In my review of “Millions Knives,”, I noted that Vash’s pacifism felt thin when weighed up against what we now know about his and Knives’s history. In the penultimate episode of the series, I have finally figured out why I had that impression of Vash, for better or for worse. The time has come to head into Trigun Stampede’s endgame with “To a New World.”
Knives’s grand plan, it turns out, is to use Vash’s latent and previously unclarified gate powers to bridge realities. This will, in theory, animate plants with the same individuality that the twins possess. The way of going about this process though is both the most revealing and riveting bulk of “To a New World.” Knives uses his own weaponry to link up to Vash physically and psychically in the tank he was dropped into last week.
This manifests in Vash being forced to play through his various failures – with haunting callbacks to previous episodes. Reliving some of the poignant moments of the past ten episodes is a good reminder that while Trigun Stampede has been laser focused on its main cast and slow trekking, a lot has actually happened. Visually, these sequences are some of the best of the already excellent presentation of the series. Knives’ dismantling of Vash’s mind is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.
Once again, it’s not just the flashy stuff that stands out in this series, but the subtle moments from frame to frame, such as the despair on Vash’s face as he knows he has forgotten his companions while not knowing who they were in the first place. As things go on, the landscape becomes more and more warped to reflect Vash’s mental state. Outside of his head, Vash’s body has begun to sprout thick and black roots to connect him not only to the other Plants Knives collected, but also to weed through JuLai as a whole.
As if this episode wasn’t doing a lot of heavy lifting, this is also where we finally get the Knives explainer I’ve been hoping for. Near the end of his rope, Vash puts up resistance by refusing to let go of his memories of Rem, their caretaker. This forces the two to actually talk, meaning we get to finally see their life on Ship 5, the biggest mystery so far. Here is where we finally get to learn what warped Knives into the person he is now: fifty years before the twins’ birth, another independent was born named Tesla. However, where Knives and Vash were raised as humans, Tesla was treated as a horrifying experiment: dismembered and kept alive in cryostasis. It’s a genuinely traumatizing sight for us and the twins.
This reveal gives us the true conflict of Trigun Stampede and also finally clarified for me what exactly my issues with some of Vash’s behavior is. The true thematic tension is Vash’s belief in Rem telling them that she is protecting them and Knives’ that she’s lying to them. We’re in a space where the “truth” is hard to come by, so things like his clinging to a copy of a Bible or the memory or Rem telling Knives he should hide his abilities are actually consistent with what happened, but they tell us a lot about how Knives actually sees his childhood at the least.
Vash, on the other hand, is passive. He clings to the memory of Rem, but outside of trying to draw a sense of attachment to her out of Knives he continues to just kind of be here. Since the events of Windmill Village, he’s been pulled from location to location and his attempts to take a more active role are either ineffective or just play into everyone’s intentions for him anyway. Even here, at the end of his memories, Vash can only stand passively by as Knives describes the twisted love he has for his brother – the kind that led him to cause the Big Fall in the beginning.
That passiveness opened the door to send Vash spiraling into a proper breakdown, and Knives succeeds in commandeering Vash and his powers. Trigun Stampede has reached critical mass in the “oh shit” department as the roots sprawling from Vash take the form of a creature that engulfs JuLai – and also appears to take the form of Rem.
For those expecting a simple climatic battle in the finale, it feels more like the Rem plant is the hint to what is going to (hopefully) happen: Vash, clinging to his love of his parent regardless of the actions of others, rejecting Knives’ version of love and taking actual action in some way. It’s clear that his primary flaw at this point is trying to remain hopeful for his brother’s redemption by taking responsibility for him, but at this point he must actually confront the reality that there’s not something to save there. Vash doesn’t have to win – but he cannot keep choosing to lose either. One more episode to go, and at this point it will need to really stick the landing by getting Vash in gear.
Featured Image Courtesy of Crunchyroll
Trigun Stampede - “To a New World” - 8/10