Trigun: Badlands Rumble Preview
By Nicholas Zabaly
In 1998, a 26-episode anime adaptation of Yasuhiro Nightow’s ongoing manga Trigun hit the Japanese airwaves. The show was not immediately popular, and despite the likeable characters and interesting premise, the series never became a standout hit in its native land. In this respect, it was similar to another 1998 TV anime, Cowboy Bebop, which also featured engaging characters and stories. The true link between both series, however, wasn’t realized until they were released in the United States, where both went on to become runaway hits that epitomized late 1990s anime fandom in America. The relationship between the shows was perfectly crystallized in the minds of many fans with the genius AMV Tainted Donuts, created by the editor E-Ko, but the similarities existed long before that video was wowing crowds at Anime Expo 2001. In many respects, the biggest difference was that Cowboy Bebop was given the honor of a theatrical film that same year, while Trigun continued on only in manga form. But in 2010, that all changed. Studio Madhouse, the powerhouse production company behind the original Trigun television series, reassembled the director, character designer, composer, voice cast, and many others of the original crew to create Trigun: Badlands Rumble, the theatrical film fans of the series (and particularly those in America) had long been waiting for. Tomorrow, on July 7th, 2011, the film will enter theatrical release in the United States. Having already seen the film at a preview at last year’s Anime Expo, I wanted to provide prospective viewers a preview of what they can enjoy at their local multiplexes in the days and weeks to come.
Like Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, the new Trigun: Badlands Rumble takes place in the middle of the series and thus avoids issues of continuity. It is a side-story in the truest sense, imagining a scenario where all the beloved characters can come together one more time and enjoy themselves. In tone, it harkens back to the early episodes of the series, featuring light comedy and even hints of romance. But the darker themes that elevated the stakes later in the show also appear in the dramatic and tragic backstories of new characters Amelia and Gasback. The film provides the perfect introduction to the Trigun world for new fans, leaving only a few minor references from the larger series unexplained. In this respect, it is very similar to Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, which invited new fans as well as old by making the story and characters as accessible as possible. Of course, familiarity with Trigun will elevate enjoyment of the film, as it’s first and foremost a romp with all the familiar faces of the series. But there is so much of what makes Trigun great present in the film version that it’s sure to win many new fans. Main character Vash is still his loveable self, a gunslinger with superhuman firearms skill who nonetheless refuses to take lives with his gifts, and his friend/rival Wolfwood is still the coolest preacher in anime, tearing up the scenery with his stylish good looks and weapons alike. On the female side of things, both Milly and Meryl, the beleaguered insurance agents who are always tracking Vash in attempts to settle the monumental damage claims that emerge in his wake, have plenty of time for comedy and buddy bonding, and new character Amelia proves a potent match for Vash in the scenes they share together. In terms of storytelling style and flow, the film takes its cues from the successful Cowboy Bebop: The Movie by introducing the regular cast, then providing a powerful villain and an intriguing new heroine for the hero to grapple with. Fans of that film will find lots to like in Trigun: Badlands Rumble. And also like Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, there are abundant action scenes that show off the characters and animation in their full glory.
One area where Madhouse has stunningly surpassed the original series is in the animation quality. While the appealing soft-focus, dusty look of the Trigun TV version has been lost (largely due to the change from cel animation to digital coloring), the actual animation is a strong improvement. All the characters are excellently drawn and designed, with vibrant coloration and strong, distinctive lines. The movement with which the characters come to life is never short of wonderful, with a good mix of flashy action and more subdued character acting. An early scene where Vash meets Amelia has tons of great acting from the background characters, who in many a lesser film would simply stand around and do little. Here, they’re all graced with individual unique movement, enough so that, later in the film, you know who they are when they show up again. As in the original series, great care is placed on the facial expressions of the characters, allowing them to act with either nuanced sophistication or broad, comical overacting. It never falls short of exactly what is intended, and from that perspective alone, Trigun: Badlands Rumble is a joy to watch. The action scenes, which I would be remiss not to dwell on, are an interesting combination of the type of choreography and action found in the original series, and in more recent Madhouse productions like Black Lagoon. In fact, a saloon shoot-out in the film may remind many Madhouse fans of the frequent gun battles that have destroyed the Yellow Flag bar in the various iterations of the Black Lagoon franchise. Madhouse shows here how they’ve learned since 1998, upgrading the frantic action and believability of the battles while still showcasing the classic attention to timing and detail, as well as humorous implausibility, of the original show. A quick review of the film’s credits, meanwhile, reveals a fascinating list of new and old names in the animation staff. Trigun: Badlands Rumble provided a wonderful training opportunity for many young animators who will undoubtedly become familiar names in the future, and was also a return to key animation for famous Madhouse staff members like Takeshi Koike (director of REDLINE). A number of top freelance animators, including Kouichi Arai (Summer Wars, Ninja Scroll), Kouichi Hashimoto (Yukikaze, Afro Samurai), and Yasunori Miyazawa (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Millennium Actress), also took part. Animation fans will find lots to like, as the emphasis on hand-drawn action dominates, with only minimal CG animation used for effects, vehicles, and backgrounds.
Like its predecessor series, Trigun: Badlands Rumble didn’t dominate the box office in Japan. The final tally at the end of 2010 placed its earnings at ¥72 million yen, or about $870,000. Even after many years, Trigun is still not a super-popular title in Japan. But to a certain extent, it doesn’t matter. Trigun: Badlands Rumble was made for the US market, and it shows. The film has been created for the long-time fans, and those eager to join their ranks. It is a good example of what can emerge when a Japanese studio considers the international market. While it would be unrealistic to expect Trigun: Badlands Rumble to earn more at the US box office than it did in Japan (even Cowboy Bebop: The Movie earned just a little over $1 million, and it played for 15 weeks), in the long-term, home video sales of Trigun: Badlands Rumble in the US and other international territories will likely turn it into a success. To make it certain, and to encourage more films and series that respond to international fan demand, I strongly encourage everyone interested in Trigun, anime, or animation in general, to make the trek to a local theater and see Trigun: Badlands Rumble during its theatrical release. It’s well worth it, and a fine example of how much fun a quality anime movie can be.