Reviewby Jacob Chapman, Jul 13th 2011
Trigun: Badlands Rumble (DUB)
On the lawless planet Gunsmoke, one mythic outlaw stands above the rest with a multi-billion dollar bounty on his head: Vash the Stampede. While the dusty desert world around him deems him a fiend, Vash is more of a gentle giant: a pacifist who prefers donut-scarfing and skirt-chasing to bank robberies. In fact, one of his many attempts to stop a robbery while leaving the culprits alive gets him framed as an accomplice, further propagating his false reputation.
Twenty years later, the criminal he saved, Gasback, is loose with a vendetta against his traitorous cohorts, who are now rich landowners living in a prosperous city. Every bounty hunter for miles is itching to catch him, but Vash is also interested in a reunion, causing him to cross paths with the feisty redhead Amelia, whose history is tied to both men's pasts in a way Vash never expected. All these disparate wires of vengeance converge on a town of a thousand hired guns ready to go off, and with so many connections to both sides of the struggle, Vash will have his hands full trying to save everyone this time…particularly after a certain trigger-happy preacher throws his hat into the ring.
If you remember shouting "LOVE AND PEACE!" at conventions, still own Geneon's 1st run of the DVDs or stayed up late to watch the original series on Adult Swim…into reruns…then the second shot of Trigun: Badlands Rumble alone, (a glowing Plant under twin moons, all of it beautifully rendered,) will make you squeal at a frequency that sends garage doors flying open for five blocks, and it will be impossible to wipe the stupid grin off your face for the 90 minutes to follow. Given Trigun's lack of popularity (for the anime, not the manga,) in Japan, it seems miraculous that this movie ever got made, and American fans, clearly the audience it was made for, should feel like the luckiest son-of-a-guns in the world as the spectacular world of Trigun roars to life in a lavishly animated adventure that hearkens far more to the manga's style than the anime.
Technically, this story does take place in anime canon, between episodes 9 and 11 (after Vash has met Wolfwood, but before Legato closes in,) but Yasuhiro Nightow's hand has a stronger grip on this visually than was ever seen in the series. (Wolfwood is an obvious example of this, modeled after the manga version's more bishounen appearance: no tan, no stubble, no crows' feet.) Nightow's manga contained ten times the bombast of the TV adaptation from page one, blessing the movie with zero restraint and something new to look at in every shot. Thanks to its larger budget, Badlands Rumble is exploding with bizarre weaponry and outlandish character designs. The variety and attention to detail in these milling bounty hunters and their artillery is just insane, making the myriad action scenes a joy to watch. One of the best doesn't even involve any guns, just a swarm of charmingly ugly brawlers in a silly bar fight. The character designs are some of the most refreshing seen in a while, even if they are old fashions on a new skin or maybe because of this. Gunsmoke itself is probably the best character in the movie: a truly unique overworld that somehow captures the dusty haze of the old west amidst killer robots and alien technology. One of Trigun's greatest strengths is its juxtaposition of humble human struggles against a backdrop of fantastical catastrophe, and it continues that tradition in this movie with the story of Gasback and Amelia…and Vash, kinda sorta. Uh oh. This is the Trigun movie, right?
Well, yes, there's no mistaking that. While he's more a monkey wrench in the works of the new characters' conflict, Vash has a larger-than-life presence here as strong as in the original series. He spends most of his time blubbering, flirting and getting wasted, happy to convince the people around him that he's a complete moron until the moment he slips on his glasses and the badass within takes over. This leads to hails of bullets and escalating mayhem that can't be mistaken for anything but a standard Trigun episode…a 23-minute episode, not a 90-minute one. This is still about Amelia and Gasback first, and when we want to see the original cast, (which we do, we waited ten years for them) the plot screeches to a halt and supplies us with padded-out yuks for them to perform. Well over half the movie's runtime is unnecessary or blatantly stretched out, which makes for absolutely atrocious writing, but thanks to the stellar production mentioned previously, doesn't dampen the movie's entertainment value. It's a middling TV episode wrapped in loads of hijinks, but that's probably what most fans were expecting.
The music, when it's heard, is glorious, as if Tsuneo Imahori's TV score had been given superpowers and blown into a thousand screeching pieces. The score isn't heard that often, though, shifting more aural attention to the new English dub. Trigun is one of those rare anime series whose dub has nearly as many rabid aficionados as the whole series itself. Lowering the nostalgia googles, Animaze's original dub was terribly uneven. Some of the dialogue barely even made sense. However, the core cast poured an emotional honesty and rawness into their roles that was far above the norm at the time and still moves new viewers ten years later, cementing Trigun's dub as a fan favorite. The Japanese dub of Trigun had a nearly all-star cast of seiyuu, but when most fans look at Wolfwood, they think of the rarely-heard Jeff Nimoy instead. That's some serious staying power.
So Funimation appeared to be stumbling into a snake pit when they announced that only Johnny Yong Bosch would be returning to play Vash. (For anyone curious: he sounds like he never left. Ten years has made not the slightest difference.) Fans should rest assured, however, that the recast voices are dead-on to the original ones, even down to the slightest inflections. Yes, your average voice-chaser can tell that Luci Christian, not Dorothy Elias-Fahn, is playing Meryl, but the portrayals are so alike it's eerie. This goes double for Milly and Wolfwood. If attempting to photocopy the portrayals of the original dub was the intent, they have done a stunning job. This impersonation approach could have run into some snags if the characters were placed in any emotionally challenging situations, but this isn't a factor, due to this film's greatest problem: the main cast of Trigun is not the main cast of Trigun: The Movie. The three replaced roles of Milly, Meryl, and Wolfwood are given jack squat to do in the plot of this film. It's not just that they could have been replaced by any other character, which they could have, but they could have been written out of this movie entirely, and nothing would have been lost…well, except for the collective squealing of the fandom. The old gang is here to sport winks and callbacks during the movie's extended padding sequences and that's all. (Wolfwood calls Vash “needle noggin” as many times in this movie as he did in the entire series, and Meryl gets perpetual fluster-blush whenever she comes within five yards of the humanoid typhoon.)
Trigun has never been a plot-centric story, so the fact that half the runtime here is superfluous hijinks doesn't hurt it much. It's an extended standalone, and that's all anyone can expect after the anime's very concrete conclusion. It's just… does this extra-long episode know who it was created for? Maybe that's why it spends all its time putzing around: it clearly has no idea. The heavy reliance on callbacks and Vash-service ousts any newcomers, but the story itself barely concerns the original characters, dumbs them down rather than developing them, and downright insults longtime fans by the twists of the climax. In the end, the writers fall back on a few Hollywood clichés to explain things that fans would both not need explained, and already have better explanations for, making this “episode” a little paradoxical to the series it's meant to take place in. Why? If it was to acclimate new viewers, they lost that battle at the start of the film. It is possible to please both groups with a movie. See Cowboy Bebop.
Badlands Rumble is not bad by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, despite half its runtime being unnecessary jabber, it can't even be called boring, and that's a high compliment considering the weakness of the plot. No, in seeking to please everyone and no one, the Trigun movie is as mediocre and trite as it is possible to be, which might be fine for a two year wait, but a ten-year one? Just enjoy this fanservice to its fullest, because this is probably the end of Trigun's animated legacy, going out not with a bang, but a whimper.
Overall (dub) : B-
Story : C-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Consistently entertaining, universe and artillery are beautifully and faithfully realized, terrific action scenes, the fact that it even exists after a decade of teasing
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