The winter 2023 anime season is hitting the ground running with the debut of hotly anticipated shows like Nier: Automata and Mappa’s take on Vinland Saga. But the anime with the most to prove to the anime community this season is Trigun Stampede, the CG remake of the classic ‘90s anime, Trigun. After watching its pilot episode, I can say the anime more than justifies its existence.
Trigun Stampede, by studio Orange, is a fully CG-animated retelling of studio Madhouse’s ‘90s sci-fi anime, Trigun. The story follows Vash the Stampede, a happy-go-lucky gunslinger with a six-million-dollar bounty on his head. In contrast to other ‘90s anime characters like Cowboy Bebop’s suave bounty hunter, Spike Spiegel, or Outlaw Star’s space mercenary, Gene Starwind, what makes Vash unique as an anime protagonist isn’t his propensity for violence but his aversion to it. I watched the first episode of Trigun Stampede via screener, and it’s scheduled to premiere tomorrow on Crunchyroll.
If you’ve seen David Leitch’s recent action film Bullet Train, Vash is kind of like Brad Pitt’s character, Ladybug. Or rather, Ladybug is like the live-action version of Vash in the way his luck and his combat skills repeatedly bail him out of harrowing shootouts. Vash’s moniker, the Humanoid Typhoon, comes from the amount of destruction and disorder that tends to surround him. Despite how intimidating his giant .45 Long Colt handgun is, Vash prefers to solve hairy encounters without taking the lives of his adversaries. Vash lends a rare kind of truth to the gun’s colloquial nickname, the Peacemaker, with how he cleverly utilizes the revolver to resolve firefights.
Watching the OG series isn’t required to follow or enjoy Trigun Stampede considering it’s more of a retelling than a continuation. If the first episode is any indication, Trigun Stampede is to the OG Trigun what Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is to the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime. Whereas the original series’ first few episodes meander a bit with their slow-burn introduction of Vash and the dog-eat-dog wasteland of the desert planet Noman’s Land, Trigun Stampede’s first episode wastes no time establishing Vash’s story as well as the direction for the rest of the series.
Within the premiere episode, Trigun Stampede introduces Vash’s backstory as well as his raison d’être of fighting for a peaceful resolution to the conflict over the sci-fi world’s increasingly depleted resources. The show also reintroduces characters like Meryl Strife, who’s reimagined here as a quite different, somewhat more complex character than she was in the ‘90s anime.
Instead of being an insurance agent, Meryl is a newly graduated investigative reporter in the anime remake. Trigun Stampede quickly establishes how naive Meryl is as she begins her pursuit of “her big scoop,” as she’s repeatedly taken aback when confronted with the brutal poverty the denizens of Jeneorah Rock endure under the JuLai military police. As opposed to her counterpart in the original series, Meryl’s surprise at how brutal and unforgiving life on the desert planet can be routinely conflicts with her naive worldview. My only gripe is that her original partner in crime, Milly Thompson, has been replaced with a new character, the grizzled borderline alcoholic journalist Roberto De Niro. (Yes, that’s actually his name.) Although I’ll miss Milly and Meryl’s dual fish-out-of-water dynamic, Meryl and Roberto’s mentor-pupil chemistry makes for a compelling watch whenever the pair’s conflicting worldviews collide with the rough-and-tumble realities of life on the destitute desert planet.
Arguably, the first uphill battle Trigun Stampede faces with the anime community comes from its use of 3D CGI. Rest assured, it looks phenomenal. Character actions are fluid and expressive without looking cheap or uncanny. When the action heats up, shootouts and character movement have an impressive weight to them. This should come as no surprise considering Trigun Stampede was produced by Orange, the anime studio behind the Beastars and Land of the Lustrous anime adaptations. The scale of each action sequence has big movie-spectacle feel.
Another gripe fans had going into Trigun Stampede was over Vash’s redesign, particularly his floofy new hairstyle. Imma keep it a buck with you, I actually prefer his new do over his original. Aside from the new look being aesthetically pleasing to me, the artistic change makes sense when considering the breakneck speed of the action sequences and Vash’s larger-than-life persona. Vash’s undeniable charm and childlike innocence are perfectly accentuated whenever his golden locks flow with his emotive gestures. If he were to sport his signature spiky hairstyle from the classic series, it arguably would’ve made the movement of his CG model look stiff and lifeless any time he’s shown dodging bullets and causing mayhem. But fear not, fans of the OG hairstyle: Vash’s signature ‘90s look does make a cheeky cameo.
With Trigun Stampede, studio Orange defiantly issues a moratorium to the anime community’s aversion to the use of 3D CGI. With the grand scale of its techno architecture and the grimy, lived-in aesthetics of its dusty, podunk western towns, every sequence in the premiere episode has the same epic sci-fi feel as a blockbuster motion picture like Star Wars or Dune. The world of Trigun, and the humanoid typhoon who calls it home, have never looked better.