What’s it about? Meryl Stryfe is a newly graduated reporter who’s come to the barren Noman’s Land in pursuit of a huge scoop: the Humanoid Typhoon, said to be a walking force of destruction. What she finds instead is a strange man named “Vash the Stampede,” who seems awfully kind and gentle for a man with a massive bounty on his head.
I am an American Millennial, which means I am legally obligated to have at least some emotional attachment to Trigun. The fact that the 2000 Madhouse anime was a semi-flop in Japan only to become a hit in the US—thanks to its run on Adult Swim in 2003, when the channel and its offer of widely accessible uncensored anime was new—is a piece of established fandom lore by this point. There was absolutely no avoiding it in the early 2000s, whether you were waving to Otakon-regular Jewish Wolfwood or accepting that Kuroneko was one of the five pieces of anime merch you’d be able to buy at the mall. But mainly, yours truly remembers Legato.
All that to say, I want to spend some time up top talking to the longtime fans before getting into how STAMPEDE works for the uninitiated. If you’re the latter, go ahead and skip two paragraphs and we’ll go from there.
Putting aside this or that remixing of plot points involving the plants, there are two major changes to the status quo that are likely to raise eyebrows. The first is Meryl’s change in profession from insurance saleswoman to reporter, and Milly’s complete absence from the trailer, poster, and this first episode. The reporter angle is understandable, though it pulls Meryl toward the black hole the profession generates in fiction of Just Being Lois Lane. I’m not ready to count Milly out entirely, though her absence is decidedly odd—Meryl’s grizzled companion has too many “marked for betrayal or death (or both)” vibes for me to believe he’s stick around long. If I’m wrong there might be more to complain about, since it’d be reducing the important female character quotient by a full quarter (presuming we don’t count Rem, the very image of the sainted dead mother figure). Also, please give Meryl her derringers back. She still gets to be key to solving the battle, which is nice, but I miss them.
The other change is opening with Vash’s tragic backstory and revealing Knives at the end of this first episode. It’s…weird. Well, opening with the darker elements isn’t exactly a surprise, given Trigun Maximum’s darker seinen tone. What is weird is that Vash talks about it. Willingly. With his mouth. Vash might be one of the biggest examples of “cheerful characters who will risk their own lives and yours rather than talk about their baggage.” It was the only time in an otherwise solid premiere that felt decidedly off-kilter.
For newcomers, Trigun—or at least, Trigun’s iconic opening—has aged quite well over the past 20 years. The vast orange deserts of Noman’s Land look a little “wide open sandbox,” but on the whole Orange’s characteristic CGI does well with the character designs and fight choreography. There is some sacrifice in facial expressiveness, but the animators have clearly tried to compensate by giving Vash’s body the same structural components as a wet noodle, and I was pleased that the scene of physical comedy between Vash and Meryl felt more like “these two are idiots in different ways” than “the no-nonsense female lead is using Hilarious Violence to keep the male lead in line.”
The episode is at its best when it’s doing broad comedic business or staging a gunfight; scenes of characters talking get a little stale, between those smooth-faced character models and the sometimes-unremarkable backgrounds (which are much more impressive when rendering the more direct sci-fi elements of the SEEDS ship and the ominous plants than the western trappings). The staff is definitely aware that silliness is key to TRIGUN’s appeal, at least in some respects. There’s an attempt at goofy tongue-out villain cackling, and Knives’ new voice actress is going so hard on the yandere voice I’m not convinced it isn’t parody.
There’s no way I won’t be watching more of this, and there’s more than enough here to recommend a three-episode test if you’re a fan of action comedy. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t spent the past five years watching every Orange series with the overwhelming thought, “please get back to hurting me with rocks, already.”