How Long is a Series: Trigun

Okay, it’s twenty years old and looks more like forty, but Trigun, if you haven’t seen it, is a lot of fun a lot of the time. It’s a sci-fi western, sort of, about a Traditional Hero (Vash the Stampede) who Sets Things Right. Oh, and he doesn’t kill anyone. That’s his deal.

Of course, Setting Things Right causes a lot of collateral damage, so Vash is being chased by a pair of beautiful insurance adjusters, Meryl and Millie, who basically need to stop him from costing the insurance company so much money.


From left: Nicholas, Millie, Vash, Meryl

You can see it coming, right. They settle pretty quickly into a Mind/Body/Soul trio: Vash, the marvelous physical specimen, does his own stunts, yada yada; Meryl, the brains of whatever passes for the operation, good with the books, always on the hunt for a loophole; big, clumsy Millie with her great, big, caring heart. It’s a formula a series can ride for a long time, and once it gets stale, you can just run in a few more sidekicks. I’m looking at you, Pokemon.

Mind, body, soul… Talked about this before:

Watching it, though, you get a sense that someone figured out right about episode fourteen, right in there somewhere, that this was not going to run for hundreds of episodes, and now they needed to figure out how to end the damned thing.

Problem (same problem as always): A story needs a beginning (introducing characters and setting), a middle (in which there is conflict), and an end (the conflict is resolved). Let me add that the conflict in the middle is supposed to arise from the interaction of the characters and setting introduced in the beginning.

The early episodes of Trigun were mostly middle. Oops, look at Vash. There he goes again, running around, shooting the guns out of peoples’ hands, wrecking everything he touches. There goes Millie, trying to stop him, toting her futuristic Gatling gun (I mentioned that Millie is a big gal, yes?), tripping over things and making even more of a mess. There’s Meryl…I think Meryl has a touch of OCD…losing her mind over the cost or the mess or whatever. It’s actually very funny, and has a bit of motion plot-wise, as well, since it’s pretty obvious that Meryl has fallen for Vash.

The problem with that is how do you end it? Have Vash shoot himself in the foot? (Funny, but insufficient closure.) Have Vash lose a gun fight terminally? (Too tragic for the comedy.) Have Vash and Meryl get married? (Since when has that stopped a Traditional Hero?) Since in the early going the conflict is Vash vs. the baddie of the episode, the conflict is done when the episode is done. (I exaggerate slightly. There are a number of multi-episode arcs.)

To finish the series, though, they need some kind of overarching plot, a meta-plot, that can be resolved. So, starting about two-thirds through, they start telling Vash’s back story (starting with Vash at about ten years old): he was raised by a woman named Ran who always taught him not to kill (oh, so that explains that), and he has a brother (uh oh) who’s…well, he’s not just evil, he’s EVIL. And all the running around and saving of people is all tied back to the brother somehow.

NOW we’ve got a meta-plot, and NOW we know how to resolve the meta-plot. SPOILER: No, I don’t have to give you the spoiler. There are only two ways to resolve the meta-plot, and they both involve someone ending up dead.

Now that they’ve invented a meta-plot, they’ve got a brand new problem: the meta-plot they’ve invented is a tragic one. This is not boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl (comedy); this is boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl (tragedy). (For “girl” substitute “brother.”)

So this comedy series mutates into a tragedy and goes dark. One of the baddies Vash is chasing blows his own brains out. Vash’s friend Nicholas is shot and killed. Vash himself is injured to within an inch of his life, Meryl feeds him, and then, outside his door, she cringes and weeps because she can hear him crying out in anguish. And, oh yeah, there’s the final showdown with the brother, where REDACTED is killed, ending the series.

This is great and powerful stuff. That one scene, Meryl feeding Vash as he lays in bed, he bandaged nearly from head to toe, she trying to keep a positive attitude while she is in there, and then leaning against his door, crying as she hears him howling out his loss, to me that pays for all. It’s brilliant, it’s powerful. The problem is that it’s not the Trigun we’ve been watching all along.

Meryl and Vash

This is the scene. Remember it? It’s memorable.

Writers, think of the plot first, okay? Okay.

In the case of Trigun, where the manga preceded the anime, you’d think they’d have known the overarching story already. Now a little research suggests that they might have been trying to get a continuing series going, but when the ratings were lukewarm, they decided to end it. But that’s just speculation on my part. Either way, we’re stuck with a series, as good as it is, that is a comedy for two-thirds of its episodes and tragedy for the rest. Now that’s disconcerting!

You want to see an anime where they played the long game well? Kill La Kill. Just sayin’. In fact, I probably will. I’m slated for some posts on that one, too.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

7 thoughts on “How Long is a Series: Trigun

  1. I enjoyed how Trigun starts as one thing and transforms into another and you aren’t really sure where they blurred the line from comedy into drama but they do it well. Where you end up isn’t where you thought you were going but the journey is great fun and the characters really grow on you. They could have done a little more foreshadowing in the early episodes perhaps, but actually I don’t think I would have liked it so much. The surprise that this show turned out to be was half the fun.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As a writer that transition bothered me because it was abrupt. All of a sudden we were flashing back to young Vash, and that wasn’t the same as the earlier series.

      As a viewer I liked it a lot. The series changed from lightweight to heavyweight for me. That one scene with Meryl and Vash stands out for me, but the last few episodes, starting with Nicholas’ death, are very powerful for me. They just aren’t what episodes 1-10 set me up to expect.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I just rewatched episodes 1-7 and they really step up the drama episode by episode, 1 and 2 are just comedies, but 3 and 4 have Frank Miller and “Grim Reaper” Bostock, men with tragic pasts, one of them escaping his sadness and regrets with alcohol and the other changing from a cold blooded murderer into a loving father.
        5 asks what Vash had to do to get his bounty and implies he can’t have been this good all the time for someone with such a price on his head, 6 gives an answer to what he did, it shows a million starving people fighting to survive (as part of a flashback) and Vash as the one that likely caused it, and it gives that tragedy a face in the form of Elizabeth.
        7, for the first time, shows an actual murder on screen and there’s a certain level of horror and helpnessness to it most shows don’t have when they show murder.

        I didn’t expect the ending, or something like it, I got the first time I watched it, but I certaintly didn’t think it’d just be a comedy.


      2. Fair enough. It read differently to me, but that’s how it goes. I think we agree that the overall story arc could have been better integrated into the series. I also hope we agree that as a story it holds up well and is worth watching.

        Edit: I think that might have sounded a little dismissive, so let me clarify. My context for this is anime like Bebop, but more importantly the old Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns with Clint Eastwood. When you look at the gore in Bebop episode one or the brutality that opens The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly or For a Few Dollars More, and contrast it to Vash, with his goofy grin and the way he always disarms his opponents, and the bumbling of Meryl and Millie (How many episodes does it take for them to even figure out who he is?), Trigun reads much more as a comedy to me.


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