Surveying Miyazaki’s filmography in anticipation of reviewing THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY was so enjoyable, I figured I’d keep this feature going by checking in on other seminal works I haven’t yet had the opportunity to experience for myself. And, while I’m at it, why keep it limited to anime? TRIGUN Vol. 1 will be the first manga I’ll cover here.
Read my Retro Reviews of...
- MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO *** KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE *** PRINCESS MONONOKE
- HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE *** NAUSICAA *** CASTLE IN THE SKY *** PORCO ROSSO
Oh man, this volume just had to cover the second run-in with the Nebraska Family - - material that inspired one of the worst single episodes of anime I’ve watched since I started writing for this site. Seriously, if the more charming episodes of Vash’s gun-shy slapstick were the high point of TRIGUN the anime, then that portion was the lowest. Undoubtedly. Low enough to be at those layers of the ocean that sunlight can never get down to.
Though, even while I reached the Nebraska Family portion and felt a throbbing compulsion to start flipping pages faster than I could read them, this volume’s still a reminder of what’s so fundamentally appealing about this story; a reminder that manages to stand, quite frustratingly, right beside what can be so unappealing about it. See, TRIGUN the anime is a series that most American fans seemingly got into years ago when they were in their teens. A lot of its rep probably refracted through the rose-tinted lenses one wears at that age.
And while we’re running with this analogy, a high school garage band’s probably the most useful part of teen-hood to compare it to. It performs without knowing how to read music, so the technicality isn’t quite there. It relies heavily on a bag of simple power chords, but you can’t help but get behind the passion of the playing. There’s an earnest ambition to the lyrics as they reach out for profundities that further life experience is really needed to grasp.
Our hero Vash the Stampede, with his leather get-up and bleached Dexter Holland shock, certainly looks like he could be a punk frontman (maybe one who also plays the signature guitar solos on the show’s bumpers.) No lie, he’s got real potential as an allegorical figure; potential that’s barely touched on in this volume, potential that’s likely greater than mangaka Yasuhiro Nightow has even ever realized.
It’s near-brilliant to have the most infamous gunslinger on the planet - - a guy dangerous enough to be classified as a natural disaster - - turn out to actually be an ardently pacifistic goofball who’ll go to absolutely absurd extremes to avoid killing anybody. Throw on top of that the angle that he’s a naïve innocent whose development’s been arrested for over a century - - a boyish spaz who thinks it’s funny to act like a ladykiller, but is almost tragically oblivious about the opposite sex - - and you've honestly got the makings of something philosophical.
If this sounds like the ranting of somebody ready way too far into something (what? Me? No!) it’s again because the story’s composed in such broad and simple, hormone-fueled notes with plenty of room available to read in between them. Really, I’m not sure how much of the manga I’d understand if I hadn’t already watched and reflected on the 26 episode TV show. Sure, you get the gist that this Vash character’s dodging one bounty hunter after another while these cute insurance agents, Milly and Meryl, are following him to assess the damage he’s causing in “double dollars.” But then the McFarlane-esque giant with the projectile fist and bulbous forehead shows up for a fight, and then Vash is on some desert cruise liner, and then... the rest of the Nebraskas show up, and most of the time, you’re not following a plot so much as soaking up impressions of one.
“Impressions” is the right word to describe a lot of the book, actually. Nightow has a wild, kinetic style that just sizzles energy off the page. I joke about wanting to leaf through this book, but it’s actually a compliment to say so, because the storytelling’s so direct and so manic that it’s best enjoyed at a furious pace. The art oscillates between hyper-detailed rendering and minimalistic cartooning rapidly, so even if you’re aren’t always certain of what exactly is going on during the gunfights, you’re still pumped up by the thrust of the action.
At least for the first two installments in this volume, anyway. You’ve got to admire Nightow for how he swings for the fences with each character design in this universe. Sometimes, he’ll hit a heater right out of the park and work out a really iconic look like Vash’s. Other times, he’ll miss wildly with a character like “Brilliant Dynamite Neon,” a clownish heavy who somehow manages to be too ridiculous even for this wildly over-the-top milieu. And then he’ll get to the Nebraska family, who look like derivative doodles taken straight out of the loose pages of an idle middle-schooler’s notebook. By then, the “impressionism” that’s worked so well to the book’s benefit runs out charm and leaves you with nearly incomprehensible noise on the pages.
Maybe later volumes get into deeper material that was surely over-simplified by the show. Then again, this book follows the plotting of the show pretty faithfully, with three chapters roughly corresponding to one episode - - but the anime actually adds scenes to develop the characters more. Honestly, this feels like it'd benefit from an EVANGELION-style "rebuild" of its own. It's almost like a demo tape with a lot of potential that needs to be covered in the studio and worked over with a producer's polish. Vash might get an intro to match his myth, then.