Trigun Stampede delivered what might just be the best episode we’ve received across the entire Winter 2023 anime lineup. I haven’t been this blown away by an anime episode since I saw episode 22 of 86 Eighty-Six back in March 2022. While there have been a handful of wonderful anime episodes this season, I don’t think there’s any comparison when it comes to this past episode of Trigun Stampede. To tell such a gruesome backstory in the way it did completely took me by surprise. Mix that in with unique 2D artwork, stellar animation, a plethora of symbolism, exceptional storyboarding, and a haunting soundtrack, we get an exceptional episode.
What better way to tell a backstory than to give it a proper art style and overall design that felt like something out of a bedtime story? While it wasn’t the first time Trigun Stampede has used a 2D art style, the hand-drawn art to tell Wolfwood’s back story only added on to the beautiful tragedy that it became. It was one that began to warm your heart, that was until it was frozen, crushed, repaired, and then crushed into a million pieces once more. And unlike the bullet wounds that Wolfwood could heal with the drug Priest William made, the trauma of enduring such a grueling past will never heal. And I think that’s what makes Woflwood admirable–he can smile through it all.
Wolfwood was special as a child from the very beginning and it was apparent at times during the scenes of his backstory that he had a keen sense of what was going on. There’s going through hell, then there’s getting out of hell only to be thrown back into it over and over again. Going through a constant cycle of torture that entailed death only to live and come out of it all for the purpose of taking lives is what makes the writing for Wolfwood’s character just as unique as Vash’s.
Wolfwood’s entire character is one gigantic dichotomy. He was always someone that appreciated life and yet he’s forced to commit the most treacherous sin that brings about the opposite. He made sure Livio fed the baby chicks correctly (keeping them alive) and was even playing with them before being taken away from the orphanage. And it wasn’t just the baby chicks, it was Livio’s life as well that he wanted to protect. Now, forced down a road he never wanted to take, he’s under the guise of a peacemaker bearing a cross much heavier than the one he fights with. This bit of storytelling with 2D artwork and animation that also involved 1920s-style dialogue cards for just a single character is not just incredible, it’s a captivating stroke of genius that’s not found anywhere else in anime today.
There are more reasons than one as to why I think Trigun Stampede delivered the best episode of the Winter 2023 season on Saturday. One of those reasons is the symbolism engrossed in the episode’s breathtaking cinematics. Take for example the two shots below of the moon. The top shot portrays a crescent moon, a historical symbol that represents death. It goes in perfect contrast with both Wolfwood and Livio enjoying their youth, enjoying the life they have on top of a peak. The first shot of them being closer to the moon could easily symbolize that one of them is much closer to death than what they know as well. And while I don’t think the moons in the second shot mean much, it’s the shadow of the cross Wolfwood is carrying that holds much more weight than the cross itself ever could (it’s also upside down from the viewers perspective, I’ll dive into that further along in the article).
Another couple of shots from the past that are more disturbing than the first pair is the use of “prison bars” around Wolfwood in both of the scenes below. Just giving the viewer that feeling of Wolfwood being a prisoner his entire life and literally being bent to Knives’ will was gut-wrenching, especially in the second scene as he’s trying to escape the lab. I’ve never said this before, but the sound design might’ve been too good.
I still get chills just thinking about that magnificent piece of haunting animation and the terrifying screams of pain Wolfwood let out. The soft colors of when he was at the orphanage flipping to dark blue and intense shadows just bounce off each other in perfect contrast throughout the entire episode but more so in these two moments. But what’s important is that the cross held a completely different meaning for Wolfwood than it did for Rollo in episode 5 and here’s how.
Unlike Rollo in episode 5, the cross for Wolfwood always entailed something he was never comfortable around. While Rollo found solace in the symbol of Knives’ religion (Order of Michael) and believed that “god” would be his saving grace, Wolfwood only ever knew the symbol as anything but “god” and “heaven”. Even more so, while Rollo’s cross was clean and upright, Wolfwood’s was bloodied and upside down–the universal sign of the devil. While Rollo’s cloth was clean (for the most part) and seen as a means of devoted worship, Wolfwood’s came in the form of a blood-red card. These drastic differences are striking when you consider that Wolfwood’s weapon of choice is in the form of a cross itself.
These are just a few pieces of symbolism and visual storytelling out of a handful more that were extremely apparent and further prove this episode was more complex than what it is at face value. But notice how we’ve been introduced to a number of the Gung-ho Guns members and yet the only two who are the most “human” are the only ones we’ve seen being tortured.
Trigun Stampede Could Become Something Special
Trigun Stampede has proven at this point that it’s taking a drastically darker turn than the original and it’s doing a damn good job of making sure we get that message too. But it’s the uniqueness of events triggering flashbacks that intrigues me the most. We don’t get flashbacks of a character in the series until a certain event happens. It’s not like everyone is drinking and having heart-to-heart talks or just randomly throwing flashbacks in the script to fill a void due to a lack of creativity. Trigun Stampede is actually using our main characters’ PTSD in order to trigger those flashback moments for us to get a better understanding of who they are and why they stumble in these moments.
The internal conflicts in this series for characters who still have good in their hearts are so perfectly written that I will argue until the end of the earth that no other series from this Winter 2023 season is even attempting to do what Trigun Stampede is consistently accomplishing. You have villains not just beating down heroes, they’re trapping them in a corner and completely breaking them down on both a physical and mental level, making them second-guess their own ideals and who they truly are. And that new corner Wolfwood is facing right now is surrounded by making the choice on whether or not to kill Liveo, Legato steering the ship toward the orphanage, The Bad Lads Gang (raiders), the soldiers on the ship, and the mission to still assassinate Vash.
Episode 6 Wrap-Up
I thought episode 3 of Trigun Stampede set a bar that couldn’t be reached, but I was completely wrong. On all levels, Trigun Stampede just delivered the best episode of the Winter 2023 season (so far) this past Saturday and knowing that many people haven’t even begun to watch the series in the first place is a travesty. It may not make the top 10 polls, but perhaps this week’s episode that’ll be packed to the brim with action might just be enough. In this episode, we were finally introduced to Legato Bluesummers, the hair-obsessed sadist who has presented himself as the most powerful of the Gung-ho Guns we’ve seen so far. And now with more of the Gung-ho Guns closing in on Vash, Trigun Stampede doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon.
Despite Crunchyroll’s persistence in translating the city of July as “JuLai” during dialogue for some reason, everything in this episode was perfect down to the last detail. The symbolism is something I haven’t got a taste for since 86 Eighty-Six was airing and my god it feels good to finally talk about it in detail again, especially since it is based on one of my all-time favorite series. I could’ve talked about how Livio always wore white and clung to Wolfwood as a kid and how Wolfwood always keeps his cross, wrapped in white bands, close to him at all cost. But we’d be here for a lot longer so that’s a discussion for another day.
Episode 6 rating: 10/10
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Images via Crunchyroll
©2023 Yasuhiro Nightow, SHONEN GAHOSHA / TRIGUN STAMPEDE Project