I’ll bet that much of TRIGUN’s enduring esteem - - for the anime, at least - - can be chalked up to a lot of people watching it first in high school. Some of you will surely quibble about your precise timing. You’ll pipe up and say, “Actually, I was in middle school…” or some such. Realize I’m just referring to any age you look back upon with those rose-tinted glasses (preferably ones with Vash’s zig-zaggy handles) and, while tastes surely change and evolve over any stretch of time, there’s definitely a romantic period in your teens where you’re discovering bigger themes in your pop art. That’s when you can get so swept up in the journey of a particular series; when all the strum und drang you experience along the way to its final, cathartic conclusion feels so real. I’ve got plenty of such stories myself and, yeah, a lot of them wouldn't hold up to the kind of scrutiny I’m running TRIGUN through, now.
So I was real late to the TRIGUN party; watching the show for the first time only just earlier this year. Oddly enough, the timing worked out rather conveniently, because this BADLANDS RUMBLE flick came stateside only a few months later and I therefore didn’t have to endure a years-long wait like the old die-hards had to. Funny how that’s been happening so often, lately - - I had basically the same experience with EVANGELION and its “rebuilds.” Of course, while every portion of EVA worked for me, I honestly wasn’t that impressed with TRIGUN by the end of it. To be more specific, I was frustrated with it, because it started off so well.
The precise point a series “jumps the shark” is good and chewy message board gristle and, for me, there was a very clear cut-off point when the show ditched its breezy, appealing physical comedy and bogged itself down in overly serious, eye-roll-inducing melodrama. As a character, Vash the Stampede has an excellent hook; one full of rich contradictions. Here’s a guy who’s got a rep as the most ruthless gunslinger in the wastelands yet, in truth, he’s a goofball who’ll go to the most absurd pains to avoid shooting anybody. The show worked so well when it put him into these familiar Wild West gunplay scenarios that he’d have to find his way out of - - peacefully - - with a kind of slapstick expertise Buster Keaton would admire. Deep philosophical conundrums, like the justifiability of lethal force, were broached, but the aim was still on entertainment.
Then… the show got serious. Or it at least tried its damnedest to be.
A large chunk of TRIGUN felt like a freshman trying to argue with his philosophy professor. You could sense what point it wanted to get at, and it was certainly passionate about that point, but it lacked the vocabulary and focus to present its argument well. When it started introducing borderline non sequitors like Vash’s “angel arm” and his decades-long backstory with Knives, you got the feeling it was making things up on the fly, like the aforementioned freshman filibustering as he desperately figures out some conclusion statement.
I’ve gone on such a long reminisce because there’s not actually a lot to discuss for BADLANDS RUMBLE now that I’ve got the DVD in hand. The extra features are filled, rather extensively, with coverage of the movie’s various premieres, as well as some art school-style multi-angled interviews with its cast and crew. Truthfully, those sections hold more appeal to those getting a "high school reunion" experience out of this whole shindig, but I did find the behind-the-scenes feature on the voice-recording to be eye-opening. I figured the process would be a little less more… precise than the actors just reading lines to match the animatic they’re watching on a screen together.
Otherwise, my opinion hasn’t changed much since my video review of the screener. The animation’s as impressive as you’d hope for after a feature-length overhaul and a decade-long advance in technology and technique. A sequence where a giant lightbulb rolls around town is a memorable show-stopper and, interestingly enough, there’s a more European texture to the rendering style, now. The plot’s simple by intention, bringing TRIGUN pleasingly closer to its spaghetti western influences and pushing that European influence even more. Actually, the simplicity remedies the frustrations I’ve detailed here by tipping the balance back to physical comedy.
Amusingly enough, the dramatic portions make better points about the enduring “kill or don’t kill” moral dilemma because of that new balance. Basically, this is an extra-length "lost episode" like the COWBOY BEBOP movie, set at some indeterminate place in the series' timeline. Vash and his pals run afoul a murderous outlaw named Gasback whom the Humanoid Typhoon spared during a Mexican standoff in the past. A lady bounty hunter's gunning for revenge against Gasback because he killed her parents and she's got rage to spare for Vash, since she finds him and his foolish mercy to be partially responsible for her life's tragedy.
Awkward name aside, Gasback makes for a properly nasty addition to Vash’s rogues’ gallery and the simple observation toward the end that his loathsome life may actually have some positive effect is both more complex and more direct than any number of those interminable episodes where Vash grimaced about his tough choices. The accessibility of the EVA rebuilds to the uninitiated might be questionable, but I’ll immediately recommend this over the series for the TRIGUN novice. It’s a real rare case of a series flipping back over the shark.