Ergo Proxy (Collaboration with In Search of Number Nine)

Very excited to kick off this collaboration with Iniksbane at In Search of Number Nine, since we’re writing on one of my all-time favs, Ergo Proxy!

I’d put off reviewing Ergo Proxy for a long time but being able to work with Cameron took a bit of the pressure off, and I’m really happy with what we came up with. Thanks to Cameron’s awesome posts over the years, I’ve been introduced to a heap of great anime – and one that comes to mind instantly for me is Rahxephon

But getting back to Ergo Proxy, we’ve split the posts between our blogs, so below you can read our review conversation and next up is our analysis post over at In Search of Number Nine – link to follow once we go live 🙂

But now, let’s begin – and Iniksbane’s up first:

Iniksbane: I’m curious when and where you first encountered Ergo Proxy? I have a little bit of personal history with this show. I initially saw the first episode at Otakon in 2006, and I was blown away by how this show looked. Sure. There were other stylish shows that I had seen, but between the austere sci-fi setting and the voice-over, I was intrigued. 

I’m not sure if I would say I was hooked, but I was interested in learning more. 

This show holds an important spot in the anime distribution history in America in that it was one of the final shows that Geneon released. Pioneer and then Geneon were responsible for distributing a lot of the more unusual anime, stuff like Ergo Proxy, Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei, Paranoia Agent and Gankutsou, to name a few.  The End of Geneon USA – Anime (bellaonline.com)

This was around the time I started blogging as well. 

It was the start of the change of the anime industry in the U.S. Within a year or so, ADV would become Section 24. They would eventually start rereleasing anime under Sentai Filmworks, but that would take some time. 

Bandai Entertainment, the American distribution arm of Bandai in Japan, held out until 2012, but they ended up shutting down as well. Bandai Entertainment to Stop Releasing New DVDs, BDs, Manga – News – Anime News Network

Funimation ended up being the last one standing. They emerged with all of the Dragon Ball Z money. 

But I remember feeling lucky that I got my copy of Ergo Proxy. 

In my notes, I noticed that the show has a 4.5 out of 5. I find that interesting because it wasn’t a beloved show at the time of its release. I’m glad that it’s found an audience 15 years later. 

Ashley: Wow, that’s pretty awesome that you got to see the opener at a convention! 

I remember being only generally aware of Ergo Proxy back in the early 2010s and sometimes seeing it on informal lists here and there afterwards, it seemed like a real favourite for a lot of people but at the same time, not a series that was well-known, yeah.

I reckon I first saw a preview, probably on a DVD of another show and that got me searching for the series, thinking I ought to finally track down a copy and see for myself what it was like. (That copy was the Funimation reissue).

Glad I did too :D.

Iniksbane: What did you think about the show when you first watched it? What do you think of it now? I’ve heard another review of this show that divided it into three parts and said the beginning and the end were weak, but the middle was great. 

I’m not sure I remember much from my first time watching the show, I remember the quiz show episode and the one where they were stuck, and I vaguely remembered Iggy’s fate. 

Honestly, this time through, I liked the beginning. I loved the middle episodes, and I am still torn about the ending. 

To give you some to react to, I thought the first few episodes moved fast enough to set up what happened after they started the journey. I don’t feel like it wasted any time, or rather I felt like it spent enough time doing what it needed to. 

The show really kicks it into high gear once they leave the dome. I found Hoody’s story arc engrossing. I liked the interplay between Daedulus and Raul.

The conflict between Iggy and Re-l was great. In particular, I love the line, “You don’t get to write me off just because I’ve gotten complicated.”

Although Vincent is strangely hands-on with Re-l in a way, I wasn’t comfortable with and didn’t understand. I wrote down in my notes that Re-l attracts creepy stalker guys. 

My biggest problems come in the last three or so episodes. I’m still struggling with what they were trying to do there. It’s the only part of the show that felt self-indulgent. The show would have these long panning shots without anything going on. Raul and, to a lesser extent, Daedalus felt like non-entities at that point. 

It’s not a bad end, but it felt a little lackluster in comparison to some of the frankly brilliant stuff they do in the middle.

Ashley: That’s interesting re: the review you mention. For my first viewing I had the opposite response, to me during some of the middle episodes it felt like the tension was beginning to fall off. I remember preferring the beginning and ending parts.

And yet, on subsequent viewings those middle stretches contain some of my favourite moments. A bit like you, the ending is the part that I now wonder about. I wish it had been expanded for a few more episodes at least.

When I finished Ergo Proxy the first time I remember feeling like I had to immediately go and watch the first few episodes again to catch the foreshadowing I’d missed. Viewing it now feels like watching familiar, (and some) beloved characters fighting against cruel manipulation and that abandonment you mention below, I feel like I can focus more on character and less on unravelling the plot.

I guess like a lot of post-apocalyptic/cyberpunk fiction the fear of what humanity cannot control does seem to motivate a lot of characters and I like how that played out in Pino’s character, since she humanised the robots who are ‘infected’ with the Cogito Virus. (Maybe a bit like Robin from Witch Hunter Robin?)  

Iggy stood out for me too – poor guy, Re-l seems to treat him as a punching bag at times. Agree that Re-l is definitely a magnet for those sorts of fellows.

I also agree that Daedulus and Raul had some great scenes together but that the narrative seems to abandon them by the end, which was a real shame. Again, maybe just a few more episodes and that ending could have given them more time too?

One thing I think about the show now compared to the first time I watched it, is I realise more just how long the audience is kept in the dark in terms of piecing the bigger picture together, which is mostly only lurking behind the smaller investigative events for a fair while.

Iniksbane: Do you feel like the show succeeded with its more surreal aspects? So I’m leading a little bit here, but I felt this show was good at adding weight to what are largely surrealistic episodes. 

In particular, I pointed out in my notes that I liked the library episode. In particular, I said  One of the things about this show is just how surreal it is without losing all of its footing in “real” life. The bookstore in the middle of the wasteland is the height of that weirdness.  

This is also true with the episode Ophelia, as they are in the dome with the grocery store, and they keep running into a proxy that could copy other people. I don’t know if it’s the Hamlet reference, but I think the episode succeeds in making me realize that the proxy felt lonely but was so scared of being lonely that she killed everyone. 

Ashley: The Ophelia episode was one of my favs, absolutely – the surrealism throughout that plot was ace. It’s interesting how well those episodic sections of the series operate to build tension, expand the world and delay the answers everyone is seeking. 

It also fit right into the unsettling tone – sometimes it’s almost absurdist, which kinda built upon the unease for me.

And I know what you mean, the further into the show you get, the clearer it becomes that the Proxies are desperately unhappy or lonely, often broken by their roles. I especially felt bad for the Disney Proxy who was maybe doing a better job at protecting his charges than what we see in other domes.

Iniksbane: What character moments/episodes stood out to you? I’m curious. I liked two episodes in particular. One was the quiz show episode because it’s such an unusual way of getting exposition across. 

I also really liked the Disney episode. One of the characters I felt like got shortchanged in the early episodes was Pino. She seemed a lot like a cute mascot girl, but that episode gave me a sense of who she was. She really is a nice person who wants to help people. She was just a child in danger of getting thrown away. 

There is another moment that I like in the last few episodes after both Re-ls reject Daedalus. He says, “When I look into her eyes, I want to see my reflection.”

This is one point I probably should make about those last few episodes. I do think they’re messy, but there are a lot of great moments. At one point, we see Raul limping down the street, and there is a voiceover from Pino. 

Re-l has a monologue where she says, “Once this clockwork paradise bored me. So I prayed for change. Any change. I now have to wonder if those awful prayers were the catalyst that woke the sleeping Ergo.”

Ashley: Pino really became a stand out character for me too, yeah. Seeing her learn and grow as the series went on, and that Disney episode is a highlight for her – I love the teacup scene for a lighter moment, and there aren’t tonnes of them in the show, huh? 

Agree on the game show episode – Ergo Proxy just cuts in on a lot of those episodes with zero transition, and so I remember experiencing a bit of whiplash at first, but when I watched it again I thought it was a pretty cool way to deliver exposition.

I think the first episode is one of my favs – I finished it with so many unanswered questions and was immediately drawn in by the detective/noir stuff. Upon re-watch, Monad’s struggle takes on a different tone too but above all, I think it’s the action sequences as they punctuate the investigations. They feel pretty explosive and fluid too, like a good chunk of the budget went into hooking the audience with that ep.

Next up for me was probably the Ophelia episode. I really enjoyed being confused at first, and then once I figured out the team were being manipulated I was suddenly second-guessing everything I saw, that was fun. 

Visually too, the emptiness and all the wide shots, or the reflections and mist, it all made for heaps of memorable compositions. The atmosphere and symbolism around duality is pretty strong here too and Pino’s ‘cooking’ is a nice little moment of levity.

Iniksbane: According to an ANN interview, the series composer Dai Sato said they wanted to “create an image somewhat like a darker breed of American superhero.” Do you think they succeeded? Do you think that is a worthy goal? Link to the article. Interview: Dai Sato – Anime News Network

Ashley: That’s really interesting – although, I probably don’t know enough about superhero texts to offer an opinion on Ergo Proxy’s success in reflecting that… but I think it’s fascinating that the end result made me think of things like Tim Burton’s Batman films from the 1990s.

Good question, I think maybe it is worth trying because it might end up in something really distinctive. So, to bring in superhero stuff to a noir/cyberpunk/dystopian story resulted in Ergo Proxy so that’s pretty cool. And that ‘darker’ idea seems clearly realised, as it feels like most characters are anti-heroes, villains or at least always at cross-purposes throughout the series. (Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit there though).

Iniksbane: Most famously, the show used real philosophers’ names along with referencing Descartes’ “Cogito Ergo Sum,” do you think this worked? I remember this being the most significant sticking point with Ergo Proxy. To put it kindly, people thought this show was up its own butt.

Even Sato, in that same ANN interview, said, “I thought that project was a little too fast-paced. We had a lot of ideas and things we wanted to incorporate that we couldn’t fit.”

As a story, I think you can completely ignore this point, and for the most part, the story stands on its own. I’m not sure if I remember the names of the philosophers that are referenced, and I don’t think it bears looking up. 

That said, thematically, I think the ideas of self-determination and free will are core to what the show is going for. And here is where I’m going to dip a bit into spoilers. 

Raul starts off the show talking about people filling their assigned roles and has a deterministic outlook on life. But by the end of the show, he’s trying to fight against Ergo Proxy. He rejects the “God” of their world. 

In particular, Raul tells the regent, “You have spent your existence seeking a god that betrayed you. I am free of your illusions.”  

This back and forth between fate and free will is a recurring theme in the entirety of the show. I feel the show solidly lands in favor of free will, but there is a lot of plot driven by characters who believe they are fated for destruction. 

So I guess I will end this with another question. Where do you think the show lands on that theme? 

Ashley: I think the individuals in the Collective could have been called anything and it wouldn’t have made any difference, definitely.

I don’t recall their dialogue as distinctive or even suggesting any of the curiosity you’d expect from a philosopher – by which I guess I meant, they pretty much towed the line and never seemed to question their own part in the dome and the greater plan. (Admittedly, they weren’t infected so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised).

For the theme, those final shots seem really defiant so that especially makes me think the show comes down on the side of free will. Bleak as it can be, and even with all the collateral damage. 

You mentioned Rual and I think he’s a perfect example of a character playing out the tension between those themes – he’s got quite a lot of development too, swinging from sympathetic and less so and then back again, from antagonist to maybe a supporting protagonist which I found interesting since Vincent/Ergo Proxy isn’t strictly a hero or even an anti-hero, I think.

Or at least, not until the end perhaps – when I guess his resolve is channelled along the lines of free will being worth preserving?

And done!

Hope you enjoyed this post and that you’re ready for the next part, which you’ll soon be able to read over at In Search of Number Nine 🙂

Back Arrow (Bakku Arō) – Collaboration with Lita Kino

Morning all!

I’m excited to share another collaboration – this time on Back Arrow, where Lita Kino and I ask each other about the first three episodes. (Spoilers – we think you should check it out :D)

Thanks to Lita for diving in to Back Arrow with me too! If you haven’t already (or even if you have) you should visit Lita here at Anime Corner 🙂

Lita: Thank you Ash for the opportunity to collab with you. Even though our first idea went to pot. I really hope people give Back Arrow a try because I think it’s a great first time show for people who don’t watch mecha or wish to try to because it’s so less serious and more emphasis on fun with itself.


Ash’s Questions

1. What were you expecting before going in to ‘Back Arrow’?

The only expectation I had was a strong western setting terms of the background terrain, costumes etc. There was nothing I would ask for. I wanted to watch this not just because it’s mecha and I love it. Reminded me so much of Gun x Sword while the western settings are similar for me, Back Arrow is a curveball thrower. This series portrays itself as primarily fun majority of the time, this is something distinct within the first three episodes, it establishes. Introduction of the main protagonist Back Arrow arising from Rakuho, suffering amnesia with only memory of coming from beyond the wall.

Instead of this moment drawing on Back Arrow’s unfortunate circumstances with strong emotional emphasis. Back Arrow decides to go beyond the wall, without worrying about anything else. All the people from Edgar village staring at this strange man, butt naked. You feel like you are following an idiot of a protagonist and it works brilliantly for this series. It’s hysterical the first three episodes have been. I love series that serve up from what you expect like this, Back Arrow doesn’t pretend to be anything else. 

2. I was curious about how you’re responding to Shu after these first 3 episodes? Definitely feels like he’s holding the most back.

Shu is just full of mystery but he is an amusing man. Making a copy of the royal records had me laughing, but he is a man of science. That instinct and drive to do what it takes to grasp his goals. There is an underlying motive here but damn he is amusing. 

3. How are you finding the designs of the suits? (I’m getting a slight Power Rangers feel, which is fun.)

I LOVE this series concept regarding it’s mecha suits known as Briheight’s. The design of them reminds me of Gridman’s from SSS.Gridman but with a funky take. Concept of wielding these mechas based on your conviction is cool, each Briheight I’ve seen so far, really reflects the pilot as a person and personality. Mixture of conviction and becoming a pilot’s reflection, these mecha’s are definitely unique. This is another realm into the connection between man and machine. 


Lita’s Questions
 

1. We have a tradition of the main protagonist who has amnesia at the start. Normally there has been a strong emphasis and heartfelt plea at the start, also determination to discover who they are again. But we have a very lax protagonist who is just taking everything in hindsight as it comes. It’s this a refreshing approach to this protagonist tradition?

I think so, yeah. There’s sort of a refusal of the Call to Adventure – Arrow just wants to get on with own quest for the Wall and I’ve found that interesting. It feels like he’ll soften over time, but kicking off with an amnesiac who doesn’t seem to be very worried about that memory loss is interesting. Instead, he just dives into any situation with blind faith. Or conviction 😀 

2. I have yet to complete Back Arrow yet but the western centre reminds me so much of Gun x Sword. Been a long time since a western themed mecha has appeared. I think the outskirts of rocky and dune sand, the bright western costume designs look great. Do you think the western feel is there for Back Arrow?

It reminds me of Gun x Sword too, which makes me pretty happy. (In fact, the moment I saw Elsha and Atlee, I felt like two halves of Wendy had appeared onscreen :D). 

Agree! It feels like it’s been quite a while since a mecha show featured the western setting and isn’t it perfect for allowing the colours of the Briheights to pop too? I love the tropes I’ve seen so far, the village in distress, the stranger arriving to help etc. Really hoping they continue and that there’s a focus on stand-offs and duels.


3. I looked on MyAnimeList and this series has been rated 5 out of 10. I wonder if this is because people were expecting a series western here but the plot is pretty loose and so are the characters. This series is about fun 80% of the time, not what anyone was expecting. Do you like the loose fun factor here and the plot is throwing curveballs of absurdity as to where it may go? 

I wondered about that too. If I think about something similar in tone from Kazuki Nakashima, like TTGL perhaps, then that show’s already 14 years old – that’s pretty much an entire generation ago, I guess. 

And so maybe significant portions of current audiences just aren’t used to a show like Back Arrow?

Loose and fun is a pretty perfect description, yeah and maybe people did want something different? For me, I’m loving every second of how over the top it can be and I’m really looking forward to more curveballs, yes! For one, (I’m very curious about the Granedger and wonder what surprises it’ll hold in store.)


So, folks – tell us, are you watching Back Arrow? Planning to perhaps?

If you’re already watching it, how are you finding it so far? (Beyond the first three episodes the show continues to do more absurdist stuff and raise the stakes on the action too, I’m still enjoying it a lot for sure :D)

Karakuri Circus (Karakuri Sākasu)

I think Karakuri Circus oscillates between kind of a wild mess on one hand and more compelling flashbacks on the other.

And maybe a third thing: action with fun puppet designs.

Okay – a fourth thing too, which is fan-service, but the main point I’m trying to make is that this series was all over the place for me.

And yet, I finished it and I know that’s because early in the anime, the narrative flings the main cast apart and so I spent the following episodes basically waiting for them to reunite. Before I get to why, here’s a quick synopsis of the manga via Wikipedia:

[Karakuri Circus follows] Masaru Saiga, who inherits a massive fortune and aspires to become a puppeteer; Narumi Katō, a kung-fu expert who suffers from Zonapha syndrome (a strange illness that stops his breathing unless he makes people laugh*); and Shirogane, a silver-haired woman and Masaru’s caretaker who controls the puppet Harlequin. They must fight against the battling automatons (auto-mannequins) and save the world from the Zonapha syndrome.

As you can probably tell, it hits a lot of notes you’d expect from a shonen series but for me, the puppet aspect made it stand out. And the first four episodes felt like they were building to a big, cohesive revenge story with high stakes… but it didn’t quite work out that way.

When I realised that Kazuhiro Fujita was behind Karakuri Circus** I was pretty excited, since I’d enjoyed Ushio and Tora a lot. Studio VOLN produced both anime (and is currently looking after Back Arrow) and so I was expecting a bright, clear-looking adaptation and visually it’s exactly that. Fujita’s character designs are bold and plenty of the bad guy-designs are inventive but most of my criticisms landed on the story and structure.

Obviously, the art of adaptation is not a simple one. At all. Condensing a 9-year manga down to 30-odd episodes? Suffice to say that I’d find that extremely difficult.

Still, the amount of times a character slid into the story and then had their backstory dropped in right after seemed jarring. Each time it broke rhythm and the building of tension, and with such a large cast, this didn’t really allow many folks to get fleshed out as much as I’d have liked.

Connected to this, for each flashback arc there were a few episodes of cohesive narrative that sometimes took over from the ‘main’ storyline. Karakuri Circus is a complex story connected across hundreds of years and using reincarnation links everyone nicely, but what I found was that I became more invested in those flashback episodes.

That became a problem for me because it made it hard to return to whatever Masaru, Narumi and Shirogane were up to in the present.

And worse (again, in my opinion) was the fact that each of the three leads spent so little time together, a problem especially after those opening few episodes suggested a vital connection between them. Instead, over time, it seemed that their importance to each other almost became hypothetical.

Well, that might be an exaggeration but let me try to explain.

In the beginning, Masaru, Narumi and Shirogane operated almost as a cautious, small familial unit and the interpersonal stuff, their struggles and triumphs, were just beginning. I was interested.

However, due to the characters’ inability to benefit from much screentime together, they were each robbed of much chance to develop and resolve their relationships and issues. Instead, it felt like the narrative drove them apart and then worked fairly hard to keep them separated (at least in part) to delay an eventual reunion. [spoilers below]

But when they finally did come together melodrama kinda interceded on behalf of Narumi and Shirogane and forced them into this odd stand off. (On the other hand, Masaru makes some memorable sacrifices for those two toward the end of the series there).

Sadly, having spent a fair few episodes telling myself ‘things will pick up again once the leads are back together’ was perhaps naive in hindsight, since there are no guarantees in life nor in fiction 🙂

Still, I certainly did like some things:

  • the puppets and their designs
  • the flashbacks featuring Masaru’s grandfather
  • the Francine storyline
  • and Masaru’s growth as a character.

So, after all the grumbling about Karakuri Circus I’ve just done, I will say that the hints of a pretty compelling saga are clear in the anime.

Maybe it’s just not possible to compress something so large down to two seasons?

3 Stars

* In the anime, the Zonapha syndrome is explained a little more but it still always strikes me as unintentionally comical.

**Interesting to compare this to the Puppet Princess OVA which is almost like a warm up in some ways.

Kokkoku

Kokkoku (2018)

This time, I want to start the review by saying that I wish there had been a bit of extra foreshadowing leading up to the ending to Kokkoku

….but that’s about it when it comes to aspects I remember feeling disappointed over.

Kokkoku: Moment by Moment is a mix of mystery, science-fiction and maybe even supernatural suspense, and is one that plays out in a relatively small setting; just a few homes and streets, really.

And that narrowing of place and space adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere that quickly builds as each episode raises the stakes for the Yukawa family. To contrast this sense of the ‘small’ is a somewhat large cast, with the intersecting goals of a fair few characters meeting and clashing in a supernatural cage of disturbing stillness.

But I’m jumping around a bit I think – to finally maybe give context to what I’ve said above, I’ll share a blurb adapted from Wikipedia:

The anime tells the story of Juri Yukawa, who during a kidnapping of her nephew and brother, discovers that her grandfather can stop time using a mysterious stone and more, that he can move freely when time is standing still.

It’s a premise that suggests the kind of child-like fantasy of youth – ‘what if I could go anywhere or do anything without anyone seeing me?’ etc etc but Kokkoku shows a far more lonely and troubling place at times.

And from that rescue attempt mentioned in the blurb, the audience gets to learn a lot about Juri and her grandfather especially. I wouldn’t say the show is a character study though, as there’s plenty of plot-based tension when the Yukawa family discovers that other, more unsavory people hold the same ability.

It was nice to see a range of faces and character designs too, compared to say the generic choice of only having young, flawless heroes (as in a lot of anime over the decades) but the thing I liked the most here was probably the uncertainty. I was rarely confident about exactly what would happen next, which was fun. 

Due to all the time the characters spend in stasis, I guess calling Kokkoku a ‘time-travel’ story isn’t quite right, but the principle is the same – the anime is exploring time and our relation to it.

Kokkoku also felt like it made room for a few moral questions but the speculative elements are the main focus. I also liked the kinda muted colour-scheme Geno Studio* used too, which added to the sense of realism within the unreal.

But I think I’ve rambled long enough – maybe I won’t watch this every year like some other favourites, but I’m glad I’ve seen it 🙂

4 Stars

* Perhaps best known for Golden Kamuy.

Trigun (Toraigan) – Gallery Post

Trigun (Toraigan) (1998)

So, I took a fair few screenshots and wanted to share some that I didn’t include before… just because, I guess 😀

Hopefully I don’t accidentally double up, but these are just meant to be shots or moments I found interesting in one way or another – if I have the energy I might add a few captions or comments here and there too.

Below, a shot from episode 4 which is actually where the manga starts, from memory.

Lots of dramatic, deep red and orange sunsets in Trigun.

Kuroneko Sama here appearing as she sometimes does, on a poster or a label etc, instead of in-person.

Below that, green, headless birds? 😀

Here is another (somewhat) rare shot of a city-scape that suggests the level of technology in the past/some parts of Gunsmoke is a fair bit more developed than most of what we see during the series.

Feels like the smoke below could almost read “SOS”.

Switch between power being the thing that hides clear view of Vash’s eyes and then his glasses:


Another costume/hair change for Vash.

For the two above, sometimes I forget the twin suns, obviously having some impact on how arid the setting can be.

I’ve always wondered who wrote this – sinister as it is, I can’t recall if Knives is supposed to be out and about at this point?

And done!

In the future, I might like to do this sorta thing again – have a series of posts for one show – and see how many I can build up. They tend to take a really long time though, so it might be a while.

Next time it could be Cowboy Bebop, or FMA or Neon Genesis or Samurai Champloo perhaps… not sure yet!

Trigun (Toraigan) – The Final Shoot Out Arc, Episodes 24-26

Trigun (Toraigan) (1998)

The final shoot-out!

While hardly so divisive as the ending to Neon Genesis, there are a fair few disappointed folks out there when it comes to Trigun’s conclusion.

It’s not an unfinished series, and it’s not the discontent from “it’s not like the manga” that I’m throwing out here in this post either, but something I guess somewhat different… but more on that below.

[Spoilers of varying degrees from this point onward]

So, the leading episodes first.

Wolfwood is quite the scene-stealer and I think you could argue that he does this in the final arc, as his exit during the previous episode hits pretty hard. It’s a bitter end to Vash and Wolfwood’s friendship, to the influence they have on each other too, and the ramifications continue into this arc.

You could certainly argue that his death is in service to Vash’s character development but it certainly functions within his own storyline too.

I say that because, like many other deaths or injustices in the series, they seem to operate (not only) as justification for Vash to finally, directly take a life. Legato and Knives have pushed Vash so close to the edge that, when he must chose to save Meryl and Milly by killing, he does so – and the pain that act causes is a neat, cruel time-bomb left by Knives.

But again, I think of it as necessary in order for the audience to accept Vash’s action, after all the pain he bore to save lives and prevent death in the preceding 20-odd episodes.

Okay, to the ending itself finally.

As I said before, I think the conclusion to Trigun is inevitable and it’s also very clearly set up. That doesn’t mean I found it entirely satisfying, but I don’t think the anime could have ended any other way – Vash was always going to save Knives, rather than take revenge.

Here’s why I think that:

  1. Vash is shown to be a pacifist, often and convincingly.
  2. Rem is kind of Angel-like and her memory functions as a paragon, and one Vash has been striving to live up to for over one hundred years.
  3. Rem charged him with “taking care” of Knives, which doubtless means not just protecting, but redeeming his brother somehow.
  4. When Vash kills Legato, we see that even killing an enemy has quite the impact on him (and the storyline paused to show us that with episode 25) making it clear that he’d never be able to do something similar to his own brother.

Okay, so, having made that list, I definitely wish that Knives had experienced a different consequence for his sociopathic reign.

It did not feel to me that he’d earned forgiveness, nor Vash’s almost infinite patience, and so the final shoot out between them, while impressive, had less of a visceral impact for me. In fact, I think the final flashback (of their years together after the crash) ended up being more compelling.

And I’ve always wondered, actually, what would the final episode be like if we saw the shoot-out first and then the long stretch of their past together?

… and there it is, six posts on one of my favourites 🙂 If you’ve never seen Trigun and it’s already on your list then I think you’re in for a fun ride. It’s one of those shows that feels like it has stood the test of time pretty well – and coming up on 25 years old soon!

But before I finish up (for now) I’ll quickly mention a few quick things like usual:

  • I’ve always wondered whether the narrative ‘punishes’ Wolfwood and rewards Vash for their respective lifestyles.
  • Poor Milly!
  • (I forgot this last post, but ‘Empty Smile’ guitar piece from the OST seems usually to be directed at Vash but its obviously aimed at Wolfwood instead during #23).
  • Animation quality goes up here in the last few eps.
  • Of course, as with many villains, Knives is deeply hypocritical – he still uses Plants himself for example.
  • …and finally, Milly’s laugh after the boulder is pretty great.

I think I will do a gallery/extra bits and pieces post tomorrow for fun – so one more Trigun post coming tomorrow sometime!

Trigun (Toraigan) – The ‘Doubts’ Arc, Episodes 18-23

Trigun (Toraigan) (1998)

Post number five for Trigun – this time it’s a span of episodes that I’ve called something simple, just ‘Doubts’ as I reckon it suits fairly well.

To contrast with the excitement at seeing everyone together again (not right away), there’s an undercurrent of unease here, of impending doom. Part of that feeling for me is fed by the ongoing tension between Vash and Wolfwood’s respective approaches to life.

Opening up with ‘Eriks’ I’m always struck by the sadness that’s pushing forward now – Vash is doing his best to protect everyone by hiding away, but of course he can’t help but form bonds with the people he meets, bonds which we all know are going to be broken. (The use of ‘Not An Angel’ in the OST here always gets me too).

And more, while Wolfwood sort of brings the gang back together there’s a cost – once again, to those Vash loves.

Especially in the ‘Flying Ship/Out of Time’ episodes, as more Gung-Ho Guns attack and interrupt those important memories connected to Vash’s past. To me, it feels like a few bits might even be overplayed but on the other hand, it’s all building to something. The narrative really, really wrings Vash out here, forcing him to absorb more grief on behalf of the promise he’s trying to keep for Rem.

Of course, even the fearsome Vash the Stampede has a limit. And while we don’t see him reach it in these episodes, he gets plenty of trauma to nudge him further toward Wolfwood’s way of life. It’s trauma the narrative needs to show the audience, I reckon, in order to have them accept something that’s due to happen later.

And Nicholas himself is still pushing Vash too. Maybe he can’t accept that someone could ‘permit’ the suffering of many by a refusal to commit violence, while clearly also wanting to prevent it. I guess it’s another facet of the tension between Vash and his world view and so many others upon Gunsmoke. (Actually, maybe that’s a bit simplistic of me).

I guess you could argue that it’s an extension of the ‘outsider’ trope, a classic one that Vash fits really well, not just via his character design with the red coat and blonde hair, but of course his pacifism. Which kinda sets him up as an underdog too, which is another way to manipulate an audience… but I’m always happy to go along with it.

And Vash has the contradiction of being a gunslinger but one who doesn’t want to draw blood – at times he’s covered in the imagery, poses, props and conventions of violence as equivalent to ‘cool’, but the goofy side, the gentle side both add that internal tension to his character.

So, getting back to the arc itself again, toward the end of this stretch of episodes is where Wolfwood confronts his own reluctance to commit a certain act (that I won’t spoil just in case). And I’ve always found it striking that he tells Vash “don’t tell me your dream in a place like this” here, another quote that always leaps out at me.

Some more quick observations:

  • Milly being late to work 20 times, I think it was
  • The rare costume change in ‘Hang Fire’ (#19) for Vash
  • I always thought the puppet master/dolls are creepy designs that double as good ‘fodder’ for Vash and Wolfwood – allowing the heroes to do some damage, and give the audience that outlet, without murdering
  • Chapel is a pretty memorable character, maybe a bit under-utilized perhaps
  • Finally we get to learn the sad truth about Plants

Well, it seems that the next and final* post is suddenly right around the corner – the ‘Final Shootout‘ with episodes 24 – 26!

(yep, I had to use a Western trope for the title of this arc).

*Well, there might be a gallery style post too 😀

Trigun (Toraigan) – The Gung-Ho Guns Arc, Episodes 12-17

Trigun (Toraigan) (1998)

Fourth in this short series of posts about Trigun – time for the Gung-Ho Guns Arc.

Here the series takes a bit of a turn again – a gradual darkening begins and then quickens, kicking off in dramatic fashion with ‘Diablo’. The appearance of Monev is fantastically menacing with those blues and reds, and his attack on the city definitely pushes Vash to the edge because once again, he’s not able to save everyone.

Earlier, Legato Bluesummers had already begun to torment Vash – kicking off a recurring theme from this point forward. Upon second viewing too, you definitely notice something re: his character design, but again, I’m trying to mostly avoid spoilers 😀

But what probably stands out most for me is that first glimpse of rage from Vash when imprisoned, and we sort of switch out of his POV for a moment, to experience that moment with the insurance girls and in theory, feel the same shock they do.

This block of episodes are also important because a vital character, Knives, is given a proper introduction with some flashbacks (in episode 17 ‘Rem Saverem’ especially). There, the way both Vash and Knives approach life is quickly established, as those formative experiences on SEEDS end up ricocheting through the rest of Trigun.

The theme or central conflict of pacifism coming up against more ‘survival of the fittest’ style beliefs are echoed all across Gunsmoke; in the characters and the ‘wild west’ setting itself too, and it’s obviously exemplified in one relationship by Vash and Knives.

Rem’s importance comes into focus in this arc too, as she urges Vash to “take care of Knives” – and based on how important she is to Vash, we know he’ll do everything he can to live up to her request – which leads to what I see as an inevitable ending… but more on that later!

At this point, the series still squeezes in a episodic storylines, a bit of a recap ep and more run-ins with the Gung-Ho Guns. Obviously ‘Fifth Moon’ is a huge moment but I think of Dominique’s episode as just as impactful due to maybe another big shift in tone (with that corpse pile) but also, it’s another point where Vash once again makes it clear to the viewer that he’s far more than he seems, far more than a “Broomhead” 😀

Vash also does his best to scare the girls away in this arc, kinda snapping at them, and of course he’s doing it in that hope of protecting them – and to some extent this works, as we don’t see the Meryl or Milly for a while.

Okay, some more fav moments gleaned from these episodes:

  • The mix between action and montage at the fountain, mixed in with the unsettling change in sound design, where the reverb drops over everything (In Diablo)
  • The string-bending little guitar phrasing here too
  • I always get a real ‘Judge Dredd’ vibe from Monev’s design, which I liked
  • And it should be this arc that features what feels like the very first use of green in the scenery, with the ‘Little Arcadia’ episode
  • Here is also a return for the Nebraska family
  • ‘Vash Pack Horse’
  • Somehow, the cat survives that gunshot 😀
  • Feels like Meryl might be beginning to realise her feelings in #16, or at least more than before
  • Wolfwood’s motives are called into question in this arc, adding another layer of mystery on your first watch

And that’s about it for this time, next up I’m allocating the episodes 18 – 23 as the ‘Doubts’ arc, where ‘sins’ of the past and present start to come together.

Onward!

Trigun (Toraigan) – The Wolfwood Arc, Episodes 9-11

Trigun (Toraigan) (1998)

Time for the third Trigun post – the Wolfwood Arc. (These middle posts are probably going to be shorter than the first and last in the series, I reckon.)

Here, two things seem to be the main focus: introducing Wolfwood and having him slide neatly into the gang, while having Nicholas and the audience continue to wonder about who or what Vash truly is.

At least in the case of Wolfwood, he either knows exactly what Vash truly is or strongly suspects… due to ‘reasons’, reasons which I certainly won’t mention at this point due to spoilers. And while the team is still wandering across the desolate world of Gunsmoke, having Wolfwood join narrows the focus a bit.

This is my second favourite arc in the series too, in part due to something I mentioned in an OWLS post a while back (spoilers in that link), which is the huge impact Wolfwood has on old Needle Noggin’.

Over the course of Trigun Vash often struggles with Wolfwood’s approach to justice but we also see how they respect each other, despite differing methods. For the most part, they have common goals, which tends to ensure they work together well, and so there’s a fun buddy-cop thing that they have going and which kicks off in this arc with episode nine, ‘Murder Machine’.

To widen my scope for a tic, during the course of the series, Nicholas spends a fair amount of time sort of urging Vash toward violence. And of course, Vash always resists this and it takes a few big events to finally drive him to break his own moral code. Equally, I think Wolfwood tries to absolve Vash of some of the guilt he obviously feels at not being able to save everyone he meets, which is something invaluable.

But yeah, that aspect to their relationship hasn’t really kicked off at this early stage – it’s still fun with rivalry and cautious friendship 😀

All right, some more dot points – again, just various stuff I noticed across the episodes:

  • Linked to my point above, there’s a Wolfwood quote that always stands out, when he says that Vash is “hurtling like crazy and grinning to hide it”
  • The ‘portable confessional’ is a nice moment of levity
  • ‘Quick Draw’ is one of my fav single episodes to chuck on sometimes when I just want to watch one ep
  • I think there are a few more hints about ‘Plants’ around here, which I recall really latching onto when I first watched Trigun

Done! Which means that the next arc will be The Gung-Ho Guns Arc and I’m including episodes 12 – 18 in that span, from memory.

Until tomorrow!

Trigun (Toraigan) – The Sand Steamer Arc, Episodes 6-8

Trigun (Toraigan) (1998)

Welcome back to more Trigun! Second post already, covering the introduction to the Sand Steamer:

So, in terms of the shift I mentioned last time, one is that from this point forward the girls are more or less on board with Vash, having pretty much accepted who he is. (Here also, Madhouse gets the chance to work on a connected storyline that spans more than one episode.)

I think it’s also a point where the tone shifts a little, considering villain Brilliant Dynamites Neon and our first flashback to “July”. These episodes certainly leave no more room for doubt that Vash is more than he seems. Despite revealing a bit of real pain for the first time here, he continues to defy expectations too.

Elsewhere, Milly’s ‘concussion gun’ provides more comic relief, along with Milly herself, especially when drunk or having “two stomachs”. Milly is one of my favourite characters in Trigun actually, and so it’s always sad to see her suffer – though we’re spared that for a fair while longer yet.

At this point, the tone is still overall somewhat ‘light’ as befitting the feel of adventure story, but tension is high with so many lives at stake on the runaway Sand-Steamer. And while I love the Steamer, there’s one example where it shows the age of the animation perhaps, contrasted with a similar night shot:

The action sequences in Trigun always feel great to me and I have seen criticisms around ‘off-model’ faces at times, which I assume exclude the moments it’s done purposefully, but I wouldn’t say Madhouse did a bad job – at all. Even if this is a show I watch primarily for the characters, storyline and world-building, everything still looks convincing for an action/comedy series.

Probably my favourite bit in the arc however, is not a shoot out or a laugh, it’s a pair of quieter moments. [Spoiler follows]

At one point both before and after Vash has outwitted plant engineer Elizabeth, the audience is given a glimpse of something unusual about Vash and his true nature, as he both grieves for and comforts the Plant, who is essentially a family member/sister imprisoned and drained for electricity.

Despite this injustice, Vash knows that many will die if the plant is ‘broken’ and so, in his utilitarian way, he restores her and the status quo. At this point, the audience doesn’t fully realise what’s going on but hopefully they’re still responding to his tenderness and obvious empathy.

Okay, now that I’ve explored a few things from the episodes I think it’s time to jump to a few quick dot points – this arc had some fun little bits and pieces I noticed:

  • Nightow’s neko (Kuroneko-sama) appears on a poster here instead of in the flesh
  • There’s an impressive instance of ‘super-deformed’
  • Vash has what I think is his first clash over pacifism with Kaite
  • BDN is voiced by one of my favs, Unshou Ishizuka

Next up is an arc I had a few names for but couldn’t really decide on – I settled on just the Wolfwood Arc but nearly went with ‘clues’ or Beneath the Surface Arc for episodes 9 -11, but it seemed easier to mention Nicholas instead.

Still, it’s a fun stretch of episodes since Wolfwood brings a lot to the table 😀