Judge Jon Mercer also carries three guns: one shoulder, one hip, and one in a place most pat-downs would never reveal.
Twenty years ago, he cut an outlaw loose. Today, he pays the price.
It has been more than a decade since Trigun rode the wave of the '90s anime boom onto North American television screens. Now, Vash the Stampede, Nicholas D. Wolfwood, and company are back in Trigun: Badlands Rumble, an all-new full-length movie that reunites series creator Yasuhiro Nightow with animation studio, Mad House. Does the cult favorite sci-fi western have any bullets left in the chamber, or will this duel end badly for the man known horizon to horizon as the Humanoid Typhoon?
Facts of the Case
While caught in the midst of a daring bank robbery gone wrong, the legendary outlaw and mythical gunfighter known as Vash the Stampede spares the life of Gasback—a notorious bank robber known for only the most dangerous and outlandish heists—when his greedy associates double cross him for a bigger share. Twenty years later, Gasback has waged a Monte Cristo-esque campaign of vengeance against his former underlings, destroying the lives they have bought with their ill-gotten gains. When ultimate vengeance brings him back to the now prosperous boom town of Macca City (with an army of bounty hunters following in his wake), the hulking villain is set on a collision course with the very man who inadvertently set him free. The resulting clash of ideals and bullets threatens to set the sands of Macca ablaze.
I have a bizarre relationship with Trigun, trailing back to the dark days of DVD, when anime had a sticker price that went past premium and bordered on ludicrous. The entire series box set came at a cost of three hundred Canadian dollars, and like many fans who found the fun character designs and steampunk western sensibilities pleasing, the series' schizophrenic narrative left me somewhat cold. So understand my surprise when I found myself having an absolute blast with Trigun: Badlands Rumble. Yes, it's comedic to the point of stupidity. Yes, it's a light and fluffy action affair with silly characters, sillier character names, and five movie's worth of anime clichés that would normally have the veins in my forehead throbbing. But the entire ordeal is now possessed of an energy that just works.
For starters, the story is a standalone, set at a point between the ninth and eleventh episode of the Trigun timeline. All of the overwrought mythology has been stripped away, making the story move like it's got a rocket strapped to its ass. There are a couple of clever turns, and the issue of the villain is hardly a matter of black and white, good or evil. All the same goofball antics and high octane gunfights that made the original series a hit with fans have survived intact. And while there is a sense of drama, especially towards Badlands Rumble's endgame, it never has an adverse effect on the major action set pieces. Gasback's cacophonous arrival in Macca City, and the thrilling Road Warrior-inspired chase scene could have easily been derailed by either an ill-timed comedic misstep or a weepy hero, landmines which Trigun was infamous for. And yet Vash's whole coo-coo-for-cocoa-puffs pacifism (despite being the planet's most lethal gunfighter) schtick is a lot easier to swallow, when he doesn't resort to a soliloquy after having to squeeze the trigger. In fact, the four returning characters don't really bring anything new to the table.
The real core of the story revolves around the destruction left in the aftermath of Gasback's theatrical robberies, and the arrival of Amelia, a beautiful and battle-hardened bounty hunter who has some unfinished business with the dangerous bandit. How these characters fit into the often deadpan world and interact with the more familiar Trigun regulars makes for an exciting watch. Some might lament that this simply feels like a longer, lost episode of the series, but I'll happily retort that it's at least a good episode, and even a great one.
A large chunk of Trigun: Badlands Rumble's appeal is watching the jaw-dropping production values. Mad House did a stellar job on the buttery-slick animation, and Planet Gunsmoke has never looked this beautiful, with gorgeous backdrops packed full of life and color that wouldn't look out of place in Ralph McQuarrie's art portfolio. Sadly, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a touch on the soft side, making character outlines appear fuzzy in certain shots, and muting the colors. Diehard Trigun fans may want to scoop up the Blu-ray instead, as the 1080p picture looks like sixty billion double dollars. The 5.1 surround mixes are available in both English and Japanese, and I'm pleased to say both have a very satisfying punch, especially in regards to the rampant gunfire and explosions in the final act.
In regards to extras, Trigun: Badlands Rumble fills its second disc with more than the usual Funimation offering. There's a collection of Q&A sessions and interviews with the cast and crew from various anime conventions, as well as a Behind-the-Scenes featurette with the Japanese voice performers. It's all fairly dry, outside of a single short anecdote with character designer/chief animation director Something Yoshimatsu (seriously, that's the name he goes by), where he waxes poetic about signing an autograph for a fan equally as attractive as she was zealous. Rounding out the special features is a collection of trailers and promotional materials, all of which (if I recall) are set to the opening theme of the original series, which has a side effect of making them bleed together. Still, much more value than your typical anime release, and it helps make Trigun: Badlands Rumble feel special.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While a satisfying return for the space cadet spaghetti western, Trigun: Badlands Rumble isn't what many fans will be looking for. Other than Vash, the other three central Trigun characters'—Wolfwood, Meryl Stryfe, and Milly Thompkins—are given little to do, in lieu of new arrivals Amelia and Gasback. At the very least, Wolfwood is made useful during a handful of action sequences, but outside of three or four sight gags, Milly and Meryl serve absolutely no purpose here. Trigun: Badlands Rumble is not going to shed any new light on the world of Planet Gunsmoke, and fans who've been waiting twelve years for such a tale are going to be sorely disappointed.
All that being said, Trigun: Badlands Rumble succeeds at not only capturing the feel of the best episodes of the show, but outstrips them with a well-paced, lightning quick, comic adventure filled with derring-do and slick production. If you enjoy an occasional breezy anime romp, load a bullet in the chamber, and take a shot at Vash the Stampede's latest escapade.
Nobody's getting' lynched today.
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