By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Director Satoshi Nishimura’s anime feature “Trigun: Badlands Rumble” begins with frantic police radio calls and the ringing of a burglar alarm inside a bank. We see bank employees held hostage as the robbers pillage the vault, arguing about how to divide the loot.
But this is no ordinary bank robbery. The bank robbers, and even the bank employees, each have certain special qualities. The film, adapted from a popular anime and manga in Japan, created by Yasuhiro Nightow, gleefully mixes elements of Western films and science fiction, producing a colorful hybrid rich in distinctive characters and exotic textures.
The head bandit, Gasback (voiced by Tsutomu Isobe), stands at least six feet tall and measures at least four feet wide. With his huge size, huge cowboy hat, and commanding voice, Gasback shares aspects of several decades’ worth of Western movie bad guys.
And yet, Gasback lives by his own code. He holds himself and others to distinctive standards, although he discovers, most painfully, that others around him do not hold to those standards. His penchant for philosophizing sets him apart from most characters of his type.
The planet upon which the characters reside is never named. But is it clearly not Earth. Several silver moons hang in the night sky, along with other brightly-colored odd celestial objects.
The movie’s characters travel though huge, never-ending deserts on hovercrafts larger than city blocks. They cherish electric power where they can find it, and they live largely on a strange, tough substance known only as “smoked thomas.”
With a villain like Gasback on the prowl, the story must naturally have a hero to oppose him. But the film’s hero, voiced by Masaya Onosake, proves to be an even odder character than Gasback.
The hero rarely takes the initiative in action. He prefers to act in jest, amusing himself and others, although the anime’s many thugs often grow tired of his antics. He hides in plain sight, making no effort to portray himself as a hero. This proves surprisingly effective for his purposes.
The original anime by Yasuhiro Nightow proved amazingly popular and has been translated into at least six non-Japanese languages. The film’s screenplay, written by Yasuko Kobayashi from a story by Nightow and director Nishimura, makes drastic changes to the original story.
Followers of the “Trigun” manga and television anime will notice certain important characters missing and other characters inserted. Some characters are promoted to greater visibility. However, the changes don’t dilute the essential nature of the story and the world in which it is set. The action still resounds and the hero still confounds.
Another crucial member of the creative team, Takahiro Yoshimatsu, was responsible for the character design in the film. Gasback’s enormous cowboy hat owes a great deal to Yoshimatsu. The character designer clearly had fun with the bad guys, populating the film with beady eyes, shaved heads, sneering mouths, oversized firearms, and razor-sharp knives.
The film does an admirable job of combining genre elements, while keeping the characters fresh and the action constantly moving forward. Each major character has a detailed history, a secret to protect, and a distinctive means of survival in this often-treacherous landscape.
The result should satisfy both longtime “Trigun” followers and newcomers to the phenomenon. Grab a large popcorn, with a cold drink, and get ready for a wilder west than you’ve ever seen before. ♦
“Trigun: Badlands Rumble” opens Friday, July 29, at the Grand Illusion Cinema, 1403 N.E. 50th Street in Seattle’s University District. For prices and showtimes, call 206-523-3935 or visit www.grandillusioncinema.org.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.
Actually, the planete does have a name: Gunsmoke.