Themes of toxic positivity have been played within the television scope for a while now, but that doesn’t make the more well-executed takes on the idea any less potent as displayed in this week’s episode of Trigun Stampede, “Child of Blessing.” While his pacifism has, thus far, read as endearing if not a little naive, episode five demonstrates the faults that lie within blind optimism in the face of unruly danger and the rage and ego of men. He promised to save a child despite not grasping the full horror he was facing and failed to deliver. The bad guys won, and the peace the child received was twenty years too late and found in death. A man-made monster of whim put down and out of his subjected misery.
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It’s interesting that despite the episodic nature and how many times ragtag group manages to nearly run over some poor pedestrian standing against the vast nothingness of a desert, Trigun Stampede has maintained an undercurrent of tragedy that ties the series together thematically. There are hijinks and characters are drawn in over-the-top flourishes which accentuate the fantastical, sci-fi, and western elements that inspire their designs, but at the center of it, all is a man looking to discover his right path while trying to save anyone and every one no matter their predicament. He wants bloodless scenery in a world that’s twice burned over.
This dichotomy makes for a more dynamic character, as Vash is no longer just the good-doer savior whose non-violent beliefs place him on a pedestal looking down at the rest of society, but also a figure whose own stubborn ideologies make him open for error. He preaches and saves and yet two children have been seriously harmed and killed in the first five episodes, no matter his attempts. It’s not his fault, not exactly, but to see him twice fail – either his expectations or those of others – make for a fallible, intriguing character. He isn’t the hero who comes to impart his wisdom to others and instead someone who is in the throes of figuring it out and often as he’s running for his life.
The horror of the episode comes from in the boy Vash met years ago, Rollo, who lived in a devoutly religious village where it was believed a child must be sacrificed to satisfy their Gods and bring wind to the village. If that wasn’t terrifying enough, he’s actually taken and experimented on, resulting in a Frankenstein monster of weaponry and flesh. Rollo, as we meet him, is not as rage filled as the monster who faces down Vash and Wolfwood later – and it’s the episode’s ability to splice the two timelines together so that we realize that the character is one and the same that makes it so much of a gut punch.
As is the case with the series leading up until now, the visuals are largely superb, especially in Vash’s animation and the crumbling of his hope towards the end, and action sequences. Wolfwood’s character shines here as he did in the last episode aided by a showstopping weapon in the form of his cross-shaped machine gun. Watching as the two tears through the streets of this abandoned town, dust creating clouds above them as the machine races behind them exemplifies the show’s kinetic animation at its best.
Meryl and Roberto continue to be the lesser interesting characters, too confined to their roles as human follies to Vash as well as characters there to react to the larger-than-life personalities. The viewer inserts, if you will. The two have been the greatest struggle for the entire series so far though, so hopefully, as the pieces are now largely assembled and the main group is together, their inclusion in the series both stylistically and narratively will be more seamless.
Their discoveries along the flashback also opens the plot up (especially for those of us not privy to the original Trigun series) for a greater mystery as we see a picture of Vash with a baby Rollo twenty-some-odd years ago. There was never any doubt he was going to be more than he seemed – that was made abundantly clear in his design and the entire existence of Knives and cohorts but this creates even greater intrigue as we look to unravel the threads as we progress.
While better than last week’s set-up episode it still doesn’t hit the heights they themselves set with episode three, but what will? If episodes one through four were the series prologue and chapter one, the fifth is when the story gets going as Vash begins to see the world from the viewpoints of those around him. With that comes some of the series most haunting imagery as, after lessons learned and suffering endured, the lights of the little town their backs face come alive, the wind having returned due to Rollo’s decade spanning sacrifice having commenced. In a series of wild highs and exaggerated animation, it’s a telling sign of the writers and artists prowess that such a revelation is handled with such delicacy. Yet another sign of the ghosts left in Vash’s wake.
Featured Image Courtesy of Crunchyroll / ©2023 Yasuhiro Nightow, SHONENGAHOSHA / TRIGUN STAMPEDE Project