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Exhausted but have to write something about Trigun. Now that I've seen the whole anime, I understand why people have been telling me for years that it's awesome. It is; it just takes about a fourth of the series to get there. For anyone who has been as under a rock as me since 1998, the series is... hard to summarize without spoilers but about an action hero on Tatooine a desert planet grappling with moral problems. It starts as typically broad anime action-comedy (though the main female characters are never typical anime babes) and proceeds to become rather dark philosophical drama.


Spoilery Summary
The central problem of the story is that a superhuman plant-man, Vash, has to find and somehow deal with his superhuman plant-man evil brother, Knives, who keeps sending cronies out to mess with Vash, thus leaving mayhem in his wake and giving him the reputation of being a badass murderer when he's really a badass dedicated to never killing anyone.

The central philosophical issue is Vash's dedication to a childhood teaching that no one has the right to take another's life (under any circumstances). Vash goes to enormous lengths, and great personal suffering, to live by this code, which is--as his arguably more pragmatic brother rightly observes--self-contradictory when taken to this extreme: nothing survives without killing something. In some circumstances, you have no option but to save someone/something by letting someone/something else die.

The pathos of this situation hit me full force late in the series where it clicked in that Vash has, indeed, dedicated over a hundred years to interpreting literally a rather throwaway statement that his mentor almost surely never intended as an absolute philosophical principle but rather as the sort of simplified teaching one gives to small children to teach them to play nicely. Knives, being developmentally ahead of him in this respect, always realized this teaching is a bit bogus, but he does not have a very satisfactory alternative to put in its place. His antithetical view that the strong are justified in exterminating the "inferior" is equally as illogical and much less conducive to, well, "love and peace," as Vash would say.


Trigun and Christianity
Many reviews have noted that Trigun is steeped in Christian philosophy, even up to having a priest as a major secondary character. Vash himself, it is argued, has Christlike resonances, and this is surely true: his willingness to suffer grievous bodily harm in the name of "love and peace" is hard to miss.

But personally, he reminds me a lot of Alyosha if his only brother were Smerdyakov if he were a different species, living on a different planet, and had been knocking about for over a hundred years. Their circumstances, and thus behavior, are entirely different, and yet I think their basic personalities are very much alike, right down to a strong strain of humility. Both are naturally social people, who naturally enjoy and care for others and feel a duty to protect the disempowered and help just about everyone they come across. Both are very rigorous in their moral standards (with everyone, but mostly with themselves) but ground their morality foremost in its immediate effects on others: both wish to prevent suffering. Vash has a much more polished mask than Alyosha, but that fits his greater age and perplexing circumstances.


Trigun and Gungrave
It is impossible not to compare Trigun to Gungrave, with which it shares a writer. Gungrave remains my favorite, if only because of its structural composition: it's a relationship story (and well organized tragedy) while Trigun is ultimately a single protagonist story with a somewhat more wandery structure. I tend to prefer co-pros over single protagonists, so it's a measure of Trigun's power that I'm as enamoured of it as I am.

But the stories have several similarities:

• Both feature a highly moral, admirable, and self-sacrificing hero who hamstrings himself, to an extent, through overadherence to a particular moral principle: not killing vs. not betraying.

• In both stories, the hero picks up this moral teaching from an elder/mentor figure who dies but remains psychologically central.

• Both feature an epic rivalry between two fraternal acquaintances who continue to deeply care about each other despite a somewhat murderous falling out. Both stories move toward their reconciliation. In both stories, this theme is structurally central, though the relationship is infinitely better developed in Gungrave.

• In both stories, the antagonist rejects the teachings of the mentor--and not just the teachings, but the mentor him/herself with a murderous detestation. In both cases, jealousy is implicated in this, though I think the jealousy may be differently directed: I would say Knives feels the lack of the mentor's attention, while Harry feels the lack of the friend's attention.

• Both have strong ensembles that feature a number of characters who have important relationships with each other (not just with the protagonist).

Gungrave, of course, has several shout-outs to Trigun:
-- random cat
-- random desert shots that have no bearing on the story
-- giant horselike birds
-- random cross imagery
-- random strange costuming for the hero

The key word here is random. While I'm sure it was a good marketing gimmick, this actually hurts Gungrave to a (small) extent by intruding plot elements that have no business being there--because really there's no reason for the Bunji cat to catalyze Harry's downfall. And Brandon, who is never shown to be religious, has no real excuse for wandering around with crosses on his glasses and firearms.

The stories also have their differences:

• Single vs. dual-protagonist focus

Trigun, despite its seriousness, has a much lighter tone: more humor and less tragedy.

• The women in Trigun don't suck. They don't really suck in Gungrave either, but they are much less socially empowered--and less original as characters.

All in all, both are top-line anime, and I would generally recommend the one to fans of the other.
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