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Sakura-Con 2023
Orange Reveals the Making of Trigun Stampede

by Caitlin Moore,

ANN's coverage of Sakura-Con sponsored by Yen Press!

Without a doubt, the Trigun Stampede panel was one of the most-attended at Sakura-Con. The line stretched around the walls of the top floor of the convention center, with dozens of props of Wolfwood's Punisher leaned up against the wall while Vash, Meryl, and Wolfwood cosplayers chatted amongst themselves. The room the panel was hosted in was enormous, an almost palpable sense of anticipation permeating throughout.

The three panelists were Kiyotaka Waki, the lead producer for Land of the Lustrous, BEASTARS, and Trigun Stampede; Kenji Mutō, the director of Trigun Stampede; and Yoshihiro Watanabe, a producer for Orange who mostly works on the business side. They kicked off the panel by showing a promotional video that aired along with the show's finale, and Watanabe explained that the last episode had been both “episode 12” and “episode zero.” They didn't have anything to share about the “Final Phase,” although they did add that they are being very specific about the wording.

Photo by Caitlin Moore

Where did it start?

The talk kicked off in earnest with the question: “Where did it start?” Waki told of how he started his career in anime first at Madhouse, then moved to Studio Chizu, which is best known for working on Mamoru Hosoda's movies, before finally coming to Orange. Mutou noted that he'd read Weekly Shonen Jump since a child. He started his career working on music videos and PVs, and entered TV anime when he met Masao Maruyama, the founder of Madhouse, at a party and mentioned to him that he wanted to work on longer projects. Waki said that they both knew Maruyama, and that Mutou was mentored by Satoshi Nishimura, the original director of Trigun. Watanabe commented that all of them had a connection to the 1998 series.

From there, they discussed the origins of Trigun Stampede's production. It was an unusual adaptation that deliberately altered the story and structure of the original manga, and they were happy and relieved to see it so well received. They wanted to expand the world of Trigun, rather than just continue with small villains of the week. The original manga artist, Yasuhiro Nightow, was interested in their ideas; many things that show up within the series are the product of time the staff spent drinking, eating, and talking with Nightow.

Watanabe mentioned that the production process was unusually long—five years instead of the studio's typical three. Waki said that at every step of the way they ran into problems. Furthermore, they spent just two years developing their facial animation technology to ensure the characters would be expressive enough.

Developing the concept

Photo by Caitlin Moore

Here, the team put up an image of Vash sitting on an outcropping, gazing down at a crashed spaceship and the city around it. Mutou called it the first of hundreds of pieces of concept art created by Koji Tajima, the original character designer and concept artist. Concept art isn't meant to show up in a show, but rather to build a sense of world, mood, and tone for the production and inspire the staff. For Stampede, the production team wanted to build on the science fiction elements of the setting in addition to the Western genre feeling.

They went through various pieces of concept art, discussing each one. One was meant to convey the feeling of Vash's power to make things disappear, which isn't a black hole but something unknown to humans that works similarly. One detail they discussed in depth was Vash and Knives' costume: both have hoods on their jackets. There's symbolic significance to the times when Knives has his hood up as opposed to when he has it down. Mutou emphasized that while Vash's jacket has a hood, he never puts it up. They also showed a map of the world, using it to point out just how little had been depicted in the show.

Where did they come from? Where do they go?

The team displayed slides that showed dozens of Japanese document pages. They explained that the writing team carried a deep love of Trigun and even reread the original manga to get a better grasp on it; they considered the symbolic meaning behind changing things like the color pallette. For Stampede, they wrote hundreds of pages of lore documents, setting out timelines and world histories that never appear in the show, for the sake of fleshing out the setting and creating reasons for everything to be the way it is.

The meaning of design

Photo by Caitlin Moore

At this point, they switched to a slide of Vash, eliciting coos of adoration from the audience. Mutou spoke at length about the symbolic meaning of Vash's hood, and how his change in hairstyle was meant to signal a character shift and his “awakening.” Since the series is set before the city of Julai was lost, the version of Vash in Stampede was meant to be a more naive, “imperfect” version of Vash.

Watanabe assured the audience that their discussion of character design and details wasn't based on their preferences or favoritism, but rather considering why the characters are the way they are and how their appearances would communicate that. Their example for this was Wolfwood, who wears a suit but always looks shabby, and how that contrasts with Livio, who looks stylish and put-together.

Their final example touched not just on character design, but world and prop design: two “Wanted” posters of Vash's bounty, one from the start of the series and one from the end. They pointed out that while the most obvious change is the amount of the bounty, there are other, more subtle changes. Each was supposed to be the cost of a single plant—what happened to make that change so much? They talked about how the first bounty bears the official stamp of Julai; however, since the city was destroyed, the stamp changed to convey that there was no longer something there. Even the name “Julai,” with a double meaning in English and Chinese, was meant to convey the variety of people that existed in it.

Who are you? Why are you?

Watanabe said that the team was constantly asking these questions of the characters to guide their process, and the answers showed up in the small details. Even changing Vash's gun to a .22 came about as part of these considerations. By the way, that was Nightow's idea, so if you're mad about it, blame him!

Photo by Caitlin Moore

Animation approach

At this point, Waki shifted the topic from the design process to the animation, showing off the different software they used for different elements of the design, such as one engine for testing expressions and one for creating shading. Since 3D animation can look strange from different angles, there was even a program for warping the model to keep that effect from happening as the camera shifted around. The process just for creating the characters expressions took two years.

From idea to picture

Watanabe, Mutou, and Waki answered the question of “How do you make scenes and story happen?” by showing two videos illustrating how the animation looked from start to finish. The first was of a blocky test figure leaping and running as it fled, which would become Vash in the second episode. They also showed four videos of Vash and Knives fighting: one of the storyboard, two in-process versions, and the final version that aired. The final product differed significantly from the storyboard, and it was fascinating to see how different details were added at different stages, such as Knives' knife tentacles.

Photo by Caitlin Moore

Many, many other things

Mutou explained that the final product can differ quite significantly from the storyboard for a number of reasons. Dramatic scenes tend to follow the boards closely, but for action scenes, they encourage the animators to put their own stamp on the production and collaborate with the directorial team to maximize the fights' impact.

They reiterated that while they didn't have any precise dates, the Japanese Blu-ray release was coming up and, more importantly to US audiences, the Final Phase would come soon. They acknowledged that while pretty much everyone in the audience has probably already seen Trigun Stampede, we should all encourage our family and friends to watch it too.

Mutou closed with the statement: “As you know, Vash rejects violence. Trigun Stampede is about how he learns to deal with that, and at the end, he accepts a minimum of violence. Going forward, the show will be about Vash trying to find how to be most effective with minimal violence.”

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