Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Trigun: Badlands Rumble, the Feature Prequel

The steely Wolfwood puts Paul Bettany’s Priest to shame. This bodyguard for hire brandishes an impressive cross-shaped weapon, but still maintains his priestly scruples, at least to an extent. While not exactly his origin story, fans of Yasuhiro Naito’s manga and anime series will at least learn how he first hooked up with his future compatriots in Satoshi Nishimura’s feature prequel, Trigun: Badlands Rumble (trailer here), which has a special two-day theatrical run this Friday and Saturday in New York.

Trigun’s strange desert world (combining elements of steampunk and spaghetti westerns), is a dangerous environment, but insurance is available. Not surprisingly though, the Bernardelli insurance company is in a rather shaky financial position. As a result, adjusters Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson mostly work to find ways not to pay claims. They have come to Macca City to assess the safety of the gaudy bronze statue the mayor ensured for five billion dollars.

It is hard to imagine anyone stealing the grandly ostentatious thing, but feared outlaw Gasback has targeted it as part of his vengeance against the mayor, a double-crossing former henchman. Gasback also has the protection of his reluctant bodyguard, Wolfwood, whose services he acquired in a moment of life-and-death desperation. Gasback also seems to have the reckless outlaw Vash the Stampede looking out for him, for perversely pacifistic reasons. However, he will have to contend with the mysterious Amelia, a resourceful young woman who seems to hold a bit of a grudge against Gasback.

Considering all the heavy films landing (sometimes face-first) into art-house theaters recently, Badlands comes as a welcome palate cleanser (at least for some of us). For cinema studies types, one can certainly find a host of symbolism in Wolfwood’s axe—especially in the way he carries it. Also quite notable is the borderline socialist resource scarcity rhetoric Gasback often uses to justify his crimes—sort of like getting held up by Henry George. Of course, he is the villain. Conversely, Stryfe and Thompson would seem to be craven corporate lackeys, but they are clearly meant to be cute and funny in an anime kind of way.

More than anything though, Badlands is about shooting up the joint and blowing stuff up, all of which is badly needed during a stifling summer heat wave. By anime standards, Trigun’s characters are quite well delineated, with the superbad Wolfwood being particularly cinematic. As a prequel, Badlands is by definition only the beginning of the characters’ stories. However, anime newcomers can at least be assured of getting a complete and self-contained storyline. Heartily recommended for its energy (and the thimble of grist for those so inclined to analyze), Trigun: Badlands Rumble screens this Friday (7/29) and Saturday (7/30) at the Big Cinemas Manhattan in both dubbed and subtitled versions.