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Disclaimer: I've only read a bit in the Trigun manga (plus Wikipedia), so my Plant knowledge is far from complete, and I'm very open to having my musings corrected.

From what I can make out, the Plants in Trigun are a fascinating study in the nature of selfhood and (un-)differentiation of self, other, and environment.

Spoilers Follow:

Plant Reproduction
Plants are genetically engineered beings designed to be super-powerful organic power plants and chemical factories to enable life on harsh planets. In their intended form, they seem designed only to exist within ecospheres that look remarkably like light bulbs. These spheres presumably store, process, and release the chemicals and energy the Plants generate.

The Plants' natural state seems to be perpetually fetal. They never leave the "wombs" of their ecospheres, to which they appear physically attached via some sort of placenta. This undifferentiation of self from environment seems to extend to their own reproduction. They seem to reproduce primarily by budding, new Plant bodies growing out of more established ones. I have the impression that these multiple bodies can remain attached indefinitely, like Siamese twins.

Does this mean they are typically clones? As to that, I can only say that Vash and Knives are clearly not clones of each other though they look a lot alike. So at some point, in some way, Plants are capable of sexual recombination of genes, but how I cannot say. Despite a humanoid appearance (and presumably a lot of human genes) it seems unlikely that normative Plants reproduce sexually the way humans do for the following reasons:

1) Their physical condition (being rather tied to their "placentas") would make it rather hard to get into that configuration.

2) They all appear to be female, except--possibly--for some of the headless babies.

Are the headless babies, some of which appear female and some male (as far as I can guess from the illustrations) the only usual expression of maleness in plants? If so, how do they distribute gametes? In human terms, the babies seem too young to produce sperm, but perhaps they are raw material human scientists might stimulate into sexual maturation in order to create sexual recombination within Plant lineages?

It's not clear to me how Plants typically become separated into different habitats. In the absence of further information, I might assume this separation requires an external action, such as surgery. Plants are, after all, engineered beings and designed to be managed by humans.

It's also interesting that Vash and Knives are male when the undifferentiated Plants (and Tessla) all appear female except, perhaps, for some of the headless babies. Occam's razor tells me that Plants' humanoid characteristics ultimately come from human genes, and thus that sex is basically determined by X and Y chromosomes as in humans. Therefore, for Vash and Knives, as XY individuals, to exist, there must have been genetic males among their antecedents.

One possibility is that Plants normally reproduce by asexual budding, but Vash and Knives (and previously Tessla's) parents mutated in such a way that spontaneous sexual reproduction was possible. (Maybe this was as simple as their--headless?-- father reaching sexual maturity.) This would explain Vash, Knives, and Tessla's clearly fraternal siblinghood.* It would make them second generation mutants, which might help explain why their mutations are so radical: why they are so different from undifferentiated Plants. According to this theory, sexual recombination would typically be the product of technological manipulation (such as in vitro fertilization) by human scientists.

Differentiated Plants in Brief
As I understand it, Plants were never intended to exist as independent organisms, but Plants spontaneously generated such organisms three times: Tessla, Vash, and Knives. These differentiated Plants present as much more human than the Plant norm. They are not connected up to a placenta/habitat--or more precisely, their initial connection is tenuous enough (basically a humanoid umbilical cord) that it could be severed without damaging them. They do not bud (or at least not in their non-powered-up human form: Vash's "Arm" does seem to incorporate some Plant heads and torsos).

Reproductive Isolation?
Vash and Knives are probably fairly reproductively isolated. Though more like humans than other Plants are, it's clear they have significant genetic differences from humans, and I'm pretty sure they'd be sterile mated with humans. Their genetic difference from other Plants, however, also seems quite significant, and they might well be sterile with other Plants as well.

There are a couple of interesting implications here. 1) It might be that the only being Vash or Knives would have been capable of producing children with was Tessla... which sounds uncomfortably incestuous, and also means they missed their chance by being born after she died.

2) Our three differentiated Plants might be in the unusual situation of a race whose "natural" reproductive pattern--like that of many small "p" plant hybrids--is not to reproduce in their own image but to be recurrently produced as offspring of a different species. On this level, one wonders if other differentiated Plants would be produced by undifferentiated Plants in the future.

Now, Knives's rebirth from the womb (or something) of an undifferentiated Plant is thoroughly odd. My best guess is that Knives's injured body got absorbed into an undifferentiated Plant organism and, when healed enough, was able to sever that connection. Pretty weird though.

Undifferentiated Plants do not speak. Sadly, this makes sense given the purposes for which humans created them. You don't want your energy generation devices talking back to you. Indeed, I have the impression that undifferentiated Plants are bred to be mentally simple: since their main function seems to be to float about and generate energy and chemical processes, there's little reason for them to be mentally complex. It's clear, however, that they are telepathic, and one wonders what sort of communication, or perhaps corporate identity, they have among themselves.

The natural idiom of communication for Vash and Knives, however, appears to be speech. Even alone together, they principally communicate in words. But they both have some degree of telepathic Plant sense that ties them to each other and to other Plants, which has to give them an interesting, multidimensional sense of communication.

I also wonder how these different dimensions in communication affect Vash's and Knive's social affiliations. Knives identifies with his fellow Plants, while Vash, though well-disposed toward his fellow Plants, identifies more with humans. So is Knives more comfortable with telepathic communication and Vash with speech? This seems possible, though both use both idioms.

In sum, I find the Plants to be one of the more convincingly alien and conceptually different peoples I've encountered in fiction in a while. There's enormous fan fictional (and philosophical) potential here for exploring Plant experience and how it shifts or remains the same in the more humanoid Plants who form the center of the story.

[Edit: I take it back. Vash and Knives are identical twins. I didn't catch this at first because they do look obviously different, but they have mirror image moles, which--for all that I don't think specific moles are usually inherited?--seems clearly to suggest that they split from the same cell. Their phenotypic differences, then, must be epigenetic.]


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