The world has changed a great deal since TRIGUN, the classic anime by Madhouse starring Vash the Stampede, released 20 years ago. Everything from smartphones to internet culture to current news media would be unrecognizable to the denizens of the late 90’s. However, with all of these progressions have come some unfortunate changes. Gun violence in the United States, especially in the form of mass shootings, has been dramatically increasing each year. It makes me wonder how America might have reacted to TRIGUN, if say, it was released on Netflix last month. TRIGUN is a show that is particularly interested in gun use, so would it have been delayed because of the most recent shooting? Would it have gained negative press for its depiction of gun use?

It’s easy to imagine people having an intensely negative impression of TRIGUN in the wake of all this violence. Easier yet to say US children shouldn’t be watching something like TRIGUN and that all of its gun use might warp their young minds. Ironically, TRIGUN is exactly what we all should be watching, now more than ever. Vash the Stampede is the hero for times like these.

The Classic TRIGUN

Vash is surrounded by bullet holes
Vash the Surrounded | Image: Geek and Sundry

Vash the Stampede is the protagonist and hero of TRIGUN, a series that began as a 1995 manga by Yasuhiro Nightow (creator of the popular anime GUNGRAVE). TRIGUN’s entire 26-episode anime run in 1998 was written by Yosuke Kuroda, who has a long list of credits in his own right, including writing on GUNGRAVE.

TRIGUN revolves around the travels and adventures of Vash. The story begins with two employees of the Bernardelli Insurance Society searching for him. Their job is to follow Vash around and report on the damages he causes; however, these damages are a misunderstanding. More damage is caused by bounty hunters in pursuit of the 60 billion “double dollar” bounty on Vash’s head than by Vash himself. He earned this bounty by destroying the city of July, though his own memory of this event is fragmented. He saves lives throughout his travels by trying to talk things out and he is only driven to use non-lethal force when all else fails.

As the series progresses, we learn that Vash is, in fact, a very old superhuman. Along with his brother, Millions Knives, Vash was a member of the crew responsible for managing a fleet of ships ferrying the human race from Earth to its new home. Knives sabotaged the fleet in an attempt to destroy what he viewed as an inferior race.

Thanks to Rem, the boys’ guardian, the fleet avoided destruction and crash-landed on a desert planet barely capable of sustaining life. Vash attempts to help the humans live in peace in this environment, while Knives continues to seek their permanent end.

Vash the Pacifist

Vash extends his fingers crossed
Love and peace | Image: Fandom

TRIGUN is a western with sci-fi flair, in that it takes its cues aesthetically from 50’s American westerns with just a few modern touches. As a western, it doesn’t shy away from gun violence. To put it mildly, the show is obsessed with guns. Not only is gun right there in the title, but the name for the planet humanity crash landed on is Gunsmoke. I mean, it’s everywhere. Yet, it’s to a cartoonish degree that borders on ridiculous. The opening scene of TRIGUN involves a gang of thugs completely demolishing an entire building with a large boomerang followed by an absurd amount of machine gun fire. Guns are seen as a tool that goes hand in hand with life on the range in TRIGUN. People need guns in this world in order to survive the harsh environment and the brutality of the human beings around them.

Enter Vash the Stampede, the planet’s most wanted outlaw who literally wouldn’t hurt a fly. The ultimate irony of this planet with its oversaturation of gun violence is Vash. Though he plays the fool, Vash uses his superhuman speed, reflexes, and aim, to resolve each situation he finds himself in without killing and with minimal force. He endeavors, above all else, to preserve life. Even as a child, he reacted strongly against Knives’ life philosophy: The strong consume the weak to survive. Vash strives to create a world full of love and peace. He has suffered countless injuries to achieve this — the scars of which he hides beneath his stark red coat.

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A Culture of Violence

Vash towels off his hair. His body is covered in scars
Vash the Often Injured | Image: Fandom

Now let’s look at our own American superheroes. Many of them have taken a turn toward dark and gritty realism in the past 10 years. The fact that heroes like Batman and Superman don’t kill has been a part of their identity since their creation in the 1930’s. Now studios are more interested in showing these two characters try to destroy each other than they are in showing them work together. The fact that the symbol on Superman’s chest stands for Hope is a mere footnote in the latest Justice League movie. This is what should be the focus of his character, not how easy it is for him to beat up the entire Justice League.

These popular superhero stories only serve to surround us with more brutality than hope. Instead of using their powers and abilities to prevent violence, heroes often use them to simply join in. There’s just no place to escape. We’re surrounded by unnecessary violence on all sides, both in news and entertainment, and this article from the New York Times details just how much the current climate could be affecting us.

No one is arguing to take violence out of superhero movies. TRIGUN has plenty of violence itself. But our superheroes are supposed to be the very best of us. They’re supposed to rise above it all, and in doing so show us how to follow in their footsteps. If we wanted to watch two people wail on each other for no reason there’s always boxing. We deserve more from the characters we call heroes.

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Why We Need Vash

Vash is back lit by the blood moon
Vash the Moonlit | Image: Nefarious Reviews

This is why we need Vash now more than ever. Or rather, we at least need our heroes to embrace pacifism and empathy to the same degree that he does. Even in a gun-heavy world, he promotes love and peace. The closest thing we have to Vash in pop culture may be Superman, but recent film depictions have stripped him of his greatest qualities. Having more heroes like Vash isn’t going to change the fact that violence happens. But, perhaps depicting more heroes like this will have a positive impact on the American people in today’s climate.

We don’t need more heroes who brood menacingly over a shadowy city. We need to inject some primary colors back into Superman movies. Instead of dark and gritty, we need heroes who are going to draw back the curtains and let some light in. Heroes who make us feel good about life on this planet. That despite all the evil things that happen, there is still good to be found in all of us. That there’s value in being a good person and being good to those around us. That even though it may be hard sometimes, kindness has more power to change the world than violence does.

TRIGUN is about many things, but it is mostly about how violence is a cycle that begets itself. It is about having the bravery to face violence with optimism and pacifism, even at great personal cost. As we continue to face these issues, we need more role models like Vash the Stampede. We need heroes that break the cycle of violence and help show us how to do the same.

Feature image courtesy of The Artiface

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