I mentioned previously that I went through a Japanophile stage when I was in college. That was triggered by my exposure to anime in high school through the late night television block on Cartoon Network known as Adult Swim. I don’t have cable anymore, so I have no idea what the state of Adult Swim is now, but when I was a devotee, it ran a range of shows from Futurama to Family Guy (which, coincidentally, were both cancelled at the time) to whatever anime could be affordably licensed.
I enjoyed it immensely.
Two shows of particularly high caliber came to my attention via Adult Swim all those years ago (I remember that my 10 year high school reunion is this month and feel weird about that): Cowboy Bebop and Trigun. Cowboy Bebop was a fantastic show about bounty hunters in space that had some of the best music you will find in any piece of entertainment hands down. I’m not kidding when I say it is, objectively, one of the best things. Maybe someday I’ll wax poetic about the transcendence of that show, but for now I’m more interested in talking about Trigun.
Trigun is my unqualified favorite anime. It’s a sci-fi wild west story about a gunslinger named Vash the Stampede who has an enormous bounty on his head because of his single-handed destruction of the city of July, an event that he can’t remember. Consequently, the planetary government has reclassified him as a walking natural disaster, because chaos follows wherever he goes (the irony is that the chaos is caused by the endless stream of bounty hunters looking to capture or kill Vash). It’s an unfortunate situation, because Vash, despite being an ace gunman, is also a total pacifist. He has never taken a life in the whole time that he’s wandered around the planet Gunsmoke. He’s kind of like Superman in that he is unrepentantly idealistic, and has a lot of Mary Sue tendencies. Despite that, I think he’s a fantastic hero, because as the series progresses we get to see Vash forced to deal with the reality of living in a violent world where he can’t protect everyone no matter how hard he tries.
Constantly trailing behind Vash are Meryl Stryfe and Millie Thompson, a pair of insurance agents who have been tasked with finding and following the Humanoid Typhoon so they can determine what insurance claims are covered by their company and which ones can be classified as Acts of God–those things that happen because of natural disasters, like Vash. Millie and Meryl are excellent characters, who are shown to be highly capable on their own, although they do occasionally end up in situations where Vash has to save them (like in the very first episode…).
Rounding out the cast of heroes is Nicholas D. Wolfwood, a traveling Christian priest who is trying to earn money to support an orphanage that he runs. He earns his money by working as a hired gun; unlike Vash he has no qualms about killing. In fact, he carries a large cross with him that functions as a portable arsenal; it has contains a rack of about a dozen semi-automatic pistols, a machine gun, and a rocket launcher. When Vash (or Millie; I’m a little fuzzy on details) picks up the cross before it’s revealed to be a weapon, he mentions that it’s pretty heavy. Wolfwood replies, “That’s because it’s so full of mercy” (read: bullets). Wolfwood is one of my favorite characters, because he struggles with his environment in a much more serious way than Vash does. While Vash has superhuman speed and skill helping him keep the body count at zero, Wolfwood doesn’t have that luxury, and he doesn’t grouse about what he has to do to survive. More typically, he complains because while he’s hanging out with Vash, he’s forced to adhere to nonlethal methods of getting out of trouble. This is some of the best conflict in the series.
I bring all of this up because I was recently reading an article at Slacktivist, a blog that I frequent, about how Rick Santorum is getting into the movie business as CEO of a faith-based film studio. There was some ridicule over this news because Santorum is a politician, and the kind of films that his studio will be producing are likely not going to have wide appeal outside of the conservative evangelical Christian subculture. Santorum said that entertainment “can be strength and light for people who want to be uplifted and reinforced in their values.” That reads to me as code for, “my company will not make anything that is intellectually or spiritually challenging, because I want to appeal to my base so they will give me money for my next campaign.”
I’m a little cynical of politics.
In the course of the discussion about the films that the studio has made and will be making in the future, there was some discussion about portrayals of Christian characters in media that do have broader appeal, and Wolfwood was brought up as an example. Anime fandom is still very much a subculture, just like conservative evangelicalism, but it appeals to a base with a much broader range of ideologies and perspectives. I loved Trigun many years before I loved Jesus, and its themes surrounding the question of what role mercy has in a harsh world resonated much more strongly than anything that I’ve seen the Christian film industry produce.
Wolfwood is the only explicitly Christian character in the series, and he is also the only hero who makes his living as a killer. When he encounters someone so Christlike (and make no mistake, Vash is every bit a type of Christ in the same way Superman is), he’s forced to reconsider how his way of life intersects with his faith. Ultimately, he chooses to love mercy (read: not bullets), but not until after some very wrenching decisions.
So, I find Wolfwood’s story arc to be incredibly moving. It’s one of the reasons Trigun is my favorite anime. There are others, but I’ll spare you the details for now.
Have you ever dipped into the world of anime? If so, what did you think?