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TRIGUN The Manga #1 - - Retro Review

A lot like a garage band demo tape that makes you want to hear a polished studio track cover.

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.

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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.

Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of HYBRID BASTARDS! & UNIMAGINABLE. Order them on Amazon here & here. Follow him on Twitter: @tompinchuk

Lurkeroon Feb. 18, 2012 at 2:49 p.m.

I never bothered to read the Trigun Manga. I always just assumed the anime took the best parts of the manga and put them in motion. Seems like the manga wouldn't add much for me. Even the anime had too much fluff in my opinion.

zaldaron Feb. 18, 2012 at 3:41 p.m.

Remember those rose colored glasses we are ostensibly looking at trigun through? I would posit that your love for DBZ suffers from that as well.

rubberluffyon Feb. 18, 2012 at 7:57 p.m.

@Lurkero:

The anime only covers about 3 or so volumes of the manga, and the manga overall is 3 (Trigun) and 14 (Trigun Maximum) volumes. Most of the best parts of the manga aren't even in the anime, and a bunch of characters are wildly different (Knives especially, and Wolfwood has a lot more going on too). I like the anime but after reading the manga it was hard to rewatch. I just wanted to read the manga.

I'd really like Trigun to get a new anime that follows the manga. Perhaps it just wasn't popular enough in Japan.

Zippedbinderson Feb. 18, 2012 at 7:58 p.m.

Volume 1 is pretty weak, Volume 2 is, on the whole, a lot better. Do yourself a favor and check out Maximum, leagues better than the anime in nearly every regard.

darfox8on Feb. 19, 2012 at 9:12 a.m.

Wooo! Another Trigun post means I gotta dust off my username. So a quick breakdown of how the books line up with the cartoon. The next volume(the other big fat one) it ends at the point where Vash shoots his Angel Mega Buster. In the anime he fought the Samurai guy who would shoot sonic booms from his sword and suddenly Vash's arm started to wig out, remember?. In the manga it happens differently and I think it's way more dramatic and less random. That's when the "Trigun" manga ends. "Trigun Maximum"(the name changed because he switched publishers) then picks up the story after a time jump. The first story in Maximum is the one where he is in hiding and he calls himself Erics and he's taking care of this young girl Lina(Episode was called "Goodbye for now" I think), Wolfwood shows up and he has to go back to the island and paradise lost and blah blah blah.

Basically things start to diverge pretty wildly at that point. They touch down on alot of the same scenarios(like flying ship in the sky) but things shake out way different.

So... honestly man to man. If you want more light hearted Trigun adventures then reading deep into the manga isn't for you Tom. It gets dark and brooding in alot of the same ways. But if you want to give the "extended fiction" another chance then I ask you go ahead and read a bit into Maximum. See Mr. Nightow had the benefit of hindsight, he was drawing alot of the manga when the show already finished and aired so he was able to change things that made little sense or add more background to things that seemed rushed. So if you hate the deeper elements of the story then the manga isn't really for you, but if you willing to believe that the Trigun lore can be exciting and interesting and genuinely tragic, then read a bit into Maximum.

Rxanaduon Feb. 19, 2012 at 2:28 p.m.
I've always been curious of what you're talking about with Trigun's problems. I'll have to catch it on Hulu later. In the meantime, if you wanted to catch another anime from this artist, then try Gungrave. I've watched it twice so far, and I still can't decide what to make of it as an anime in general. It's an amazing anime based on a game (better than how Persona 4 is turning out, at least). It does a lot to expand that game's universe, especially with the source material they had to work with. I would love to hear what you think of it when you get the chance.

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