Thursday, July 7, 2011

Anime goes to the wild, wild west with 'Trigun: Badlands Rumble'

Posted By on Thu, Jul 7, 2011 at 3:44 PM

WHAZZUP? Vash the Stampede, a.k.a. the Humanoid Typhoon
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  • WHAZZUP? Vash the Stampede, a.k.a. the Humanoid Typhoon
One of the crazy-awesome things about Japanese anime anime is the way you can attentively watch a film like Trigun: Badlands Rumble and, at the end, still have no idea what the title means. The “Badlands Rumble” is self-explanatory: the Western-flavored sci-fi adventure partially takes place in desert badlands, which see plenty of vehicle chases, shoot-outs and brawls. Figurative and literal rumbles break out all over the place.

That “Trigun’s” still a puzzler, though. Director Satoshi Nishimura based the film on a manga series of the same name, but what’s Trigun specifically? My guess would be that it’s the twin-sunned planet where the action takes place, but I couldn’t swear to it. Maybe it’s an actual gun. But it ultimately doesn’t matter, since Trigun: Badlands Rumble cranks out so many outlandish episodes and peculiar characterizations, a more conventional title would only bring the film down to Earth.

The hero, for instance, is a notorious outlaw known as “Vash the Stampede, the Humanoid Typhoon.” Vash’s skills as a gunslinger live up to his larger-than-life reputation, but in person, he turns out to be a goofball in an oversized red trenchcoat, round-rimmed glasses and spikey blonde hair. No ruthless desperado, Vash subscribes to a kind of kamikaze pacifism, and he comically interjects himself into violent confrontations to defuse high tensions and protect human life. Jackie Chan would flourish in a role with such quirky motivation.

The film opens with a massive, flamboyant bank robber named Gasback who monologues in mid-heist how he steals not just for monetary gain, but out of a sense of showmanship. Gasback’s flunkies turn on him, however, and the stick-up man survives only due to Vash’s timely but maddening intervention.

Bafflingly, Trigun then leaps forward 20 years (even though Vash doesn’t seem to age a day). Vash, Gasback and other characters converge on Macca City, a sprawling combination of Wild West outpost and steampunk metropolis, where Gasback’s treacherous colleague Cain Kepler runs a giant, light-bulb-shaped power plant and has raised a colossal statue in his own honor. Two squeaky-voiced female insurance agents want to protect the statue, Gasback seeks revenge on Cain and a gorgeous, taciturn redhead named Amelia tracks Gasback.

Like Rango this year, Trigun takes cowboy movie clichés and turns them upside down. Characters wear old-timey Western outfits, travel on a “sand steamer” into town and occasionally use reptilian beasts as steeds. Macca City’s seedy neighborhoods include surreal details like a robots that resemble trash receptacles with human legs and fishnet stockings. One religious-minded bodyguard carries a bullet-and-bomb launching weapon the size and shape of a crucifix.

Viewers with a grounding in the Trigun comic books may have the advantage at untangling the implications of the character twists. Newcomers should simply accept the loopy plotting as a given and wallow in the increasingly wild set pieces, which culminate with a spectacular robbery and a Road Warrior-style chase scene. Trigun flirts with incoherence, but goes all the way with animated spectacle.

Trigun: Badlands Rumble. 3 stars. Directed by Satoshi Nishimura. Opens Fri., July 8. At Plaza Theatre.

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