As part of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim 2003 line-up, the anime adaptation of Yasuhiro Nightow's manga Trigun quickly won an American following - it wasn't an insubstantial show, but the style is what initially attracted a largely teenage audience (myself included) to it. Taking place on a planet where water is a rarity and cities pockmark the desert landscape, the show played out like a lesser Sergio Leone flick on steroids, trading in a silent and hardened protagonist for Vash The Stampede, a buffoon with a massive bounty on his head (double dollars, y'all). Yet as the show went on and more of Vash's background was revealed, stakes materialized and the character deepened. Released twelve years after the anime ended it's run in Japan, Trigun: Badlands Rumble is a terrifically animated, partially satisfying Trigun feature.
Boasting a widescreen look and digital animation in contrast to the fullscreen cel animation of the 1998 anime, Badlands certainly looks expensive, despite retaining the same sunburned, parched look that made the work of famed animation outfit Madhouse stand out in the first place. Vash is back, but is relegated to vastly exaggerated physical comedy for the first forty minutes of the film. Instead we shift focus to a new character, Gasback, a hulking bandit fixated on robbery and prone to monologues describing his anarchic outlook.
After a brief opening that sets up Gasback's betrayal by his gang while Vash's interference saves the bandit's life, we cut to twenty years later - Caine, a former member of Gasback's gang, has cast aside his criminal life and become a town mayor. When Gasback surfaces with a skilled bodyguard (a character familiar and beloved by most Trigun devotees) by his side and a plan to assault Caine's town and take it for everything it's got, bounty hunters surround the city hoping to collect on a massive bounty on Gasback's head. Among them is Vash and Amelia, a mysterious woman intending to be the one to put a bullet in Gasback's head - but why? Also in the mix are insurance girls Milly and Meryl, dispatched to the town in order to defend a massive bronze statue that, if stolen, would bankrupt their firm.
Badlands is very much a conscious effort to please both long-time fans and initiate freshman viewers. As a result, it gives time both to tin eared dialogue expounding on a Vash's piecemeal philosophy of love and peace and massive action set pieces - unfortunately, the action doesn't kick in till the forty eight minute mark and until then, the film moves slow, with minimal tension and way too much time devoted to summarizing the same personality traits exhibited by Vash and especially Amelia, whose silent tough shtick grows old quickly, since her apparent hand-to-hand combat skills are demonstrated infrequently until the bombastic third act. Vash in particular gets a short shrift, playing up his over-the-top hippie appeal and only showing his true colors at the end - the Humanoid Typhoon you're used to seeing, an ace gunslinger whose attempts to not leave anyone dead in his wake scar him for life.
In spite of an impressive presentation, Trigun: Badlands Rumble is something of a disappointment, feeling more like an OVA than a deserving feature-length release. Trigun has no doubt inspired futuristic steampunk Western knockoffs follows its success, and this film feels like the filmmakers put their faith into more of the same old. That may have worked back in 2003, when the show was at its popularity zenith but now feels exhaustive in its lack of originality.
A 1.78:1 transfer demonstrates the dedication that went into animating this feature - director Satoshi Nishimura mentions in an extra on the second disk that the digital animation has given way to a wide array of colors and that's definitely the case here. It's a frequently pause-worthy transfer, with clean compositions and excellent lighting effects. The only complaint this writer has is stylistic, in that certain flashbacks are animated with an unpleasant glow that looks almost in error. Otherwise, a definite standout.
Your choices include an above-average English dub or the original Japanese mix - both are 5.1 surround sound and uniformly choice, an immersive experience that combines stellar voice acting, sound effects and a guitar-heavy score.
My colleague Neil Lumbard delivered a great breakdown for his Blu-ray review, and the DVD features all of the same extras - it's a lot to get lost in, until you come to a grinding halt and realize that much of these extras are lot of filler and little rewarding information. The best extras are the interviews with the cast and crew that expand on the experience of the production and the notable time that's passed between the making of the anime and this feature. They clock in at about an hour all together.
Aside from that, we have Movie Premiere at Cinema Sunshine Ikebukuro and Special Talk Show, the latter the longest extra of the set at forty minutes. The thing about this footage is that while its definitely informative, with such an appreciative audience, there's a good amount of fan worship questions that demand featherweight answers to wade through before you get to a gem that expands your understanding of the show and film.
Also included are a Post Recording, three minutes of the Japanese casting running through two scenes, Video Footage from Anime Expo 2009, poorly shot footage of a convention that demonstrates some time-consuming but worthy cosplaying, A Mildly Amusing Story by Something Yoshimatsu, twenty eight seconds I'll never get back ( aren't I a grouch), Talk Event at Kawasaki Cinecitta, which is actually three minutes from a prize drawing, and a variety of promotional clips and trailers.
It's a genuine pleasure to see an anime feature given this pristine treatment - if only Trigun: Badlands Rumble was worth the worship. It's a solid release for sure, well worth a fan's money, but it didn't do much for this writer, so it comes Recommended.
The best of the five boroughs is now represented. Brooklyn in the house! I'm a hardworking film writer, blogger, boyfriend and hopeful Corgi owner. Find me on Twitter @markzhur and on Tumblr at Our Elaborate Plans...