So we’re all going to be falling a little in love with Vash, right? In the second episode of Trigun Stampede, the series continues the deconstruction of the character as he charms, outwits, and stumbles (literally) his way out of mounting trouble. Running from a 6 million dollar bounty that has made even his friends temporary adversaries, episode two solidifies the addictive, breakneck energy the first flirted with while allowing Vash to take up greater residency in our hearts as this goofy yet assured gunman.
A gunman who uses his weapon to stop other bullets, that is. If episode two, “The Running Man,” does anything, it plays true to the week’s title as Vash spends the majority of the runtime fleeing for his life and, then, for the lives of those around him as he positions himself as the pawn to draw danger away from the town. Initially beloved by the townsfolk we met in the premiere, they, led by Rosa, turn against him when they realize the bounty for turning him in would be enough money to replace one of their plants, a system that keeps their town healthy and safe.
Vash’s charisma is expressed in movement, captured with agile fluidity by director Kenji Muto who tracks his race through the city with acrobatic camera pivots and swings, instilling frenzied energy. Accentuated by the character’s multiple spills or desperate, pinwheeling limbs as he teeters on the side of buildings, “The Running Man” is a caffeinated whirlwind until its ending where it takes a beat to further develop Vash who, it can not be stated enough, is the best type of protagonist.
Studio Orange and character designer Koji Tajima display an innate understanding of how to position this larger-than-life figure with his distinct style and visual presence in this science-fiction Western that both draws on classic motifs. Based on the manga by Yasuhiro Nightow, Vash has gone through multiple iterations but his alien presence in this delipidated world remains striking. So too does his compassion, as he refutes pride for the sake of sparing lives as he rescues the son of the man who’d been chasing him, as well as forgiving the town that led the initial march in his capture.
If this seems too centered on the series lead, well, there’s a reason. While there are plenty of other highlights so far – in particular, the dizzying action sequences that are fueled with kinetic urgency – Vash is the unquestionable star. As he should be. As for the case of series such as Cowboy Bebop, a clear influence, while supporting characters certainly color the world and enrich the stories, they are heavily reliant on the protagonist’s natural appeal. Vash, like Spike Spiegel, is engaging to watch, with a tragic backstory that opens up greater mysteries ready to be solved that will breathe life into the story. Playing with that archetype allows the dissonance of his against-type characterization all the more potent because he looks the part, but he’s an alternative to the uncaring, aloof hero of other series.
He cries tears of panic twice in the first two episodes.
Where the series has yet to have complete success is in the supporting players, from Rose to the reporters Roberto de Niro and Meryl Stryfe. So far they’re playing the unfortunate role of exposition givers or reactionary foils to Vash’s more outlandish personality. Their designs, in comparison, lack the personality and edge of both Vash’s but also the father and son duo this week whose chase of the main hero is reminiscent of Mad Max: Fury Road. That said, while Gofsef’s design is suitably unsettling in his makeshift compilation of parts, Father Nebraska’s leaves something to be desired as it falls into an uncanny valley type of effect, his features and flair too smoothed down and flattened in the final product.
Regardless, the inclusion of the two makes for an incredible cliffhanger. Despite having reconciled their differences and enjoying a drink at Rosa’s diner after the dust settles, things go awry quickly when Gofsef is attacked by some sort of bug, swarming him as Vash yells for everyone to get away. Fans of the original may have an inkling as to what is happening, but the rest of us will have to wait until next week for answers. The quick pivot from relative peace to crazed panic disorients the viewer as well as the characters onscreen as we continue to learn just how little we know about this world. Episode two ensures we stick around to find out how much more there is to know.
Trigun Stampede airs Saturday on Crunchyroll.