Seinen – Action, adventure, comedy, drama, mature, sci-fi
2 Volumes + 14 Volumes / 5 Omnibuses (complete)
Vash the Stampede: a man with a 60 billion double dollar bounty on his head, wanted dead or alive. This Humanoid Typhoon is said to bring death and destruction wherever he goes. But despite his reputation, he’s actually a pacifist? Will Vash get to lead a life of love and peace, or will his past drag him into more battles even though he doesn’t want to fight?
Trigun started off in a shounen magazine, but then the magazine was discontinued. This obviously wasn’t Trigun‘s fault, but this does affect the overall story.
In the beginning, readers are gradually introduced to Van, the protagonist. Van is a wanted man, but while his bounty is high, he’s actually an easygoing, caring guy. In fact, he often acts like an idiot. So in this harsh, old Western-like world, no one can resist trying to attack him and get that $$60 billion. However, his silly self is just a cover for a man with amazing gun and dodging skills. First, though, the manga follows Meryl and Millie, two ladies who work for an insurance company who are trying to keep an eye on Vash and prevent him from causing more destruction. They start traveling with Vash, and the three continually get mixed up into dangerous situations intentionally or accidentally. Later, a mysterious priest who is usually addressed as Wolfwood also starts tagging around.
But then the manga starts setting up the core conflict. Vash’s mysterious past has caused him to go on a journey, but now a powerful man known as Legato issues Vash a challenge: defeat the members of the Gung-ho Guns to eventually challenge Legato and the one Vash is seeking.
And then something big happens, and Trigun — the original serialization — ends. It picks up several months later under the name Trigun Maximum, a seinen magazine. But then it takes a while for the manga to get back into the swing of things. Trigun ends just as it starts getting good; then we have to reintroduce the main characters again, the world, new characters who aren’t that important, etc. It really drags the manga down, especially if you’re a fan of the bulk of the Trigun anime and like the group antics. In addition, the girls are often pushed to the side; it’s mostly Vash trying to find a purpose and redemption as Wolfwood assists and gets dragged into Vash’s problems even though he has his own mission.
I can’t help but think that had Trigun continued in its original magazine, it would have avoided this awkward waste of time reintroducing everyone, and plus it would made a more natural transition from random adventures to a clear goal.
But otherwise, Trigun has a lot in common with one of its contemporaries: Rurouni Kenshin. Both heroes don’t want to kill, have a bloody past, an often-frustrated companion, and a group of enemies with their own histories and abilities. So if you like that series (especially the Kyoto arc), then you’ll probably also like Trigun.
Of course, there are differences. While Kenshin took place in the past, Trigun is set in the future. It may not seem like it with the Western picture-like setting, but this is sci-fi. There are even some parts that are borderline fantasy: plants take a huge role in this manga. Vash is noticeably goofier in his “off-battle” mode, and he also works in a few dirty jokes and stuff. So the two manga are significantly different even though there is a lot of overlap.
As Vash goes around running into various crimes taking place and then later facing off with the Gung-Ho Guns, his past is slowly revealed. Readers learn early on in the story that a woman named Rem was very important to him as a child, as she took care of Vash and his brother, Knives. Much of Vash’s emotional moments are about him thinking about Rem and what he’ll say (or do) to Knives when they meet again. Vash cares so much for people in general that it’s hard to dislike the guy. He can also be pretty funny with all his comedic expressions, like when his funds and resources dry up or is pretending to be a fool in order to sneak in. But when he gets serious, he’s serious; he actually turns Legato’s challenge around on him.
While readers may root for Vash, in this manga, it’s no surprise that his friend Wolfwood is so popular. He’s often contradictory, a man who is both victim and perpetrator, logical and yet emotional, holy man and killer. Wolfwood is fascinated by Vash and also often wishes Mr. Love-and-Peace would stop being so softhearted and just blast enemies away with a single shot. Vash doesn’t have a lot of people he’s close to — let alone someone else with good gun skills who will back him up — and Wolfwood’s blunt verbal beatdowns and back-up firepower is an enormous source of support for Vash. Lots of manga have this sort of “light vs dark” dynamic in two of the heroes (Naruto and Sasuke being a well-known example), and as often is the case, the “dark” one is just more interesting than “light”.
Some of this is also reflected in the antagonists, but they’re just mostly crazy and finding excuses to be crazy. Their lives may have sucked, but now they’re spreading that misery to others. A series set in a world where everyone owns a gun is obviously not going to be tame, but there’s quite a bit of death in the story and sexual violence as well. Vash’s motto may be love and peace, but that philosophy sure didn’t spread to Legato and crew. I think part of the issue is that Wolfwood, and, to a lesser extent, Vash already have so much internal strife that the villains are one-dimensional for most of the manga as a result. It’s Wolfwood that helps elevates the story, whether it’s he and Vash childishly squabble over a ruined ride to the next city or holding a Gung-Ho Guns member off so that Vash can fight the way he pleases.
As I mentioned earlier, Meryl and her junior agent Millie are important, but they often disappear from the story or are off fighting the impeding threats in their own way. Each time I read Trigun, I am disappointed at how they don’t seem to have a solid role in the story. Silly working women. Proud working women. Vash’s posse. The weak members of the team. Ex-travelers. Liasons between Vash and the government. Emotional support. Meryl has more of a connection to Vash, so she has more pagetime. But no matter what kind of part you think or want them to play in Trigun, I think you’ll be disappointed. They’re basically characters-for-hire that the author brings in whenever he needs a third party in the story.
I do like how, by the end, this is clearly a worldwide, political conflict. This isn’t a tale where normal citizens are completely unaware of what is happening in the background. People there are struggling, and news of the destruction caused by Vash and/or his enemies is spread like wildfire. People may not realize Vash is nothing like how he’s described, but that’s different from a secret battle for the planet’s fate. There’s much debate about what to do to prevent a cataclysm and what Vash’s role should be in the fight. This adds a elements that other similar manga lack, including losses from other teams trying to stop the main antagonist. But one particular replacement ally doesn’t come anywhere near filling the shoes of the person they are replacing.
So the battles. Expect a lot of dodging and bullets piercing everywhere but the two most obvious places (head and heart). Because there are so many machine guns and automatic weapons, a lot of panels are the multiple blows (gunshots), and when that happens repeatedly, it can either be boring or hard to keep up. Panels can be very crowded, and with the way some pages are presented, there’s no natural flow from one part to another. It’s like a collage where you don’t know what to focus on first. Plus, the manga can be wordy. Most of the enemies have their own personal histories and abilities, so some fights are more interesting than others. There are a variety of guns and weaponry, so that adds some much-needed variety in a gunbattle manga (saxophone anyone?). I’ve already discussed the copious amounts of blood earlier, and there’s some partial nudity.
As is typical of manga from this era, there are a lot of thick lines, long eyes, and faces with baby fat. A lot of Vash’s tricks may be ridiculous in the real world, but they feel realistic considering who he is. Having a visual representation of Vash’s on/off switch — his glasses — was a nice touch, and Nightow’s drawings do give you that American Wild West feel. So it can be entertaining to look at, but the manga can look messy. Early on, it’s new manga unsteadiness, but later it’s because the battles are getting more violent and crazy.
Honorifics are used. This is an odd choice since English seems to be the language of choice in the manga. The manga is inconsistent. The most significant example is Wolfwood’s given name. It flips between “Nicholas” and “Nicolas”. Other errors include incorrect subjects, flipped speech bubbles, and typos. This is the kind of series where I’d love to see a premium rerelease, where the same translator could work on the entire manga at once.
The manga version of the Trigun universe may be different from the anime, but the latter may be a better jumping-into point because of the slow opening that ends up being two character-story setups. After that, the manga forms its own identity with blending 1800s Westerns with a future space apocalypse story starring two fascinating characters with their own conflicts.
The anthology Trigun: Multiple Bullets is also available from Dark Horse. Funimation has the streaming and home video rights to the anime and the movie.