Vash the Stampede, the quick-witted gunslinger and hero of the classic anime and manga Trigun, is a man of many outfits. Although he has maintained his core look over the years — a red coat, blond hair, hoop earring, prosthetic arm, and mole under his eye — the hero has undergone several transformations. Tokuma Shoten first published the manga in 1995, and the series has since gone on to receive anime adaptations in 1998 and 2010. Now, he’s back and cuter than ever in studio Orange’s reinvention of the classic sci-fi Western, Trigun Stampede. The new Vash brings fresh life to a decades-old character, as he returns to us vivacious as ever and ready to capture our hearts as one of 2023’s most memorable anime cuties.
Although he has historically been depicted with sort of a grittier look, Vash possesses a disarming personality. Trigun creator Yasuhiro Nightow wanted to portray a different kind of Western cowboy, one with a resolved pacifist ideology. In the series, that pacifism causes him trouble, since he seems to deal with an endless stream of killers who want to capture him for the reward on his head. From the get-go, this lends Trigun — both the old and new series — a slapstick quality as Vash constantly evades attacks and tends to resolve fights with the butts of guns rather than bullets.
The Vash of the franchise’s early days was conspicuously punk. In the first Trigun manga, he wears a double-breasted red coat that runs to his ankles. His shoes are adorned with dozens of straps and buckles, and his spiky hair stands up like it’s charged with electricity. A later continuation of the manga, Trigun Maximum, would iterate on his design and add more machine elements to him, like pipes running up and down his legs and a mechanical corset.
Some core features, like his red cloak, glasses, and prosthetic arm, have stuck with him throughout the years. They show what matters the most to him and inform the core of his character. His red cloak, for example, isn’t just about style; it references the centrality of his connection to his late caretaker Rem, whose favorite flower was a red geranium. His arm remains more or less unchanged and serves as a reminder of the ways he’s different to those around him and somewhat alien in his world. All of these features stand out in the new version of Vash, but this latest iteration of the character is the black sheep of his designs so far. The Vash of Trigun Stampede is conspicuously younger and softer, and seems to turn the volume down on the edginess of the original designs.
In Stampede, he feels more in line with the e-boys of TikTok. He has jostled hair and an undercut rather than a slicked-up look. He has rather prominent dark eyebrows and wears his hoop earring. His combat boots and overcoat look more like something out of a modern streetwear catalog, rather than something out of a desert dystopia. If you look at his face, you can see the distinct look of red blush — another example of a trendy look popularized on the internet.
This Vash appears to vie for a younger and new generation of fans. Some moments, like the way he arches his eyebrow with an anxious smile, seem ripe for TikTok fan edits. He looks adorable, like a lost puppy dog! And while his sparkling aquamarine eyes might not sway his enemies, they’ll sure look great slowed down, edited, and paired to music for a fan-made music video. Given its history of work, it doesn’t seem so surprising that Orange can deliver our next star anime cutie. This is an animation studio that somehow managed to turn the humanoid animals from Beastars into emotionally compelling and, to some fans, hot characters.
Regardless, I think it would be fair to say that the new Vash looks more generic. He’s wearing black turtleneck — pretty much a staple in anime and anime-adjacent franchises with characters like Kakashi Hatake and Cloud Strife. Fans have lamented the change in his overall build and size, saying that his silhouette no longer stands out; we lost his long, lanky build and the spiky hair. He seems more like a member of a boy band and less like a character out of a Todd McFarlane comic, who Nightow has openly been a fan of and whose work has appeared to influence Vash’s design in the past.
Whether you like the design or not, this incarnation of Vash is an absolute charmer. The local bar welcomes him as a hero. He takes pains to care for his captors and make sure they’re treated well. He even cares about environmental issues — the town he’s in no longer has clean water, and he appears to be invested in addressing the problem. When faced with conflict, he diffuses tension with a chuckle. He is both an outlaw and a dreamboat.
Studio Orange has given life to Vash in a way never shown before. The 3D CG animation allows for him to express himself and move in a way unseen in previous iterations of the series. We see his body lurch and limbs flail as he desperately tries to chase after a single bullet. His facial expressions — like the intense arch of his eyebrows or desperate tears in his eyes — give us some of the best characterization yet, and Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, who has had experience voicing maniacal villains like Majima from Lycoris Recoil, plays an absolutely desperate and frantic Vash. No place does his character shine more than in a scene where Vash gets volunteered for a duel with a soldier.
During the duel, Vash turns a near-disaster around by saving the entire town from a bomb with a single bullet. In a matter of moments, he goes from stomping and crying for a bullet to dodging shots from his enemy easily at point-blank range. Moments like these show how goofy yet talented Vash is. Anime is filled with so many self-serious protagonists who singularly focus on their goal. Vash, on the other hand, comes across as a guy who you would bump into at a random bar, and he just so happens to have a talent. In the end, it leads him to be a lot more approachable, and also crushable beyond his cute looks.
It’s true that the more casual and modern look for Vash might not fit into the desolate world of his story. He looks more like a pop star, rather than an infamous gunman on the run. But even in the world of the story, he isn’t from that world either. He literally is a boy who fell to an alien planet from a spaceship. This Vash is a fallen star, and in the first episode, he sparkles just like one.