The Daily Stream: Trigun Is A Surprisingly Contemplative Shoot-Em-Up

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Show: "Trigun"

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation

The Pitch: "Trigun" is a western space manga created by Yasuhiro Nightow. It originally ran for three volumes from 1995 to 1997, then was quickly revived as "Trigun: Maximum," running for another 14 volumes until 2008. "Trigun: Stampede," the second anime adaptation, is set to premiere this January. Why wait, though? The first 26-episode anime, which first aired in 1998, is available to watch (and still holds up).

"Trigun" is set in the far future on the planet Gunsmoke, which is like Arrakis from "Dune" mixed with the old American west. Our POV characters are Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, two agents from the Bernardelli Insurance Society. The pair has been assigned to track down "Vash the Stampede" — a lone gunman whose head carries a bounty of 60 billion double dollars — and keep him from causing any damage to Bernardelli clients' properties. Reputed for his destructive city-leveling capabilities, Vash is known as the "Humanoid Typhoon." However, as they get roped into one misadventure after the next, Meryl and Milly discover that Vash is not what they expected.

Why it's essential viewing

"Trigun's" artwork conjures up an image of Vash as a stoic badass gunslinger, but nothing is further from the truth; He's really an air-headed goofball with a love for donuts. Despite wielding three guns — two handheld revolvers and a third one he conceals in his cybernetic right arm — he's a pacifist who refuses to kill even the worst of his enemies. Vash's adoptive mother, Rem, taught him that no one has the right to take the life of another person, and he's carried that belief with him ever since. While people fear him due to his dreaded reputation, Vash is really all about love and peace.

The first episodes of "Trigun" are low-stakes, standalone stories. They're centered around different bounty hunters trying to capture Vash, but focusing on the charm of the characters. Vash is a lovable hero from the get-go, while the short-fused Meryl and the ditzy, goodhearted Milly are a hilarious comedic duo. Things pick up in episode 5 when Meryl finally realizes that the goofy troublemaker she and Milly have been running into is really the Vash the Stampede.

From there, we start to learn more about Vash's background. Episode 6 focuses on the vengeful pursuit of a young girl whose city he seemingly destroyed, while episodes 7-8 are the first to hint at his past with Rem. Episode 9 introduces Nicholas D. Wolfwood, a wandering, gunslinging priest who sometimes travels with the three leads. His introduction is when the stakes and themes of "Trigun" cement themselves.

The limits of pacifism

There are a lot of fictional heroes with codes against killing. In anime, there are Elric brothers from "Fullmetal Alchemist", Doctor Kenzo Tenma from "Monster," and more. In America, codes against killing are a staple of superheroes like Batman. Vash fits right in with them, only he's in the dog-eat-dog-world of Gunsmoke, so his commitment to his ideals continues to be tested.

A group of cyborg mercenaries called the Gung-Ho Guns are after Vash, and not for the bounty on his head — their leader has a score to settle with the Humanoid Typhoon. As the series goes on, he fails to save more and more people from these villains. In episode 19, he's faced with a man who wants to murder his daughter's killer, but has no easy answer for him. Then there are questions where there's no right answer: do you save a butterfly from a spider, knowing that doing so condemns the spider to starvation? The way "Trigun" addresses these themes is not just philosophical, but theological.

Yasuhiro Nightow has been described as a Christian convert, who was raised Buddhist while studying Catholicism, later converting. (Though it's unclear if he currently practices.) In any case, the "Trigun" manga traffics in Christian themes which carry over into the anime. Most obviously, Wolfwood wields an enormous cross-shaped gun that he carries on his back. Vash's refusal to kill is right in line with Church doctrine, "Thou shalt not kill," because everyone deserves forgiveness. The series is designed to test his faith in those beliefs, in Rem's beliefs, and Vash's answer comes when he finally squares off with that mysterious face from his past. His conclusion is the keystone of an ending I'd dare call perfect.