Story Shots: The ideal idealist with Vash the Stampede

Hi All,

I’m back with another Story Shot, this time featuring Vash the Stampede from the recent Trigun remake, Trigun Stampede. Please note that the new one is very different than the original, so be warned if you haven’t seen it yet. As always, major spoilers ahead.

What is it?

Trigun Stampede is a sci-fi western style show set in a wyrm-infested (giant sand worms and glowing bugs) desert world where humans have crashed after attempted space travel. The shows tracks the misadventures of Vash, a pacifist gunslinger with an outrageous bounty; Meryl, a fledgling reporter; Meryl’s jaded mentor Roberto; and Nicolas D. Wolfwood, an undertaker with a giant cross-shaped gun and a mysterious past. Throughout, Vash struggles with his own troubled history, his genocidal brother Nai, and the clash of his peaceful ideals and the hard, unforgiving world they inhabit.

How it works

Vash, though an incredible marksman, is a pacifist. Throughout the show, he refuses to kill anyone and gets angry with the others when they do kill, even if it’s in his own defense. As a result of this, he often gets entangled in moral conundrums pitting his own ideals against those of other characters. As an “independent plant” (a more humanoid version of creatures the humans use to manufacture various items and resources) who doesn’t appear to manufacture anything, he also straddles both the human and plant sides of the fence, both looking and seeming like a normal human while also being cast as a potentially dangerous outsider–a suspicion proved partially true by his inadvertent and early involvement in the death of thousands of humans when their ships crashed. This struggle adds to his moral quandaries by adding additional weights like species-related tensions, the worthiness of humans, cooperation, guilt, and forgiveness to his carefully balanced scales.

Why it’s effective

Trigun Stampede is a beautifully crafted show with a lot of excellent plot and narrative devices, tightly-plotted episodes, and important moral and philosophical questions. I’m sure I’ll come back to it again here for those reasons, but what I want to focus on today is Vash’s role as an idealist and what Trigun Stampede does to make him believable and compelling in that role.

First and foremost, Vash’s idealism works because it’s realistic. One of the most common mistakes I see in stories with idealistic characters is that there’s no source for their idealism. Despite having no guiding voice or experience to show them the right way to live, they seem simply to have been born good or with those ideals, even if nobody else in their entire society shares them. Likewise, when push comes to shove, their endurance seems to stem from that same innate source rather than any deeper experience or belief. Vash, by contrast, is raised with his brother by a kind and loving woman named Rem, who shows him unconditional love despite the fact he’s a supposed failure and non-human. After the crash, he’s taken in again by humans that love and care for him, even after they find out his accidental role in the crashes. These influences teach him that humans are worthy of being protected while his guilt over the crashes fuels (for better or worse) his desire to keep every one of them safe.

Second, Vash’s idealism works because it’s challenged. Throughout the show, one of the main themes is whether Vash’s pacifistic way of life is actually the correct way to live, whether that’s when his friends attack others to save his life, when his brother kills humans to stop oppression, or when others attack Vash himself to protect themselves or the ones they love. Vash’s dedication to these ideals is constantly called into question, which works both in the context of the semi-Western setting (challenging the cowboy to hold strong or cave under pressure) and for the viewer who understands that life is nuanced and ideals are hard to maintain.

Third, Vash’s idealism works because it has a cost. As a tag-on to the above, Vash’s idealism is compelling because it highlights the fact that holding to one’s ideals is difficult. Throughout the show, it causes relational difficulties, puts him or his friends in danger, and even, in the end, results in the destruction of an entire city (90% fatality rate). The show, while certainly not discouraging viewers or Vash from holding to their ideals, realistically explores the fact that holding to them has a cost. It’s a refreshing and thoughtful take wrapped up in all the usual action and humor anime brings that really had me contemplating.

Idealists are great additions to stories. When done well, their dedication to or falling away from their beliefs can serve as prime philosophical and moral fodder, and their belief sets can serve as great mirrors or contrasts to other characters, making it easy to add and explore complex themes through plot and character interactions. I think Vash is a particularly well-handled execution of this premise and encourage you to check out the show if you’d like to see a sample blueprint of how to implement this character type.

So, what do you think? Did you like Trigun Stampede? Are there other idealistic characters you enjoy? Let me know in the comments (you may need to exit mobile only mode), and if you want more micro-craft lessons sent to your inbox, make sure to sign up for my newsletter in the sidebar!

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