Trigun Series Review: He’s The Most Wanted Man Ever But He’s Just Looking for Love and Peace

This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in July 2016 and can be found here.

I’m going to be honest, after rewatching this one and re-reading my review, I’m not changing much. So this post is really just here for people who weren’t following the blog back in 2016.

Review:

I had to wonder when I first started watching this series what all the fuss had been about. It was a not so well drawn, cliché comedy with a main character whose hair just kind of made me want to pour a bucket of water on his head.

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Really, really, glad I didn’t stick with my first impulse on this anime.

Yep, it starts out as a screwy comedy with a character who hops around in the desert, dodging bullets like Daffy Duck, and B Grade villains who really need to learn the meaning of restraint but don’t seem to offer any genuine tension. And that kind of hurts the show because of the sheer number of viewers who will probably walk away in those early episodes. I definitely would have if I’d watched this for the first time now when I have access to so many other titles.

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Somehow, after you get to the end of the series, you realise this show couldn’t have started any other way. Vash the Stampede is one of those shows where you don’t even know where the tone changed, but by the end of the series you are left feeling you’ve just watched a dramatic masterpiece. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration (alright definitely an exaggeration but you get the point), but for something that starts the way it does, the character development and the way the plot is revealed just work so well. There isn’t a moment where you think, okay now it will get serious. It’s just that the blend of comedy and drama in each episode shifts more and more to the drama end of the spectrum while still holding onto some of the comedic elements and you don’t even realise its happening.

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Part of that transition comes because a lot of the story is filtered through Meryl’s perception of Vash and it takes her awhile to a) recognise who actually is Vash and b) begin to understand that there is more to Vash than the goofy persona he deliberately chooses to portray. Meryl’s growth as a character and her increasing empathy for Vash work well as a frame for so much of the story. Because, like Meryl, the audience is coming in to this half-way through.

Vash has a very complicated back story and while I’m still not entirely convinced by the seemingly subjective amnesia or the overall villains plot or even some of the twists that lead us to the conclusion, it didn’t matter while watching. I was engrossed by these characters as they slowly revealed themselves.

I do want to talk about Wolfwood though.

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He’s an interesting character. Like Vash, he plays the fool far too well, though his facade has a lot more chinks in it than Vash’s. More importantly, Wolfwood get’s the distinct role of playing a character while knowing he isn’t convincing anyone but pretends he doesn’t know that he isn’t convincing them. It’s interesting to watch given the animation isn’t amazing and yet Wolfwood’s nuanced expressions and the subtle (and sometimes less than subtle) shifts are well used to show us that he is well aware his antics aren’t convincing and yet he’s enjoying the chance to just play for awhile.

Far and away Wolfwood is my favourite character of the series because of his similarities to Vash, and yet the distinct path he chooses. And they use the contrast well. While they both play the fool, at the end of the day, Vash is an idealist whereas Wolfwood is firmly grounded in reality. Which is probably why the outcomes for these characters vary so deeply.

And at some point I really should give Wolfwood his very own post because he’s just an awesome character.

So should you watch Trigun?

Absolutely.

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It’s funny and heartbreaking and has fast paced action followed by some excellent characterisation. It builds a rich world where humans fight for survival and shows the history behind the current circumstances. Characters respond in not necessarily realistic ways, but in consistent ways to the conflicts surrounding them and there are some very cool characters who will appear throughout the series. While the villains are of the over-the-top and bad for the sake of it nature, the hero is also good for the sake of it so it kind of balances out and ultimately the story isn’t about who is good and who is bad but about choosing your own path.

That, and there’s a lot of gun fights and some fairly great weapons to admire. I love Vash’s sunglasses and coat but really would love to fix his hairstyle. However, since writing my review of this initially, I met a cosplayer who had the single most awesome Vash the Stampede look you could imagine and after seeing it in real life I kind of don’t know that Vash could be any other way.

Have you watched Trigun? What were your thoughts?


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THE CALIGULA EFFECT: OVERDOSE

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Steins;Gate 0 Series Review: Here We Go Again, Again

Right from episode one of Steins;Gate 0 I kind of sat on the fence about whether or not I was on board with this most recent addition to the Steins;Gate anime world. Overall it was an up and down experience but now we come to the final review and I have to figure out exactly how I feel about this show.

Review:

Steins;Gate 0 takes on the task of exploring an alternative time-line, one in which Mayuri lets Okabe stop trying to save Kurisu and as such we see an Okabe Rintaro we have never seen before. This is an Okabe who has given up his delusions, his manic laughter, and even the white lab coat because he’s just a student suffering from some severe depression with a huge fear that something will happen to destroy the peace he sacrificed so much to achieve. But things are never that easy (that was easy) and soon Okabe is going to be plunged back into conspiracies and time travel intrigues whether he wants to be or not.

We also have the involvement of America and Russia, the need to stop World War 3, and an AI based on Kurisu who may or may not be a real character but ultimately is fairy unexplored compared with what they could have done.

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I will admit, the idea of seeing Okabe as a more ‘normal’ person and seeing him dealing with the fallout of failure is an interesting concept. The problem is how this impacts on the overall tone of the show. It isn’t just Okabe who lacks energy and charisma. The entire cast takes a hit and the beloved chemistry and rapid fire dialogue that permeated the original Steins;Gate anime is gone for the vast majority of 0’s run-time. This could have worked if they’d spurred Okabe into action earlier after giving us a taste of this alternative version of him but it went on for so long and even after he’d been given every reason to get back to time travel he continued to dig in his heels and refuse. While this is believable as a human to not want to change a hard made decision, it doesn’t make for overly compelling viewing.

That said, it isn’t as though this season is devoid of good moments. We get some fantastic moments between Mayuri and Okabe. Mayuri was a fairly underused character in the original as she ended up more of a plot device than anything else and in Steins;Gate 0 she becomes the driving force for a lot of the action. She fully understands that it is her fault Okabe has essentially lost sight of who he was and while she isn’t planning on abandoning him anytime soon, she very much wants to bring Hououin Kyouma back to life and she’s happy to break time and space to do it.

Steins;Gate 0 Episode 17 - Mayuri

We also get a great episode where Okabe for whatever reason ends up in an alternative time line where Kurisu is still alive and essentially she gives him a pep talk before sending him back. This was one of the few moments in the first half of the show where we see the rapid fire dialogue and chemistry that is sorely missing from so much of this anime. Not to mention it is Kurisu and Okabe together again in a way that just makes you realise how lacking Amadeus, the AI based on Kurisu, is as a substitute.

I’ll also say that from episode 20 to 23 we get a fairly solid run to a conclusion and these episodes are actually very entertaining. Part of me almost wishes they’d done this series in 12 episodes and condensed everything before episode 20 into 8 episodes and then maybe it wouldn’t have felt so bloated and it could have been a tight series keeping us on our toes. It is very rare for me to wish less episodes on an anime but I really feel content-wise this anime just didn’t have enough for its run time.

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And that brings us to some of the real issues I was having, other than just not enjoying the characters very much this time around. The question of should we or shouldn’t we mess with time lacks weight here because we’ve already had it explored. We get that Okabe is scarred but his arguments for not building and using the machine are weak and ultimately we know he’s going to have to. With this central premise more or less dead in the water, there are other avenues the anime could explore but ultimately not a lot came of them.

For instance, episode 12 spends a great deal of time constructing a bootstrap paradox. One of the characters from the future (travelled with Suzuha) is singing a song that she heard from someone and they try to track down the song’s origins. We go around in circles before realising that Okabe taught it to the others but he heard it from the girl when she’d travelled back in time and so the question remained where did the song come from. It was an entire episode to set up a paradox that ultimately served zero purpose. And while it still could have been fun given time travel shows inherently do have paradoxes in them and this one seemed to plunge us into it just for the fun of it, ultimately it just felt like more clutter and distraction from where we knew the story would have to go.

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The AI is perhaps the part that suffers the worst from this. There are so many ideas and questions that could have been explored with Amadeus. And while the anime certainly walks around the edges of whether or not the AI is a person given it has the same thoughts and memories as a person, very little is done with this. Nor do they open up obvious questions such as how this will change people if we could in fact copy our thoughts and memories into a program. Or what it could be used for. Or even the ethics of erasing it. While we get an emotional sequence where all the characters kind of say goodbye, the anime isn’t really interested in asking whether or not this could be considered murder if we could consider the AI a character. I’d have loved for them to do more with this.

There are also a whole bunch of characters who ultimately just don’t serve much purpose here and lots of red-herrings just because.

Steins;Gate Episode 22 - Daru and Miho

Steins;Gate 0 did introduce us to Maho though and while at first I wasn’t really sold on her character she actually did a good job integrating with the core cast by the end. At the very least she served a fairly valuable plot point and her interactions with Daru and Okabe were pretty good by the end.

And while we’re on that point, Daru certainly came out of Steins;Gate 0 leaving a better impression than the original. So in terms of fleshing out Daru and Mayuri, this spin off really succeeded.

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Ultimately that is what will determine your overall enjoyment of this show. If just seeing more of these characters is enough and those few glimpses of development are sufficient to make you happy, here are 23 episodes for you to sink your teeth into. However, in terms of giving a great story, Steins;Gate 0 relies to much on nostalgia for these characters and it stretches things out and has too much that feels like filler to really be something amazing. I’m not unhappy that I watched this but it isn’t exactly blowing me away.

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Steins;Gate 0 Episode 23: The End and The Beginning

One final attempt at sending Mayuri and Suzuha into the past to change everything (or rather get Okabe back into trying to save Kurisu which the audience already knows happens so I’m not entirely sure if there was any point to this or not) and then we have a few loose ends to tie up but otherwise we’re done. Okay, there’s still an OVA to go so I guess there’s more to this story but I think for me, I’m done.

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If I’m brutally honest, the few points I got out of this spin-off probably could have been covered in about six episodes rather than 23, however it has been kind of fun rejoining these characters. I’ll save further thoughts on this for the whole series review and focus more on episode 23, an episode that brings things together and links us back to where we needed to be for Okabe to make the choice he needs to make.

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Seeing the roof-top scene, yet again, even with the slightly modified role for Kagari, wasn’t exactly thrilling but at least we finally get some closure on this scene. The phone call from Mayuri to Mayuri was probably the stand out moment of the episode and did exactly what it needed to and then watching Suzuha and Mayuri accept their fate was one of those moments that made me remember how good Steins;Gate could be.

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That said, this episode was much like this series has been. A series of good ideas and great moments surrounded by moments that we perhaps could have done without and ideas that aren’t fully realised. It works in the moment but on thinking back there just isn’t enough here.

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Black Bullet Volume 1 Light Novel Review

I previously reviewed the anime of Black Bullet and I found it fairly problematic but enjoyed the underlying story. I decided to try the light novel to see if it left a better impression. The answer… well I’m still on the fence.

Review:

There’s a lot to like about this light novel. The characters are interesting, the world we’re plunged into is tragic and yet feels like it could be a potential yet horrifying future. There’s action and drama and social commentary on a whole range of issues. Really it should work beautifully and be right up my ally.

For those who have never watched the anime, Black Bullet follows Rentaro and his partner Enju. They are civil security officers which essentially means they hunt down creatures that are infected with a virus called Gastrea and wipe them out. Renatro is fairly young still being in high school but Enju, like all civil security officer partners, is a child. One of the children born infected with the Gastrea virus making them not quite human enough to be given actual human rights but useful enough that they are employed to help humans. At least until they cross a certain infection threshold.

It’s a bleak kind of world we’re dropped into as it is after humans have already lost the war and the survivors live in cities surrounded by monoliths that keep the Gastrea out. Despite that they are still facing an ongoing threat and Rentaro and Enju are kept busy from start to finish in this book.

However, I feel my problem with this book is more or less the same as the problem I had with the anime. That is, we have a lot of characters and a lot going on but so much of it doesn’t feel fully utilised or necessary. Perhaps if the whole thing was expanded or if we weren’t spending so much time following Rentaro and we gave these other characters sufficient time to be fleshed out and made to feel more real the story would sit a lot better but as it is it feels like names are thrown at you, characters appear for a scene and then vanish before they suddenly return and are seemingly important.

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Then there’s the nature of the story. Admittedly, the links between the different events that Rentaro and Enju get caught up in are better explained in the light novel than they were in the anime, but the overall impression while reading is that we’re jumping from event to event. The ‘and then this happened’ approach to plotting almost as though the story can’t bear to put the brakes on for even a moment to deal with some of the ideas its already thrown at its readers.

Still, there are plenty of readers out there who will love this approach. The book moves quickly through the events never getting bogged down on details for too long. The characters are given enough description and characterisation but again the story doesn’t linger. The action is fun, the escalation of tension works, and the final sequence really sticks the landing. For those who like that sort of pacing in their stories, this is a really great read.

Which is why I’m sitting on the fence. I get that this book actually works quite well and there’s a lot to like about it, and yet I couldn’t get into it. This was one I constantly put down and found other things to do rather than completing and it took me nearly two weeks to actually get to the end of the story (and in that time I devoured several other books that I picked up for a break).

I’m leaving this one to personal taste. If you like your stories to just get to the events and keep moving then you will probably have a great time with this one. The plot that you get is solid  and there’s some fairly decent action sequences to be be found.

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Steins;Gate 0 Episode 22: Farewell Amadeus

Steins;Gate Episode 22 - Daru and Miho

Okabe may have returned to the past after 3000 time leaps with new found determination but that doesn’t mean the obstacles he was facing have gotten any smaller. Episode 22 of Steins;Gate 0 has some serious brainstorming taking place before the characters face an incredibly tough choice.

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Not a lot physically happens this episode. There are no mad dashes through time or characters running frantically from here to there. Yet, the episode is stronger because of it. After the marathon 3000 leaps back in time, Okabe is forced to stop and contemplate his next move and the decision the characters arrive at isn’t an easy one. Rather than rushing this process, the anime chooses to slow things down with Okabe taking a night stroll with Amadeus before making a decision with the morning. A decision that has to be made because time leaping further just isn’t possible.

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However, despite the strong focus on Okabe and his issues with the decision, it is ultimately Maho who is forced to pull the trigger via Daru and you can see it breaks her heart. While less screen time is given to her farewell and contemplation, Maho really steals the thunder at the end of this episode with an emotionally wrenching sequence that actually hurt to watch. For a character I hadn’t really connected with during Steins;Gate 0, I have to say I had no complaints about how this moment played out as it really brought maximum emotional impact to the scene.

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And with this episode we’re one final episode from seeing how this all ends and how Okabe Rintaro figures out how to keep both Kurisu and Mayuri alive. I’m just hoping we don’t have to watch them both die one more time before we get there.

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Steins;Gate 0 Episode 21: I’ve Missed Hououin Kyouma

Steins;Gate 0 Okabe Rintarou

Right, as much as I kind of feel Steins;Gate 0 has been overly drawn out for the amount of content it has and that about half the characters in it haven’t been needed for much of anything, I cannot deny the pure joy I got out of this episode. Hououin Kyouma is back.

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There’s been some fairly solid narrative reasoning for Hououin Kyouma to have been missing in action for the majority of this season of Steins;Gate and yet the pure joy at his return, the way the whole show seemed to spring to life with his presence, and just how much more entertaining everything was just made me realise exactly what I’d been missing this whole time. And I get that the contrast is there for a reason, but all it did was emphasise that I haven’t really enjoyed spending time with a defeated Okabe. It might be argued that the long wait makes the return even sweeter, but for me it just makes it clear I don’t plan on rewatching this particular branch of Steins;Gate ever again. Once has been enough and there just wasn’t enough fun in the journey for me to do it over.

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That said, I’m very keen on seeing how it finishes at this particular point in time. There’s been some interesting ideas along the way and some solid plot work weaving a parallel narrative that hasn’t undermined the original series. While I personally didn’t end up enjoying the characters as much as the original, I can’t deny the effort to make this fit in with the larger story.

So other than the resurgence of our favourite mad scientist, what did this episode do?

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Well, Okabe completed over 3000 time leaps to make it back to the lab in time to try to save Mayuri yet again. This was impressive given how many times he might have wanted give up and how many things could have gone wrong with the plan along the way. Yet it really does show us just how committed Okabe is to his new resolve to no longer accept that there are fixed events that cannot be overcome. Which makes the end of this episode even more affective because just when it seems our hero is thing control of the situation fate or time or whatever decides to mess with him for one more round. While I don’t feel this will break Okabe’s spirit again, it is definitely not the outcome he was hoping for.

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Steins;Gate 0 Episode 20: It’s The End of the World

You know when things go wrong and there’s always that person who tells you not to worry because it isn’t the end of the world? For Okabe that moment isn’t coming because in this episode he really is seeing what happens after the failure to ‘fix’ the future back in 2011.

Steins;Gate 0 Episode 20 Okabe

I’ve made no secret of the fact that a lot of Steins;Gate 0 hasn’t quite hit its mark for me, but credit where it is due, the decision to skip the OP this week and to deliver us muted dialogue and a scene of us looking down on a very small Okabe on the hand of a clock was the perfect one to make. It set the tone beautifully for an episode that was going to be grim in its content and it also set the scene for the transformation Okabe was going to undertake throughout this episode.

Steins;Gate 0 Episode 20 - Okabe runs

Throughout the whole first third of this episode we’re either looking down on Okabe or he is deliberately placed to seem small and insignificant against the destruction around him. As we come into contact with the other lab members in this version of the future we start seeing him trailing behind characters or being supported by them. We aren’t looking down at him so often but that is usually only because the other character in the shot is being framed as strong and steady. Finally, Okabe faces another death head on and then we see him close up and we see his decision.  It’s some excellent decision making in how this episode has been directed that really draws you back into the narrative even if the content here is not exactly exceptional.

Steins;Gate 0 Episode 20 - Future Daru and Suzuha

That said, the notion of printing his 2011 memories over his future self was an interesting twist and if Okabe hadn’t already made a decision to change the future no matter how many times it took, this trip has certainly cemented the necessity of changing the future into his mind. However, that’s where I’m wondering why we needed this (other than we finally get to see this future world we keep getting told about)? Okabe had already decided to use the time leap machine and find a way to change things. Reinforcement of a motive is fine and all but I can’t help but think this was less a narrative choice and more an opportunity to pander to fans who wanted to see the other lab members as gun wielding soldiers in a dystopian Akihabara.

Steins;Gate 0 Episode 20 - Ruka
Then again, who didn’t want to see future Ruka on the front lines?

Still, fairly solid episode and certainly one that made me pay attention even if on reflection the payoff wasn’t as great as I’d have liked.

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