Hello, humans! Welcome to the first installment of what I’m hoping will be a weekly segment here on this blog: Ryan Reviews! The segment where I review stuff. Might be a movie, a TV series- even just one episode– or a comic or what. Doesn’t really matter, the point is that I’ll review it. Why? I think about this stuff anyway, I may as well write it down. For this first one, I’ll be reviewing a film I watched recently. I shall be reviewing Trigun: Badlands Rumble.

Just a warning, before we begin: there will be spoilers, both for Badlands Rumble and the original series, even though the statute of limitations on that thing should have passed years ago. Fairly warned, be ye, says I.

Trigun the series was one of those gateway anime that’d attract newcomers in, mostly by being pretty prototypical and representative of the action-comedy anime genre as a whole. It was a gentle introduction; a likeable, sometimes lighthearted, sometimes serious show that contained all the comedy, moralizing and badassery that the viewer could expect from most other shows of the genre. It was fun, is what I’m getting at.

Mostly, that sense of fun came down to the protagonist, Vash the Stampede. He was an idiot hero, a bumbling, Crazy Awesome character who could flip from smiling comic relief to all around badass in the space of seconds (although notably he didn’t need to stop being the comic relief to play the badass, either). He was also immediately recognizable in a crowd, being that he’s basically entirely composed of distinctive visual elements: that long red coat, spiky blond hairdo, cool orange sunglasses and big gun all contributed to a character that, at least to me, is a classic anime hero like Spike Spiegel or Goku. Show an anime fan a picture of Vash and you’ll generally get at least some reference to Trigun out of them.

Ain't he cute when he's determined, kids?

In fact, the same could be said of the other main characters too; they’re all a little like that, though granted some are more than others. There’s Meryl (what was her last name? Strife? Wonder if she’s related to Cloud…) with her short stature and white coat/cape thingy, under which lies her weapons of choice, truly earning her the name Derringer Meryl. There’s Milly Thompson, tall and dim, with that enormous Stun Gun of hers and a long, earthy colored coat that only makes her seem bigger. Finally there’s Wolfwood, good old Nicholas D. Arguably the other easily recognizable character in Trigun, Wolfwood is basically awesome, all dark suit and glasses, with that too cool cross armory he carries with him. These four principal characters are visually distinctive and, really, the reason Trigun works so well… And that’s where we reach a major hurdle when talking about Badlands Rumble.

It’s been over a decade since Trigun last graced our screens. As a fan from way back- I was introduced to the series as many Aussie kids were; through Adult Swim reruns at around twelve or thirteen years old- I was actually really excited to hear that one of my favorite older anime was returning. I know that movies based on series anime tend to be big adventures with little bearing on the plot of the series that spawned them, but I had high hopes for a Trigun movie set after, perhaps immediately after, the end of the series that would further the story of Vash and his brother Knives, which was left hanging at the end of the final episode. In my head played visions of Vash attempting to rehabilitate Knives from his genocidal ways, and the tension between the two brothers as he did so. Maybe even some further information on the SEEDS program that brought them to whatever-the-hell-their-planet-was-called, with some background on what, precisely, the two brothers are.

Instead, we get a movie set mid-season, chronologically, that isn’t so much a Trigun movie as a fairly interesting sci-fi western movie that just happens to have Trigun characters in it. And that’s a little disappointing.

Badlands Rumble starts off in fine form, with a bank robbery pulled off by new villain Gasback. This is a pretty cool new character in fact; a big bulky genius bruiser with an interesting moral philosophy, some neat weapons and a gravelly voice (in the English dub that I watched he was voiced by the always entertaining John Swasey, basically doing his gruff older male voice. Think Huang from Darker Than Black.) Gasback seems to think that all people are consumers, and the resources they consume are taken from the mouths of others. He likens the entirety of life to a competition over resources, and thus turns to robbery because screw it, he might as well be honest about his thievery. All up, he’s an interesting character, and a fine villain for Vash to play off of.

Also? One of his arms in an electro cannon. That's just cool.

The man himself (still played- thankfully- with aplomb by Johnny Yong Bosch, returning to one of his more famous roles.) is introduced in this opening robbery, as Gasback’s henchmen, including Kent William’s slimy rendition of Cain Kepler, turn against him in an attempt to take all the loot for themselves. Vash’s introduction is played how you’d expect it to be; he’s the series’ most famous character, the one we’ve all be waiting to see again, and when he enters the scene it’s a slow reveal- first his shadow, then his voice, before finally the man himself appears. Though oddly, the Humanoid Typhoon comes into play as a comedy character, rather than displaying his combat chops. The scene does a good job of establishing Vash’s character right away; as he slapsticks his way through the scene we can see this willingly goofy hero has some serious skills, dodging numerous attacks along the way, while simultaneously cementing his moral code of not allowing anyone to be killed. It’s plenty of fun, and I’ll admit that I cheered when Vash reappeared after a decade of absence.

The rest of the movie doesn’t fare quite so well. It’s a pretty standard story, really; Gasback is out for revenge on Cain twenty years after his betrayal at the bank, and Vash gets caught up in the middle after rolling into a town that Cain now runs, having become quite successful in the intervening years. Along for the ride is Amelia, a bounty hunter with an axe to grind against Gasback and who is almost certainly his daughter, which is evident very early in the piece.  My main issue is that I have trouble figuring out who this movie is for. All the fan favorite characters are present, and generally Badlands Rumble does a good job of giving the long-waiting fans what they want from a Trigun movie; Vash is fun, Wolfwood is cool, Meryl is just as shrill as usual, and Milly as charmingly dense and sunny. But none of these characters are ever explained, nor are their relationships with each other or their place in the world, which seems to assume that this is a movie for the fans, which is certainly the path I had expected this movie to take. Except that if this were the case, why is so much time devoted to Gasback and his new target- and former Judas- Cain? Why is newcomer-though admittedly fun, in an underdeveloped kind of way- Amelia given such large billing? She’s given almost as much screen time as Vash, for god’s sake. This indicates a move to make a film that’s friendly to newcomers, in direct opposition to the assumed foreknowledge of the main cast the script has.

Guess which of these characters has the least screentime, humans!

It makes this movie really weird, to me. Some characters- I’m thinking of Meryl and Milly, here- seem almost like cameos, appearing at points for a bit of comedy before almost permanently disappearing before the climax. Wolfwood is reintroduced to us in a scene highly reminiscent of Vash’s original introductory scene, way back in episode one of the series. In fact it’s almost a shot for shot remake of this scene, with a bar being decimated by a hail of bullets in very impressive fashion; it’s a nice little shout out for the fans, but why then align Wolfwood with Gasback for the first half of the movie? That seems really out of character for him, though maybe I just haven’t seen the series in a while and I’ve forgotten.

But the part that really sticks out for me is a scene with Vash towards the end of the movie, where he’s shot and seemingly killed after a rather fun car chase through the desert. It’s played off in a very serious way, as though Vash has actually been killed, even though any fan of the series knows that he hasn’t; he needs to survive in order for the rest of the series to happen. And we know it takes place mid series because Wolfwood is still alive. For a fan it lacks any kind of tension, and actually comes across as a little silly, given the lingering seriousness that’s given to a scene with such a predictable conclusion. It comes across as another plot point thrown in for the newcomer audience, but again, are non-fans really going to be watching a movie based on a decade old anime?

It’s this split in priorities that really drags Badlands Rumble down. Newcomers aren’t going to get why Vash looks exactly the same on both sides of a twenty year timeskip, or what the Bernardelli Insurance Company is. At the same time, longtime fans aren’t going to appreciate Amelia and Gasback obscuring the old favorite characters in their own movie. Put simply, these two new guys aren’t nearly as interesting as Vash and Wolfwood, and being given equal billing means that neither set of characters is enough to fully carry the plot. It’s such a bizarre creative choice given the kind of goodwill and recognition the Trigun brand still has with older anime fans. Why not just make a Trigun movie, guys?

This is a pity, because there’s actually a lot to like about Badlands Rumble. The action can be very entertaining, especially the scenes of Gasback storming towards Cain’s mansion through an entire town of distinct and visually interesting bounty hunters all out for his head. The animation is appealing too; the desert world and the people within it are animated with detail and charm, evoking the same atmosphere as the original series, and it was a real rush to see old Vash and Wolfwood return looking as stylish as ever, but with a new visual cleanliness that the nineties series could never hope to match. In fact, the animation in the series kind of sucked, when you get right down to it; it’s really awesome to see these characters reanimated so nicely, when they deign to appear.

We get less luck with the script and voice acting, at least in the English dub. Johnny Yong Bosch returning is a real relief; he was one of the better parts of the original series, imbuing Vash with such innocence and charm it was hard to dislike him, and I was a little worried that he wouldn’t be coming back when Funimation got the license for the film. And it’s important that he did return, because his Vash is just as fun to listen to as he was back in the nineties. But he’s the only returning cast member; Meryl and Milly are voiced by Luci Christian and Trina Nishimura, respectively, and Wolfwood’s sporting a new voice too (he’s played by former country singer Brad Hawkins, who sounds fine). Now, it’s nothing against Luci and Trina, I actually quite like both of them and they’ve done numerous roles that I’ve really enjoyed in the past (Luci just works as Soul Eater’s Medusa, and Trina makes a great choice for Evangelion’s Mari Makinami) but they’re both miscast here. Meryl’s original VA (Dorothy Elias-Fahn) had a depth and deadpan-ness to her voice that suited the character, which Luci’s portrayal (which seems very close to her young boy voice, actually) doesn’t quite capture. Milly too (that’s Lia Sargent in the series dub) is lacking some of the dopeyness and charm that made her character bearable when she could easily have become annoying. Wolfwood fares better, he sounds pretty cool really, but in my heart he will always have Jeff Nimoy’s voice. Though I recognize that’s a personal choice. The rest of the cast- Swasey’s Gasback, Williams’ Cain, and Colleen Clinkenbeard’s deep, Hawkeye-ish Amelia- do fine, but there’s nothing particularly amazing about their performances. It’s just… workmanlike, I guess. The dub script suffers from quite a bit of awkwardness, too, probably due to the way the mouth flaps work here. Lines like “I’ve killed more idiots like you than I can remember to count,” don’t really flow the way they should. I get what the translators were going for, but having to lengthen out the line like that spins it down some odd paths, and it’s not the only line like that in the film.

All in all, this is a fun little film that nonetheless has its share of problems. I’d normally have no problem recommending it to anyone looking for a bit of mindless action with a few laughs. But this is Trigun! We fans have been waiting years to see these characters back in action! Come the fuck on! I can’t help but feel that this is a missed opportunity for something really special to happen. In every shot, every moment, every line, I can feel the potential, the fond memories I have of this franchise fighting to get out. Maybe it’s just nostalgia getting the better of me, but the least I wanted from a Trigun movie were the Trigun characters, doing Trigun things. And some of the time I got that. But it’s completely mystifying to me why I didn’t get it all of the time. Why make a Trigun movie if you weren’t going to focus on the Trigun world?

Actually, I know why: the name “Trigun,” still carries quite a bit of weight, and ensures an audience even if the production crew no longer really knows how/ wants to make a Trigun story. At times it feels like a completely original movie with the characters I know and love appearing as guest stars. But at other times, like Vash’s semi-fight with a couple of idiot bounty hunters on board a sand steamer, I feel the old magic and start really liking the damn thing. Though actually… This scene I’m talking about, it’s Amelia’s introductory scene, and Vash steps in to defend her from these two bounty hunters… Yet for whatever reason that conflict starts with an attempted rape. It doesn’t get even close to the act, and I’ve got no issues with depictions of that personally, but it seems so ill fitting for Trigun. Unexpectedly dark, in fact, even though the scene is played for comedy. Just another oddity in an all around pretty strange little movie.

But it is fun, sometimes despite itself. There’s cool scenes for the fans, and I think non-fans could still get some entertainment out of it too; there’s nothing boring or dull about it, is what I’m saying. I just can’t shake the feeling that it could have been so much more. I’m not even saying that the original Trigun series was amazing, or anything. It was just fun, more fun than anything to be found here. We waited for over ten years for something new from this franchise, and when it finally arrives it’s just… there.

Not “hey look, new Trigun!” but “hey look, a movie!”

And Vash deserves more than that, really.

*gasp!* "I do? YAAAY!"

Kurokami, signing off!