Trigun - 7/10
"No one bites back as hard
On their anger
None of my pain and woe
Can show through
But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be"
-Behind Blue Eyes, The Who
Trigun is a two-faced series set on a desert planet with a wild west twist. On one hand, it is an action-comedy in which the main character Vash wanders around, getting himself into trouble, fighting his way back out (usually in a humorous manner), and generally proving that a red trench coat and yellow glasses can look good on non-vampires too. But underneath this there is a surprising core of weightiness to the series. The world is a lawless and violent place and Vash is a pacifist, dedicated to avoiding conflict and never killing.
The Good: Vash and Wolfwood, the two main characters of the series. They are an odd couple, representing fundamentally different views on how life should be lived. As already mentioned, Vash abhors violence. He acts in self defense or to spare other people hurt, but never seeks to cause lasting harm to even his enemies. This being accentuated by the problem that he has caused massive devastation on accident, since he is a Plant rather than a human, capable of generating massive amounts of energy and wiping whole cities off the map.
Wolfwood on the other hand considers the only possible course of action to be to eliminate evil before it can do harm. Dressed as a preacher, the iconic cross he carries is a heavy weapons platform, housing handguns, a minigun, and a rocket launcher. As he tellingly says, it is a cross "heavy with mercy." Looking back on his life, violence has made him free in his view. Before violence he lived in fear of the man who raised him, and always at the whims of those who were more powerful. Nowadays he eliminates evil and uses the monetary proceeds to support an orphanage where children won't have to live through what he did.
The reason they must be mentioned together is that their contrast is what makes the series tick. Really, Wolfwood is a better "villain" than Knives ever is. Knives is the classic evil villain, out there plotting with his power to cause death and destruction. It's easy to disregard him. It's Wolfwood, serving and doing evil so as to accomplish good, that is Vash's true foil. Beyond this, there is also just the fun interactions the two have. They make a good duo on screen together.
It is also this dynamic that creates the two high points in the series. In Vash's case it is when he is presented with an unsolvable situation. Kill Legato or his two friends die. No subtleties. No other options. Does Vash really have the right to choose his non-violence when it isn't his life to choose? It's a brutal situation, and his final defeat in killing Legato is devastating. It's one of the few times where being the last one standing in a fight means failure.
For Wolfwood, his most incredible scene is also his death. It is easily one of the best in all of anime, being so laden with meaning. He finally came around to Vash's way of thinking, refusing to finish off his mentor, and is shot in the back for it. Sitting alone in that chapel, he looks back on his life and realizes just how much suffering he has caused. Sadly, there are no second chances and he dies wondering if he can ever be forgiven.
Link to scene in question.
The Bad: The utter inconsistency in tone is what really sinks this series. Vash is a "serious-goof" and flips between both ends of his personality in the blink of an eye. The problem is that much of the humor is shoe-horned in, being primarily slapstick or similarly childish antics. It makes it hard to take Vash as a character seriously, especially when there is so much riding on him.
This issue similarly affects the villains of the series, who are straight out of a comic book. They have their silly gimmicks and special tricks, their bad lines and maniacal laughs. They just want to destroy stuff and are utterly two-dimensional in most cases. The only one I can give much credit to is Legato; the rest of the Gung-Ho Gang is made up of outlandish and flamboyant characters who exist only to provide fight material. As I mentioned above, Wolfwood is the real "villain" in the series, being ideologically so close yet so far from Vash.
Finally, the series really peaks part way through. The scenes mentioned above for Vash and Wolfwood are really their defining moments. Actually having to face down Knives at the end is anti-climactic. I didn't even care about Knives that much. He was just the monster in the shadows, but our actual exposure to him is so limited that there isn't much to him other than being the "big bad."
So as a classic Trigun has some really good and profound themes hidden in it. Just at times these are overwhelmed by a sort of reflexive childishness on the part of the writers who can't seem to decide whether they want to write Vash as Jesus or one of the Three Stooges.
Vash Behind Blue Eyes
An oldie but a good one, and the inspiration for the quote that begins this post.