Trigun Stampede Review: 'Noman's Land' Begins With Promise

How in tarnation can a doofus commit crimes and destruction that warrant a $$60 billion bounty on his head or snag the outlaw title of "The Humanoid Typhoon"? For those who have seen the 1998 "Trigun" space western anime by Madhouse, the question is the running gag. Though the grander and more dramatic question has been, "How much longer can said gunslinger doofus cling to his pacifist no-killing ideals"? In a dog-eats-dog Wild West on a planetary desert in the future, the 26-episode anime, adapting Yasuhiro Nightow's manga, held that question till the end.

Rebooting the anime that stars the much-loved Vash the Stampede in his red duster coat and straw-colored hair, the "Trigun Stampede" series has a whole lot to live up to. Luckily, Studio Orange is directing it with its signature splashy cell-shaded CGI (and Orange has rendered miraculous work with character designs in the anthropomorphic landscape of "Beastars"). Armed with a promising studio, how does the premiere hold itself against its legacy?

Noman's Land

Watching the "Noman's Land" premiere at Anime NYC, "Trigun Stampede" opens with a bang (a little dash of "Star Wars"). Most importantly, it gets the appeal of the series: the silliness of a seemingly inept gunman who somehow manages to kick ass against insurmountable odds (with some help). The $$60 billion bounty has never gone down on the head of "Vash the Stampede" (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, who's having fun with the whimpering).

The ordinary humans who chance upon Vash in the desert don't really see a lethal fellow at first glance. In somewhat of an inverted setup from the older Madhouse premiere, Vash is rescued by Meryl Stryfe (Sakura Andou), a familiar player reimagined as a young aspiring reporter in contrast to her earlier iteration as a grown harried insurance agent. This time, Meryl is not accompanied by the tall and ditzy Milly but rather an older male reporter (Kenji Matsuda), named Robert De Niro (yes, like the actor, but the actor probably doesn't exist in this universe), who's amused by her lofty journalistic goals and her naivety about the violent west. Meryl senses a great scoop from the red-clad stranger on the wanted poster, certain that a breakout interview can help clear his name. So Meryl tags along Vash's quest to decontaminate a town's water supply and fix their plant. But the monumental bounty on Vash's head proves to be more than an inconvenience.

A darker launch

Not surprisingly, Studio Orange generates vibrant scenic work that carves out the sand, the colossal plant interiors, or the pipe organ. There's even a touch of "Dune" when a titanic worm-like reptile creature casually slinks out and into the desert sand. One standout is a mysterious location containing cathedral imagery.

Set to Tatsuya Kato's epic music, Kenji Mutou's direction keeps the action explosive. The pistols glean heavy and metallic when whipped from the holster. Just when a new viewer may think "Trigun Stampede" decides to adhere to some run-of-the-mill western trope, chaos happens. The burst of comedy isn't lost. Those familiar with the older anime know the schtick and anticipate the delicious results. But Vash the Stampede has been a much-loved anime hero not just because his legendary marksmanship and mythic invincibility proves to be cooler than his surface-level buffoonery but because his dorkiness is genuine. It's fun to watch Vash do something cool. But it's even more fun to watch him screw up and panic.

This makes it all the more interesting that "Trigun Stampede" dives into the darkness from its launch, while the original "Trigun" started with a lighthearted tone before its dark descent. "Trigun Stampede" opens with cosmic despair, then pivots into comedy, then again returns to a past tragedy. It makes sure not to clarify everything. As a drawback, it does give away too much of a mystery rather than allow these reveals to breathe across a season. For a fan of the original anime, opening with these familiar beats teases some future surprises as a result of a different structure. For new viewers, they are probably a source of intrigue just as they overload information.

But a new viewer might be along for the ride anyway because "Noman's Land" is a job well done to throw them into a new world. As a fan of the OG hand-drawn anime, it's difficult for me to not compare "Trigun Stampede" to its predecessor (come on, the original Meryl-Millie duo is hard to beat). But the series has the arsenal to escape its looming shadow. Most importantly, it's still Vash, who might only require a single bullet to do his magic. You might roar like the room at Anime NYC.

"Trigun Stampede" will premiere on Crunchyroll in January 2023.