyroll • Certificate NA • Price NA
Alongside Gundam: The Witch From Mercury, Trigun Stampede has been filling my need for anime Sci-Fi this season. With Studio Orange at the helm, this CGI-based series has caused plenty of stir among the anime community, with obvious comparisons being made to the original TV series and manga that inspired it.
Firstly, this is a spoiler review, so if you haven't seen the series, know that it's certainly worth a watch and you'll have a good time. So go do that and then read on.
One of the first things that was apparent out of the gate was that Trigun Stampede would show events in order, with no mystery or misdirection as to either the origin of the SEEDS project, or Vash and Nai themselves. The opening scene of the first episode shows the fleet going down in flames with the two young boys jettisoned to safety by their doting mother-figure, Rem. In itself this is a bit of a shame, as one of the pleasures of the original series was the hints and revelations as the story progressed. Not knowing if the idiot in the red coat was really the Humanoid Typhoon, and how this sci-fi desert colony came to be took up 13 episodes of the original 26 episode run, and the subsequent hard-swerve into serious drama as the Gung Ho Guns arrived was absolutely thrilling.
Not that Stampede doesn't have a lot going for it - the aforementioned escape sequence is masterfully directed. The little escape shuttle flitting between star-cruisers as they explode is an electrifying ride with a superb soundtrack that conveys the utter devastation very convincingly. It's heartbreaking watching Rem go down with the ship after saving the children she loved like sons.
The CGI is a benefit and a distraction - for anything involving kinetic movement, it conveys weight and scale like a big-budget movie. Direction is fast-paced with an eye for epic scale, and at any given point in time the show looks wonderful. Where it fails is the slow, emotional moments, where the CGI characters, good as they are, still move and emote like marionettes, undermining a lot of emotional impact. This is a shame as the script itself is well written, but when what's on screen becomes detrimental, it removes a lot of the humanity that Trigun absolutely relies on.
The music does help - one of the real highlights of the original was its score, with some haunting tunes such as "Rem Saverem" being absolutely iconic. In the final episode as Vash remembers a tune that he hums to himself to lift his mood, I had really wanted to hear that melody again, but alas it wasn't to be - a wasted opportunity, even if it was probably due to rights issues. It would have been a mic-drop moment though. Despite this, everything from the opening theme to the incidental music is suitably dynamic and Western in tone. It'll never be as good, but it's a solid soundtrack in its own right.
The new series has decided to eschew almost all of the original villains, save a few. We'll touch on why this might be later, but Legato was such a menacing presence in the original that his absence is sorely missed. While Knives was originally used sparingly, in Stampede he's front and centre for the whole series. He's still terrifying, but now he's less a mythic bogeyman and more of a monster - all teeth and less unnerving menace. It works in context, but again it's a character beat that feels a little off if you know the cast already. For newcomers it won't really be an issue.
Likewise, we know how capable Vash is almost straight away, but he's more of an emo-peacenik in this series than the clownish donut-loving buffoon we know and love. He still carries the show with an earnest goodness we can all appreciate, but he's just not the same character.
The twist is that the ending of Stampede actually sets up the original series. Meryl is no longer a reporter and now works for an insurance agency, with a new rookie called Milly Thompson hoping to work under her (hurrah!). Vash has lost his memory, his hair now longer and potentially more in line with his original character design once he finds some hair gel. Studio Orange has announced a new "Final Phase" project to follow this initial series, and hopefully that will either kick off a reboot proper, or set up everything required to mesh into the original TV series.
With the second season of Gundam Witch coming in at 25 episodes after the initial 13, there's hope for a good slice of Trigun to follow. While I may miss elements of the original, there's no denying that Trigun Stampede has been a solid series and a worthy addition to the Trigun canon. Things may have been pushed around a bit in narrative terms, but the skill exhibited by Studio Orange and the commitment to making something truly original out of the source material is very commendable. They certainly haven't tarnished the beloved franchise, which was always the big worry, and subsequently we've been given a love-letter to a series that was, for many, their entry to the anime world.
In all, it's a great watch with some genuinely stunning moments, albeit never quite reaching the lofty heights of the original thanks to a reduced episode count and an animation style that made for eye-popping cinema but equally prevented it from hitting the emotional notes needed. If Trigun represents anything, it's humanity above all else.
Ross founded the UK Anime Network waaay back in 1995 and works in and around the anime world in his spare time.
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