I suppose there’s a certain inevitability when you release a movie tie-in to an anime series that ended almost 12 years prior. Trigun: Badlands Rumble was probably doomed to mediocrity from the outset – I should have just expected that. There was no reason to make this movie. There weren’t so many loose ends from the series that there had to be a follow-up to tie them all together. After 12 years being off-air (and four years being out of print for the manga) you’d think the story has gone as far as it can go.
I didn’t have a good feeling about the Trigun movie because I always suspected that it would be a feature-length filler episode. Since filler episodes were so clearly the best part of Trigun, I thought “yeah, they should make a whole movie out of one.” There’s a right way to approach this kind of thing (see the Cowboy Bebop movie), and then there’s this.
The story begins 20 years before the events of Trigun, where a bank robber named Gasback is betrayed by his crew. Held dead to rights, Gasback is saved by the timely intervention of Vash the Stampede. Though his crew gets away, Gasback swears revenge against them.
20 years later, Vash is out doing Vash things: hitting on women, and bumbling around trying to covertly save people in danger. He makes his way to the city of Macca, where many bounty hunters have gathered in response to news that Gasback will be staging a heist there. As you can guess, this is where the “Badlands Rumble” part of the title comes in.
The point of this movie should have been to capture the essence of Trigun in a feature film format – not necessarily by rehashing the story of the series, but maybe by revisiting its themes and characters in a new context. Badlands Rumble feels more like a robotic imitation, a wax sculpture of what Trigun was. The weakest part of the series was the sheer amount of filler that preceded its amazing story arc. Badlands Rumble captures the filler exactly, but only hints at the more interesting themes that drive the latter half of the show.
To its credit, Badlands Rumble does at least acknowledge the fundamental question behind the Trigun TV series: is it ever justifiable to trade one life for another? I feel that if it has the Trigun name, it has to examine this idea, and Badlands Rumble does attempt this. Now the series wrestles with this question throughout the Gung-Ho Guns story arc, culminating in two episodes that are the dramatic equivalent of a couple of knockout punches. The movie flirts with it, and has all the drama of a simmering teapot.
Without the Trigun-ness, all you have left is pretty much the old, clichéd turn-your-brain-off popcorn movie. You get gunslinging, light comedy, production values (Madhouse never falters there), and a bland if inoffensive cast. It’s nice to see Vash back, that rare breed of anime hero who isn’t afraid to just be a man. His buffoonery is calculated, and when it comes to romance, he doesn’t act like the emasculated high school boys so prevalent in today’s anime.
The deuteragonist (fancy word quota!) is Amelia, the target of Vash’s romantic escapades, and a hard-nosed bounty hunter who nonetheless has some moe qualities. She’s a serviceable heroine, but you can pretty easily tell when the script is going to say “MYSTERIOUS CONNECTION TO THE PAST!”
Badlands Rumble isn’t a bad film; it’s a watchable action/comedy flick that has Trigun‘s veneer but little of its essence. If you’re Madhouse, maybe this is all you can do with the property. But then what are you really making? Just a cynical money grab to milk a little out of the Trigun fanbase?