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One of these days, I'll write about something other than Trigun--promise! But for now, I'm still plowing through the end of the manga, and it's still foremost in my mind. Here follow brief thoughts on volume 11.

Volume 11 had its moments but, on the whole, was a bit of a letdown.

Spoilers follow...

Volume 11 has some good stuff: background on Zazie and her/his people, the introduction of Chronica (another independent Plant), some good Livio stuff (more on him anon). But this is the volume after Wolfwood dies, and I had expected it to have something to do with Wolfwood's dying. It doesn't to speak of, not enough. And that was not psychologically appropriate.

Now, there are a couple of good reasons for the effacement of Wolfwood. First, everyone is in a crisis situation, and there is no time for sustained grief. Second, one of Vash's most tried and true survival strategies is disguising his true feelings, especially painful feelings. Fair enough. And true, too, that there are some Wolfwood allusions. I quite liked the bit where Livio obliquely invokes Wolfwood by discussing how good it feels to fight to protect someone, and Vash reflects that the bond between the three of them (Wolfwood, Livio, and Vash) is all the stronger for not having to mention Wolfwood's name: a nice bit, but there wasn't enough of this caliber of writing. The action/humor/blotting-out-grief needed to be relieved by at least a couple more substantial moments of the grief impinging.

The anime did this well (with a setting that was not in full-blown crisis mode) in the scene where Vash pretends to exuberance and gleeful donut eating only to collapse into broken sobbing because, as he remarks, his friend is gone. The manga needs a little more of this.

I'm not sure what to make of Livio. On the whole I like him, perhaps more as a symbol than a character. Vash's befriending of Livio--the principal killer of his partner--and the way this inclusion furthers Wolfwood's efforts to redeem Livio, even at the cost of his life, is one of the most powerful structural moves in the story. Psychologically, however, the plotline feels forced. Livio is one screwed up cookie. Badly abused as a small child, he already suffers from a split personality by the time he arrives at the same orphanage as Wolfwood. He gets a little bit of affectionate stability there, but it isn't long before he is driven/feels driven away from this haven and continues to live on the streets and, later, as a recruit in the Eye of Michael, which turned him into not one but two cyborg killing machines (one for each personality).

Then, he realizes that his handler in the Eye of Michael didn't really love him, he gets some tough love from a dying Wolfwood, and Vash befriends him, and suddenly he's mostly better. He largely puts away his worse personality and becomes almost overnight this astoundingly nice guy. The trouble is the "overnight" part. I buy that he's redeemable, and I buy that in his attempts to become a better person, he might shift radically away from what he's been before and practice being exceptionally nice, kind, agreeable, etc. out of fear of his darker self, fear of abandonment if he's "not good enough," etc. The problem is that it's too stable too soon. If anything, I would expect an initial meltdown at the realization that the person he's given his loyalty to for years doesn't give a damn about him. We just don't see the emotional depth or realism the way we do with, say, Vash and Knives, and that undercuts the powerful symbolic impact of Livio's presence. His redemption is structurally deeply important, but his redemption comes too easy.

I did like Vash's struggles with assuming a leadership role in this volume. Vash is, at heart, probably a follower (without anyone to follow) and, thus, a de facto independent agent. He is a very Christlike person in many ways, but perhaps his most salient difference from Jesus is that Jesus was a leader and Vash is not. Yet here Vash is put under pressure to become one. A concerted effort is needed to prevent Knives from wreaking massive destruction. Vash has more knowledge about the situation than anyone else and more power to affect it than any other individual. He needs to direct people, and he doesn't like doing it, and he's not the world's greatest at it, but he rises to the challenge with reasonable competence. That part is nicely pitched.


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