SUPERVERISVE: “Trigun” is indeed probably the most Christian anime ever

Tuesday , 27, February 2018 18 Comments

Image result for trigunI really didn’t know what to expect with “Trigun”.

Everybody had been recommending it to me for awhile, but I had tried the first couple of episodes already. They weren’t bad, but the show never really clicked for me. I was left there scratching my head wondering what was supposedly so special about it. I got why somebody might enjoy it in a “It’s not that great but it’s amusing” sort of way, but no more than that.

And then to be told that at its heart it was a Catholic story philosophically, thematically, and morally?

It should have been right up my alley, but I didn’t see the path from point A to point B. Still, so many people were praising it, and it had been recommended to me so many times, that I felt obligated to finish the series out. It’s not as if it was painfully bad or anything, and there must be SOMETHING to all the talk, right?

So I kept watching.

And man am I glad I did.

“Trigun” is an excellent show.

“Trigun” is the story of Vash the Stampede as told by insurance girls Meryl and Millie. Vash is a mysterious yet highly destructive drifter from the western-style planet of Gunsmoke, and Meryl and Millie have been tasked with following him around because every time he shows his face it costs their company enormous amounts of money. Vash has a 60 billion double dollar bounty on his head, but there’s something strange about him:

He’s a really, really great guy. Funny, fun, great with children, defender of the weak and helpless, and abhorrent of all killing of any kind.

So what’s with the bounty? And what’s with Vash?

And there’s your story.

“Trigun” starts off as light as a feather, even goofy, and then gets…dark. Really, really dark. Bloody deaths of beloved characters type dark.

“Trigun” is a show that is great at little, bad at some (the animation is rather weak, though I find much criticism of the dub to be unwarranted), but good at almost everything, and by the time it all ends the whole feels much greater than the sum of its parts. One thing the show is particularly good at is making you empathize with everyone, even the bit characters – nobody is acting like a jerk just to act like a jerk. If you have a giant wall up guarded by gunmen to keep out outsiders, you probably have a good reason for it and don’t just hate orphans. And if you want to kill Vash the Stampede, well, join the club.

“Trigun” is also uncompromisingly brutal when it comes to exploring its themes. Vash has taken the philosophy of “Thou shalt not kill” to the extreme, refusing to do so even in self-defense or defense of others, at least at the point of the series’ start. And we love Vash for it!

But it’s not so black and white. How many lives would Vash have saved if he’d just killed Knives? Hundreds? Thousands? And what if it really does come to protecting innocents, in that moment? Should you STILL not kill? Why not? And what does it mean for you if you do?

“Trigun” asks these questions without flinching, putting the matter before you as starkly as possible. And we never really get straight answers.

“Trigun’s” characters are rather unmemorable as a whole, with a few notable exceptions. Legato is one of the most chillingly horrifying villains I’ve ever seen, Vash himself gets a lot of rich character development, and, of course, preacher man Nicholas D. Wolfwood, the man with the most badass Cross on the planet, is the most awesome character in the whole damn show.

The man. The myth. The legend. Nicholas D. Wolfwood

Let’s talk a little more about Wolfwood, who is a fascinating character. It is interesting that Vash, “The humanoid typhoon” who doesn’t really talk about God or religion all that much, is the absolute pacifist of the group, while Wolfwood, the Priest, provides the counterargument. Wolfwood believes in a rougher world than Vash and in some ways comes from a rougher world than Vash, so he finds Vash’s no-kill policy naive, frustrating, and insulting, implying that men like him who kill to protect themselves or others are just as bad as cold-blooded murderers. It’s a legitimate grief, and the show portrays it that way. Like the best fiction neither side is shown as being exactly “right” or “wrong”. Instead, the idea is explored and examined in an intelligent and even-handed way.

There’s so much more to say about Wolfwood, who is truly a fantastic and fantastically written character, but to go deeply into what makes him so great would be to get into some really annoying spoilers, so instead I’ll leave this fantastic article out there for all of you to read when you finish the series.

The final episode – at least the second half, when the useless clip section of the episode is over – features one of the most outstanding gunfights I’ve ever seen on screen, almost completely dialogue free and brilliantly filmed. And the ending?

Well…

When I first saw it I’ll just say I was REALLY, REALLY ANGRY, though my brother pointed out some small details about the scene that helped me look at it in a new light. Still, it’s fair to say that it makes you think and stays with you a long time after it’s over.

Worth noting: “Trigun” features one of the most beautifully shot and filmed death scenes I have ever seen, and one of the saddest. I won’t say who it is who dies, but the scene is so well-done I feel that it is worth calling out specifically as being perhaps the best scene of the entire show. I don’t think I’ll need to link it – you’ll all know what I mean.

“Trigun” isn’t a masterpiece on the level of “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”, “Cowboy Bebop”, or the first half of “Death Note”. It never reaches the insanely high heights of any of those shows. Yet it’s never truly bad, even during its slow start, and it evolves into something that feels unique despite the fact that the sci-fi western is essentially its own sub-genre, with shows as brilliant as “Cowboy Bebop”, “Firefly”, and “Outlaw Star” (so I’ve been told, anyway) all fitting into that niche. Its uncompromising and unflinching nature gives it a fresh perspective on a lot of well-worn themes, and its take on Christianity feels both sympathetic yet somehow alien – like it’s being investigated by an outsider and all of its potential weaknesses are being shaken out and examined. When everything in the show’s DNA all clicks together the result is excellent comedy and compelling, and sometimes devastating, drama. While I don’t think it’s up with the top tier of shows, if somebody were to tell me it was their favorite I could definitely understand that.

Is it superversive?: Yes, fascinatingly so

Overall score: 8 of 10. Well worth your time.

(A note – after googling around while writing this article I’ve found that there is a TON of excellent “Trigun” analysis out there to read – it really is a much deeper series than you might give it credit for at first glance. Many of these essays are fascinating, and it might be worth your time just to google something like “Trigun Christianity” and look at some of them if you’re that type of guy!)

18 Comments
  • cirsova says:

    “the most Christian anime ever”

    Turn in your weeb card and go watch Superbook.

  • JD Cowan says:

    Glad you enjoyed it! It is definitely my favorite anime.

    The final fight with Knives and Vash is one of my favorites, especially what ends up actually turning the tide.

    • Anthony says:

      One thing about the ending that bothered me…

      SPOILERS!!!

      Originally I thought it was meant to be ambiguous whether or not Vash killed Knives, which just made me mad. Then my brother pointed out Knives was bandaged, so okay, I guess Vash intentionally didn’t kill him.

      But doesn’t this not solve anything? If Knives is still alive…what did any of this accomplish?

      Somebody help me get this, because I don’t see it.

      • JD Cowan says:

        The entire conflict between Vash and Knives was about which one was right. At the end Vash proves that Knives’ entire 100+ year quest was wrong and lead to nothing. His entire mission was a failure.

        In a way, this was about Wolfwood against Legato as both Vash and Knives were reflections of the two by the end of the story. Legato wanted death to escape to nothing and Wolfwood wanted life to escape to paradise. They both got what they wanted at the end, and one was the clear victor.

        But Vash is about saving people. Knives was beaten and bloody with nothing left, their weapons discarded, and everything taken away from him. He’s broken and empty.

        I’m also fairly sure he’s crippled at the end seeing as how he couldn’t get up to continue fighting. Letting him live is probably what he deserves.

        • JD Cowan says:

          I’ll also add that the ending is pretty much saying that letting him live is a risk.

          Knives entire ideology was that he was a superior creature and was above error and mistakes. This was proven false when Vash utterly wrecks him and his plan at the end and leaves him a bloody lump. Throughout the series Knives was so warped that he literally didn’t understand empathy or pain itself until Vash showed him both firsthand.

          Knives doesn’t have anything left to fight for.

          But sparing his life is portrayed as not being explicitly a good decision or a bad one. It is Vash’s decision, and he will have to own the consequences which he says he will.

          I guess it just comes down to whether you believe in him or not.

          It’s an odd ending.

        • Anthony says:

          Legato wanted death to escape to nothing and Wolfwood wanted life to escape to paradise. They both got what they wanted at the end, and one was the clear victor. They both got what they wanted at the end, and one was the clear victor.

          Well, here is the interesting thing about Wolfwood and Legato.

          Wolfwood didn’t want to die, because he thought he had work to do, to create the Eden he now saw was possible. But no amount of work from Wolfwood or Vash could create Eden – that was something that couldn’t be earned by man.

          Yet Wolfwood ends up in Eden anyway, so we assume, which already exists whatever he and Vash do, having admitted his sins and confessed to God on his deathbed. It is not Wolfwood but the Cross that ultimately ends Knives’ reign of terror – the only power that could possibly create the paradise he and Vash sought. So Wolfwood gets the life in Eden he craves but only through dying in Christ.

          Legato wants death to escape to nothing, but like Wolfwood he gets an ironic ending. Legato dies, but in a Christian cosmology we know he doesn’t get the nothingness he craves but the eternal fires of Hell. Legato tries to escape his judgment and by doing so ensures it last for eternity – but Wolfwood manages to get to his Eden by admitting that he deserves to be judged for his sins.

          They are indeed mirror images of each other.

          Thanks for the explanation, that was quite helpful!

        • Anthony says:

          (Wolfwood really is a fantastic character!)

          • JD Cowan says:

            No problem! Thanks for the discussion. I never get sick of Trigun.

            If you want another anime like this, the same team made Gungrave. The ending is less ambiguous but just as powerful.

  • Constantin says:

    I really like these posts about Anime. While I am by no means an Anime fan, it’s good to get into the more distinct anime once in a while(and by distinct I mean an anime that isn’t directly influenced or rips off Dragon Ball. There are too many of those and most are trash). Also, don’t care one bit about the slice-of-life anime.

  • Mr Tines says:

    “the most Christian anime ever” — well, it’s not like there’s a deep bench to draw on there. Christianity being “that weird foreign religion from the other side of the world” in Japan, it’s not surprising that, most of the time, the symbols and establishment get drawn on simply as something exotic, in exactly the same way that Westerners might draw on Buddhism.

    Trigun is an outlier because it was done with the zeal of the newly converted; typically what’s on offer is at best that of an outsider looking in — even in material with an explicitly spiritual/theological bent such as Night on the Galactic Railroad.

  • TWWK says:

    Thanks for linking an article from our site! The show is indeed a wonderful exploration of Christian themes in a way that’s often better than what you’ll experience from the pulpit because of what you described: the nuances and back and forth that demonstrate the complexity of life and that because of our sin, life is messy. I’ve found so much depth in the show, in fact, that I was able to write an entire week of articles about it leading up to Easter one year, with particular emphasis on our favorite anime priest, Wolfwood.

    If I can, I would make a recommendation to you. There are plenty of series that can give you the same kind of depth as Trigun (though perhaps not as intentionally so—the creator of the series is maybe best described as a lapsed Catholic; there are varying accounts about his faith, even from his own mouth), but a series that is heavily Catholic in its themes is Haibane Renmei. It’s an amazing exploration of sin and grace, though like Trigun, it starts slow before building to an impressive crescendo.

    Take care, and thank you for this wonderful article!

  • Truffles says:

    I just finished watching the two seasons of Blood Blockade Battlefront, which is also from the creator of Trigun. Great series so far, a lot of Christian themes and imagery as well.

  • I watched an episode of Trigun years ago and was put off by its apparent silliness, but perhaps it’s deeper than I thought.

    • Anthony says:

      It starts off very silly but around the time Wolfwood and Legato show up it gets much more serious and dramatic, and much better.

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