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Review: "Trigun: Badlands Rumble" (UK Edition): Good Times in The Badlands

Trigun is set on the planet Gunsmoke, a desert colony world styled after the American Wild West with a steampunk aesthetic, and follows the adventures of Vash the Stampede. Classified as the most dangerous of criminals for the incredible amount of damage he leaves in his wake, ‘The Humanoid Typhoon’ is actually a well-meaning blonde goofball whose attempts to save lives set off chains of events styled by a karmic Rube Goldberg. Tracking the antics of the seemingly immortal Vash becomes the task of insurance agents Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson.

trigun-coverBadlands Rumble is designed as a tale previously untold about the cast, and apparently occurs sometime late in the original show’s run. This works out pretty well, as it allows the creators to tell a new tale that is a treat for returning fans but also allows new viewers such as myself to easily jump in.

The plot involves a mastermind thief known as Gasback, who is returning from exile after a heist 20 years before where his own men betrayed him, frustrated at his addiction for increasingly grander heists. Vash intervened in the ensuing gunfight but is warned by Gasback that when one interferes in the business of others, they will set other things into motion.

Gasback’s return sees a high bounty posted by the mayor of Macca City, inviting hordes of bounty hunters within its walls. One such hunter is Amelia Anne McFly, a woman seemingly carrying a single-minded vendetta to find the outlaw. After being saved by Vash on the craft taking them to Macca City, they form an unlikely pair. At the same time, Meryl and Milly have been dispatched to review the contract on the mayor’s egotistical golden statue of himself and are none too pleased to discover Vash in the vicinity.

It’s fair to classify Badlands Rumble as a caper movie. We have our protagonists: a nasty outlaw applying pressure, some surly bounty hunters, and a few wildcards to keep things fresh. This allows the film to play out as a fun and easy-to-grasp romp, dipping deeper where necessary without becoming melodramatic. The creative team discuss their intent to make a fun escapist action adventure, and I feel they’ve very much succeeded.

Credit the character of Vash. Although the story can tie into his overall development seen in the television series, his role in it works fine independent of that, and he’s an easy-to-like lead who stands out from other action heroes with his aversion to killing and the fact you’re never quite sure where the charade ends and Vash begins. This is certainly clear of his relationship with Amelia: he hits on her and never misses a chance to slip in a blunt innuendo.

Amelia herself is cast in the classic mold, being a no-nonsense heroine with little time for the antics of Vash or the other hormone-driven bounty hunters. Unfortunately, she’s such an archetype that it becomes quite easy to guess her beef with Gasback. Not that she’s not a compelling character, nor is she denied range. Sombre as she is, some of the funniest comedy moments directly involve her.

Gasback hits on the key to success for a great cinematic villain, being clearly the one in the wrong but charismatic enough that you can’t help but want to see more of him. His philosophy that life is nothing but a continuous struggle of the haves and the have-nots makes for an effective motivation without turning him into a conceited revolutionary.

trigun-5Given the Western styling of Trigun, I opted to watch the film with the English cast over the Japanese one. Although the Japanese recording kept the original television cast, this is not the case for the dub, though it’s hard to hold this against it as the American and Japanese industries are two different beasts. Of note, however, is that they managed to secure Johnny Yong Bosch to return as Vash. Bosch is a perfect fit for the character, his voice carrying the right amount of timeless youth needed but having the acting chops to also handle the character’s more serious moments. In fact the entire cast do a solid job. Colleen Clickenbeard brings a measured tension to Amelia, and John Swasey’s Gasback works well with the script to make the character a truly charismatic villain with a commanding presence when onscreen.

As the film is intended to fit into the timeline of the original show, special care was taken in producing modern animation that matched the unmistakable composition of 1990s anime. A mix of special filters and a clearly capable staff result in giving the production a reassuringly retro feel whilst still taking advantage of the better advancements since Trigun left the airwaves. Japan has had some dodgy animation and likewise some dodgy attempts to match the animation of vintage productions, but this is a clear benchmark in how to do it and do it right. It comes across as theatrical whilst at the same time making you feel you’ve found a lost episode from the original run, which is quite a visual achievement.

But even on its own the design work deserves applause. Locales, props and characters all come across strongly; the diverse hordes of hopeless bounty hunters are a particular treat. And of course, being Trigun, you know the weapon designs will be drool worthy. Said guns are used to great effect, but the film has a number of varied, gripping action scenes. The centrepiece is Gasback’s inevitable arrival in Macca City, which is exciting and silly all at once. Indeed one of the greatest moments there is listed by the director as his favourite sequence in the movie and it’s easy to see why. It straddles the line of whimsy whilst avoiding the ‘oh, come on!’ factor of certain recent Hollywood action set pieces.

In the tradition of more mainstream movie releases, this is a two disc set, with disc one given over to the film while disc two cover behind-the-scenes stuff. But although there are quite a few to get through, it doesn’t feel like nearly enough to justify a second disc (even the resulting menu barely fills half the screen). The general focus is on one-on-one talks with the Japanese cast and crew. There are moments of insight, but the same ground is covered more than once. Each of the actors discusses their concern their role would be recast, and the senior production staff keep pointing out the kick start for the project was an American licensor.  That fact also makes it curious that all the special features cover the Japanese side of things. Given that Badlands Rumble is a very specific case of the American audience leading to the return of the title, why isn’t that better represented in the behind the scenes material?

trigun-2The DVD also comes with an 8-page booklet and a poster. The booklet covers an introduction to the film, a rundown of the major characters, and some brief production trivia. The cover art for the booklet is also used on the rectangular poster, depicting Vash surrounded by bullet casings and a collage of the other characters in the background. It’s a nice keepsake for those who enjoy the movie.

Trigun: Badlands Rumble is solid fun and a clear sign I need to get around to watching the TV series. It carries a retro spark whilst still feeling at home in the modern day, and most importantly it is consistently enjoyable. Love and peace, indeed.

 Trigun: Badlands Rumble (UK Edition) is available from amazon.co.uk.

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