Trigun’s Vash the Stampede: The Struggles of Eternal Optimism

TRIGUN animeTrigun‘s Vash the Stampede is a text book case of “perception vs reality.” From the very beginning of Yasuhiro Nightow’s dystopian space-western, the name ‘Vash the Stampede’ inspired fear and brought about horror stories of towns reduced to vacant piles of rubble. Known as the Humanoid Typhoon, this mysterious figure is seen as enough of a threat to the government that they placed a 60 billion double dollar bounty on his head. However, when you see the man behind the name, fear is hardly the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, he’s such a goofy and non-threatening figure that Milly and Meryl, the agents of the Bernandelli Insurance Company sent to evaluate claims said to be caused by Vash, have a hard time believing he is the real deal.

The way that he is spoken of, you’d expect a menacing, hulking figure with constant steely eyes and an aura of danger without a word being spoken. The actual man who had become categorized as a localized disaster was just a lanky, trench coat wearing klutz with spiky hair. Although his appearance and demeanor come as a surprise, his reputation as a supremely skilled gunslinger is not. Most doubt of his identity is immediately wiped away when he’s in action, as he lives up to the legend, with the exception of lethal force. While the tall, goofy gunman is not the bringer of death and destruction which has become synonymous with his name, that doesn’t mean that the towns aren’t worse for wear whenever he arrives on the scene.

Vash the Stampede
Vash the Stampede

Beacon of Positivity

The Humanoid Typhoon is never one to bring the storm, but it ‘s never too far behind him no matter where he went. Whether it comes in the form of imitators attempting to cash in on the instant intimidation that Vash’s name invoked, or people seeking to inflict physical and psychological harm upon him, trouble has a way of following the man with bounty on his head. As the ladies of the insurance company were quick to find out, while Vash is much more interested in food than fighting, conflict seems to always find him. However, the continuous sense of danger hadn’t hindered his belief in a better world. Despite all the attempts from villains to hurt him and those close to him, he never falters on his positive nature.

Nicholas D. Wolfwood
Nicholas D. Wolfwood

Vash the Stampede possesses a very unorthodox view of the world, in comparison to the rest of the citizens in the lawless land that they live in. His assertion that the world is full of love and peace lies in stark contrast to the desolate state of every town he ventures to coupled with the bleak outlooks of the inhabitants. Vash self-described “hunter of peace, searching for the mayfly known as love,” has an upbeat attitude that’s as much of a weapon as his gun. Nicholas D. Wolfwood, who frequently fights alongside Vash in many of his altercations, prefers to rely on his embedded set of principles and practicality, rather than viewing everything through a lens of sunshine and rainbows. Being man of the cloth who is also a skilled gunman, Wolfwood provides a more grounded sense of justice as he states, “We’re not like God. Not only are our powers limited, but we sometimes have to play the Devil.” The relationship between the two men shows the disconnect between undying positivity and necessary reality.

Allies are off-put by the fact that he always attempted to bargain for a non-violent solution, no matter the clear intentions of the enemy. Enemies become perturbed by the fact that someone whose life in in jeopardy is able to keep such a sunny disposition, no matter how much of a detriment to his life they feel they are. It is this form of optimism that has proven itself to be a great ally to someone who lives such a perilous life that Vash does. However, it is that same optimism that proves to be as formidable of a opponent as any he had faced.

Superhero Complex

Although his name is frequently associated with negative results, Vash the Stampede is somewhat of a protector of the towns that he visits. There’s always a fair amount of damage done when he leaves, but that shouldn’t discount the damage that could have been done had he not been there. It proves to be an immense burden to put on one’s self, but he personally takes responsibility for the possibility of life and death that occurs on his watch. That goes for himself, his allies, innocent bystanders, and even his foes.

His personal accountability for the mortality of those around him is not simply a creation of his own set of morals, but also a promise to his mother figure, Rem Saverem that firmly believed that no one has the right to take the life of another. Similar to superheroes like Batman or Superman, Vash the Stampede has made a vow to himself not to kill. And not unlike those heroes, sticking to that creed has caused a great deal of additional harm to him and others that would have not suffered otherwise. In the same vein that Bruce Wayne and the people of Gotham would have been much better off had Batman just killed the Joker early on in their rivalry, Vash could have spared himself a lot of grief had he not had this attitude towards his enemies in the Gung-Ho Guns, led by Legato Bluesummers. No matter who it was, the pain of others had an adverse affect on his psyche.

Legato Bluesummers
Legato Bluesummers

This extreme sense of empathy is seen as the ace in the hole for anyone with him in his or her crosshairs. The fact that Vash the Stampede was more than willing to put himself through hell in order to keep the population level was his tragic flaw. The very flaw that was seen by Legato and the Guns, and subsequently exploited. The goal was always to leverage his life against other, and at times loved ones. It is at this time where Wolfwood’s words begin to hold weight.

Risk vs Reward

Louis Armstrong’s lyrics, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,” is very true of Vash’s life and throughout the anime and manga, it has a very evident effect on him physically and mentally. In many instances, that bright outlook is the only thing that keeps him going, since there’s been so much pain during his existence. He’s despised by many of the people he’s given his all to protect, and frequently falls into spells of depression and deep recollection of the pain he’s caused indirectly, no matter how hard he tries to help. His brother Knives Millions is the antithesis of what Vash has become, and seems to be in better shape because of it. Knives’ deep hatred for humans has helped him avoid the dangers of protecting them, something that has broken his brother down to his core. No matter how many times Knives attempts to convince Vash to forgo the danger and join him, Vash continues to reject the notion that humans are not worth saving.

That philosophy is what makes Vash the Stampede, Vash the Stampede. In general, having an optimistic view of life is a very helpful thing. Nonetheless, there are many cases where pessimism becomes either the best, or only option that leads to positive results. It is that he makes constantly makes the decision of which viewpoint to take, but in the fact that he chooses to remain optimistic despite the toll it takes on his body and mind. He’s not one to get the praise that Superman gets or have the luxury of living another life like Batman, but his heroics lie in the fact Vash gets either and remains an everlasting champion of peace and love.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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39 Comments

  1. Caam Rikuy
    0

    I just recently started watching Trigun and Vash is already one of my favorite anime characters, second only to Spike from Cowboy Bebop.

  2. Nathaniel
    0

    It always did piss me off when Vash stopped being goofy midway toward the series. Yeah I know things were starting to get more serious, but it made me miss goofy Vash more and more. 

  3. I’ve been watching this since i was 6, i know every word i love this Anime

  4. Vin Olearyh
    0

    Vash is such an idiot. I love him; he never fails to make me laugh. There aren’t many anime characters I know of like him. I just wish they expanded the series a little more. There’s a lot of great plot detail they missed from the manga. It doesn’t have to be exactly like the manga, but the manga made Knives’ motivations make more sense.

    • Dominique Kollie

      I definitely agree there. Knives didn’t become a major player until the very end of the anime and they kind of glossed over his back story. Knives in Maximum was a much more well rounded character

  5. Silvana
    0

    Vash is like some sort of combination of Alucard from Hellsing, Kenshin Himura from Rurouni Kenshin, and lastly, Caboose from Red Vs Blue

    • Dominique Kollie

      I can kind of see that! I’ve always seen the comparisons between him and Kenshin, but never really connected him to Alucard. And definitely not lastly and Caboose

  6. McCaggers

    Well put together analysis! I’m a huge fan of the show, and probably the reason I love it so much is the fact that the emotion hits you without warning because you were busy laughing a few episodes ago. Vash sure is one of kind!

  7. GetAnnie
    0

    Vash sure is one of a kind <3
    The funny thing is, Vash was the first anime role Johnny Y. Bosch did. It's interesting how different his voice is now, or at least, it's different from how he usually voices characters now days. 

  8. I’ve never seen Trigun, but….Vash seems to be tied up a lot.

    • I loved trigun for everything in it if you haven’t watched it I strongly recommend it

    • Its a show that balances complex story and humor very well. If you’ve the time try a few episodes.

  9. I love it when Vash says “Hello” its always cracks me up

  10. Loved the anime. All those scars, memories and yet he is easily one of the funniest guys in anime.

  11. I saw read the manga and saw the anime. I personally think that there’s a crucial point in the manga that should’ve been added into the anime because there’s a part where Rem teaches him about how important life is. He then goes on that by not killing anyone.

  12. Vash should have his own meme.

  13. hinton terina
    0

    I LOVE TRIGUN! you don’t see this kind of quirckyness in modern anime

  14. He’s like a anime version of Freakazoid!!

  15. diggity
    0

    if the animation wasn’t so rag tag… TRIGUN would take my top spot. unfortunately BEBOP has FLAWLESS animation on top of a crazy ass story.

    But it’s still all about TRIGUN

  16. Kristian Wilson

    Great article, but I would have loved to hear how you think we can apply Vash’s optimism in our day-to-day lives, or if we even should. Is the danger implicit in caring about others’ lives worth the spiritual benefit of doing so?

    • Dominique Kollie

      Great question. In general, I feel like if you follow his message to a tee, than today’s society would eat you alive. It’s tough to consider, but the way things are in the world, especially in the U.S., altruism has to be measured since to fortunate rarely want to help out, lest they fall down the scale a bit, and the less fortunate will take advantage of any opportunity they have to come up, even if it comes at the expense of others. It’s like the Knives would be a person in power that gains influence through every being he steps over and Vash is the caring individual who gets protects the weak but becomes damaged and weaker in the process.
      In my personal opinion, we should apply Vash’s optimism in our day-to-day lives in the sense that we should be helpful and compassionate to our fellow man, but also apply a measured sense of realism that can go a long way in the long way. In so many words, care for others, but don’t put yourself on the back-burner, like Vash did and so many people of our generation currently do.

      • Kristian Wilson

        Well put. Everyone loves a martyr, which is why I think we love any character like Vash, who tries to protect others at the expense of his own wellbeing. I think that all of us–aside from the true Randians–would like to believe ourselves capable of being altruistic if a situation called for self-sacrifice. Few of us have the strength of will to carry out such determination, however.

      • I think the really crucial thing to recognize with Vash’s optimism is that, yes, as a general principle, Wolfwood’s pragmatism will probably have better results. And, it’s not that Wolfwood’s ends-justify-the-means philosophy makes him a terrible person; he’s doing it for a decent reason, to literally “save the orphans.” However, this anime raises the question that maybe you can’t ever actually be both “helpful and compassionate…but [not] put yourself on the back burner.” If we want to avoid being Knives, we can’t, like Wolfwood, try and live in that moral gray area. If we are actually committed to being service-minded, then we have to put ourselves on the back burner and risk being burned out or even getting burned by others. Maybe, like Vash, we have to live idealistically, even if the world doesn’t conform to our ideals.

  17. I’ve only started watching recently, but yeah, call me a fan, the story rocks, the characters are cool, and, oh yeah, VASH!!!!!

  18. Trigun is one of the only animes I can think of where the English VA is better than the Japanese one. The whole cast does a really great job, especially the VA’s for Vash, Millie and Meryl.

    • I watched it in Japanese first, so I could never get around the English Vash (aka The Black Power Ranger) very well.

      I found the range of the Japanese Vash, in regards to humor to dead pan earnest stress (of conscious), amazing.

      Still great you enjoyed it 🙂

  19. I love everything about Vash but that laugh. Goodness it’s almost as bad as Nagas from Slayers.

  20. The best way to describe Vash the Stampede is imagine Jim Carrey as an anime character.

  21. Velvet Eason
    0

    I wonder if what would happen if Light tried to write Vash’s name down…..

  22. Love this character. Trigun is a masterpiece!

  23. Aaron Hatch

    I wish we could see more characters like Vash in TV and Film. A character that does not want to kill anyone, good or bad, because that would go agents everything he believes in. Plus, Vash Its just a fun character to watch.

    • Dominique Kollie

      Agreed. However, I doubt you’ll see more characters like Vash in the mainstream since the usual hero protagonist character development these days includes learning when killing is a necessity. Even in the first Nolan Batman film, Batman leaves Ra’s al Ghul to die, which kind of goes against his “no killing” thing.

  24. Great article. You really hit on what makes Vash as a character at his core. I’m only half way through the anime, but I remember there being a scene where Vash enters wearing a trash can lid as though it’s a straw hat, which, to me, symbolizes his role as a travelling monk. I think that you captured that spirit of a monk in this article well.

  25. Trigun has always been a favorite anime of mine, I own the dvd box set and the movie on blu-ray. But this analysis has made me love it all the more. Vash and Wolfwood are easily on of my favorite anime duos of all time.

  26. One thing I think that goes along with Vash’s optimism and is sometimes seen in other shows is his constant swallowing of his pride to resolve or diffuse unnecessary confrontations or conflicts. Much like how Shanks from One Piece lets himself be laughed at in a bar as long as no one gets hurt, Vash strips naked and barks like a dog to protect Lina and not cause unneccessary trouble. Both could easily take out either of the opposing parties with relative ease but that’s not the point. Despite what conventions of masculinity and manliness tell us, pride is meaningless. You don’t need pride to protect your loved ones and you don’t need pride to survive.

    This is just one of the struggles that Vash deals with in maintaining his eternal optimism, I think it is an important one to point out and definitely something I’ve taken to heart.

  27. Essentially, Wolfwood is the Jason Todd of Vash’s batman. While yes, Vash does have our societies standards of good morals, they’re truly not the best in his society. Jason Todd criticised Batman because he refused to end one life to save many, and that’s not really “saving gotham” but instead his selfish ideal is only harmful to the people of Gotham. If Bruce just killed the Joker, many Gotham lives could have been saved, and in all honesty it’s kind of the same with Vash. For me, while Wolfwood acted with “bad morals” he oftentimes did so because he understood humans and human nature much better than Vash. Overall, I’d say Wolfwood is a realist and this is a trait so rarely seen in heroes.

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