2010’s Badlands Rumble came out twelve years after the original anime aired, and four years after I finished watching it - by then seen as a classic. The manga had continued to run until 2008, though, and with its enduring appeal, Trigun never seemed like it had faded away like so many 90s anime. It seemed a bit random to me when Madhouse announced the new feature-length adaptation, but I can’t say I was complaining, or anyone seemed to think it was a bad idea – new Trigun will always be welcome, there was plenty of source material to draw from and of course, the advances in Madhouse’s animation quality after their transition to one of the leading producers of anime cinematic features meant we were going to see Vash and co looking better than ever before in glorious widescreen.
To some, the plot here might seem simple to the point of being underwhelming: a renowned robber is attempting a great feat of thievery while also seeking to get revenge on former comrades who betrayed him 20 years ago and spoiled what he felt to be a beautiful bit of robbery. A female bounty hunter with a grudge is out to stop him, but Vash is there too, to get in the way and try to prevent loss of life, just as he had that fateful day 20 years ago. By coincidence, of course, Meryl and Milly are there on behalf of their insurance company, and Wolfwood has gotten himself involved as well. It’s a simple setpiece with nice straightforward clashes, and in many ways feels like a typical shounen tie-in movie in the vein of Naruto’s or Fullmetal Alchemist’s, where the emotions are fairly superficial and the plot leaves little lasting impression on its characters or its world, as opposed to the great emotional turmoil of the second half of the Trigun series, centred on Vash’s relationship with Knives. There’s inevitably a short section where there’s an attempt to pluck at the heartstrings, but it’s always clear this is never going to be a Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door or Seisouhen and that the tone will stay light overall. Still, through flashbacks and personal stories, also raises more subtle questions, not so distant from those of Monster – is saving lives always right? What if the one you saved goes on to cause more harm? What if the world would have been better-off if they had died? I love that sort of question in an action story, and it’s done deftly here, without any need for it to be hammered home.
And of course, there’s the usual mix of genuinely funny humour, silly character designs, absurdity and Wild West-style action. Vash’s design remains iconic and remains one of the best examples of the goofy-but-hiding-immense-power character type. The other recurring characters are as brilliant as ever, and the new ones are compelling too, as is the eccentric world – somehow, a giant lightbulb as a power plant just about works in the world of Trigun, rather than being an example of trying too hard to be quirky and random like the giant iron in FLCL.
Satisfying, uncomplicated and by now able to draw upon fond nostalgia, Badlands Rumble is a great watch for fans and would no doubt be a good introduction to the series, too.