Among fiction, there aren’t that many non-superhero characters that cause enough destruction to be declared a humanoid natural disaster.
The pacifist Vash the Stampede is one of those (un)lucky few.
Some may recognize Vash’s name from the hit 1998 anime series Trigun. For those that don’t, Trigun (according to the inside flap, its title is actually Trigun Deep Space Planet Future Gun Action. Trigun for short)is a science fiction Western that follows Vash’s misadventures as he wanders the desert planet Gunsmoke while he tries to track down his brother and avoid bounty hunters after the 60 billion double dollar price on his head.
It is based on a manga series by Yasuhiro Nightow that began in 1996; however, the series came to an end in 1997 when the magazine it was running in was discontinued. Fortunately for fans as well as the anime script writers, Trigun found a new home with Young King Ours magazine under the new title Trigun Maximum and continued until its end in 2008.
Thanks to Dark Horse, the original Trigun series, which they released in two volumes, has now been compiled into one convenient package—but is it the release one should go for? Besides, who knows if the original series holds up, especially compared to the longer-running Maximum?
Actually, we know. The story holds up overall, but some of it has not aged well—it wears its 90s aesthetic on its sleeve proudly, especially with character designs—and carries some considerable pacing issues as well. The collection is pretty bare-bones and, clocking in at 700 pages, its thickness can be a hindrance.
The stories collected in this volume may seem familiar to those that watched the show, as many of its 26 episodes were taken from this series versus Maximum due to the dissonance between the second manga’s and anime’s production schedules. Much like the first half of the show, the first half of this series is pretty episodic, as Vash fights off the Nebraska Family and thwarts the Bad Lad Gang’s Sand Steamer/sand train robbery. There are also occasional hints towards his goal of finding his brother or his own potential connection to the Plants, which are mysterious power and habitation sources that makes living on a desert planet possible. To their credit, the brief glimpses into Vash’s past and his bond with the original colonizers are effective: they hold our interest, show just enough information to help us understand while still keeping a sense of mystery, and the western aesthetic and science fiction space journey for survival are well-blended.
Unfortunately, those hoping for more detail explaining how Vash is able to communicate with Plants or how he and his brother Knives came to be on the colonizing vessels will likely be disappointed, as most of that story is saved for Maximum. Therefore, when Knives is resurrected at the end of the volume for reasons that are not adequately explained, there is confusion regarding why it was necessary or how the doctor they brought in would know to perform the procedure. Honestly, it was at the point where Nightow likely learned of the magazine’s discontinuation and rushed the story to some kind of climax with the few chapters he had left and the payoff is pretty lackluster given the lack of explanation or investment.
Knives also does not get much of a chance to demonstrate a personality beyond “calculating to destroy all humans.” On the plus side, Knives shows genuine concern for his brother, and he even severely wounds Legato for ordering the Guns to kill him, which at least elevates him beyond straight up evil.
Legato gets similar treatment during his own chapter where he butchers a biker gang that were carrying slaves; however, his motivation really is vague. A layer of mystery is fine, but as far this series goes, all we know is that he wants to kill humanity and hates Vash for unexplained reasons, which makes it hard to really get invested with his conflict against Vash. Wolfwood also encounters a similar problem: he does have a good character moment with Vash, but he fades into the background after that and does not get much of a chance to show off his character.
As for the other Gung-Ho Guns, we only really get to meet three of them and only the first one gets something of a backstory. The second one, E. G. Mine, honestly could have just been cut from the story—he is around for maybe 8 pages, gets no character or personality beyond “kill,” and we don’t even get an interesting fight out of it. Vash takes him down with one shot and a swing of his luggage within 3 pages. The third Gun to confront Vash, Dominique the Cyclops, at least gets an interesting ability, but she too gets no background, motivation, or personality beyond being just another enemy for Vash to fight—another victim of the series’s rushed pacing.
Still, say what we will about the bad guys, at least our core trio gets fleshed out. Vash has numerous people question his pacifism philosophy and his scarred body is a testament to how much it has cost him over the years,—which adds a nice layer of tension as he is forced into numerous “kill or be killed” scenarios. One particular moment that stands out is during the Bad Lad Gang’s heist on the Sand Steamer, when Vash accidentally shoots one of the nameless henchmen in a possibly fatal place. Without hesitation, he rushes over and tries to stop the bleeding, even though he was wounded himself and had to still stop the runaway steamer. Because of moments where Vash has to drop everything to stick to his principles, it is clear that this philosophy costs him dearly and that, unlike most “no killing” heroes, his fights rarely end with him getting what he wants in the end. The confliction, sense of tragedy, and clear resignation add fantastic depth to Vash’s normal happy-go-lucky act. He becomes compelling and yes, sometimes he comes across as naïve, but overall, getting the chance to know him is reason enough to check out the series alone—even if he’s randomly telepathic for one chapter when Legato’s introduced and the ability is never referenced again.
Vash is followed by Meryl Strife and Millie Thompson, representatives of the Bernadelli Insurance Society. First of all, the fact that Nightow brings up the idea of insurance and its frustration of paying for all the collateral damage left in Vash’s wake is hilarious. It’s funny how their main reason of tracking Vash down is so they can attempt damage control and keep costs down. They do at least get some development, as they take on work as bodyguards to protect an older couple from their son and his mafia connections in Vash’s stead and reflect on their own family lives. It adds a nice wrinkle and they do provide a nice foil to Vash’s more eccentric personality. They are given distinct and likeable enough personalities to make them stand out, and they’re memorable for their profession and dynamic with Vash, if nothing else.
Nightow’s incredibly detailed artwork makes for distinctive sets and character designs. Granted, this does lead to Vash’s limbs being coated with enough leather and belt buckles to start up his own Final Fantasy cosplay store, but thanks to the distinctive red coat and sunglasses, Vash has enough memorable elements to make up for it. However, leather is hardly the only 90s element—there is enough cyborg augmentation to make you just shake your head and wonder “why.” The winner of that award has to be Doctor Nebraska, whose lower half is just one big gun, not to mention the buff Monev the Gale who looks like he was lifted straight from a 90s American comic book and randomly has half of his brain exposed because science.
Speaking of which, there seems to be a random insistence on shoulder pads for everyone—the leader of the Bad Lad Gang sports a pair of dynamos on his shoulders on top of his neon-light-lined clothing because when you have a gimmick, by golly you may as well commit. Legato has less of an excuse though, as he sports the poofiest shoulders I have seen, one with a skull on it and the other with a sort of pin-cushion thing because 90s. Still, Nightow offers a variety of character designs: the contrasts among Nebraska family’s giant child and mother alongside a fairly normal looking daughter are fun, E. B. Mine’s spike ball gimmick is more memorable than he is, and most of the background characters rarely blend together.
Wolfwood’s classy suit and giant cross also help make him memorable, as it allows him to have a more unique fighting style—though once we get to the fighting, we encounter one of Trigun’s biggest problems. Many of the action scenes are difficult to follow. Granted, it doesn’t help that Nightow is often drawing people shooting at each other—the distance between characters makes it hard to remember where they may be in respect to one another, so it is a problem for many artists. Still, some of those actions scenes can stretch the imagination a bit, even in a science fiction western with more mutants than an X-Men book. Such as Vash’s duel with the leader of the Bad Lad Gang. They take the time to head outside and duel on the deck of the steamer, even when it is about to run it off a cliff while going over 80 miles an hour, and their aim or clothing isn’t affected by the wind whatsoever.
In addition, some of Nightow’s character positions are almost laughable, the most prominent occurring during an emotional moment between Vash and Wolfwood. The second we see Wolfwood deliver his insightful line, he is supposed to be standing up after crouching. Instead, he somehow gets into this back-breaking pose that makes no sense; somehow between panels, Wolfwood apparently decided to try and make his body into an “S.” Despite these problems, Nightow’s character designs and backgrounds are memorable, incredibly detailed, and versatile, as he is able to capture the lightness of Vash’s antics alongside Legato forcing a biker to rip his own heart out.
EXTRAS and PRESENTATION: 2/5
Dark Horse’s rerelease sports a new cover, where the front is a close up of Vash’s face while the whole image is printed on the back under the product description. It looks pretty and is printed well, plus it looks consistent with most of the Trigun Maximum omnibuses—though for some reason, Dark Horse didn’t reprint their first Maximum omnibus, so that one sticks out like a sore thumb, much to the annoyance of some collectors. In addition, despite the new cover, they do not include any reproductions of the original, beautiful covers and joke covers that are in the original volumes. These may sound like quibbles, but Nightow’s covers are quite memorable and often look great, so it is a real shame that they are not included or reprinted in a manner comparable to Viz’s Neon Genesis Evangelion release or even reprint cheap gray scale versions of each cover in the book like Viz did for its D.Gray-Man 3-in-1.
For some reason, they also restart the chapter numbers when we get to the volume 2 portion, despite them being in one volume. Still included from the original volumes are the author messages at the end of each volume, and two short stories: a day in the life of Vash before the series began and also the Trigun pilot chapter, which turned into an episode of the show.
Dark Horse’s translation is solid overall; they do not translate sound effects, but it keeps the art intact and the action and pacing is usually fast enough that it’s barely noticeable. It seems odd that they use Japanese honorifics in a space Western that also consists of numerous English names, but at least they provide a translation for most of them when they’re first used. However, they likely could have taken a note from Del Rey’s releases by including a glossary for what each honorific means at the beginning of the book. While the omnibus is kept at a portable size comparable to the original volumes, its thickness can make it difficult to read, but outside of creasing the cover, the pages are sturdy and worth the price.
Overall, Trigun does struggle to hold up on its own, so if you pick it up, anticipate picking up Trigun Maximum as well. Its artwork, interesting genre blending, and main character make this series still worth buying, even if the omnibus is both bare-boned and a tad thick for its portable size, making it difficult to read. Now, given that the original volumes are out of print—though you can still find them used via Barnes and Noble and Amazon—, you may want to pick up the omnibus for its convenience of having the whole series in one. If you already have the original volumes of this memorably fun but flawed series, there isn’t any incentive to upgrade to the omnibus. If not, then the series is worth checking out either way.