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Week of Anime 2010: At the UK premiere of Trigun Badlands Rumble

Rounding out Saturday's events for the Scotland Loves Animation Glasgow festival was the UK premiere of Trigun: Badlands – the long awaited movie sequel to the TV series which, hard as it is to believe, concluded twelve years ago. With both the movie and series producer, Shigeru Kitayama, and director, Satoshi Nishimura present for the inaugural showing, it was quite the special event.

Kicking off with a short introduction from both via the accomplished translator Bethan Jones, Nishimura commented that he knew the film wouldn't win any awards and that it would be better if we (the audience) had a beer in one hand and a bucket of popcorn in the other, but he hoped we would have fun laughing our heads off and running around with outlaws in the film. Kitayama echoed his sentiments and after a nervous and slightly haphazard juggling act at the solitary microphone, the film started.

Twelve years, almost to the day, since the last episode of the TV series was aired, and almost nine since I had devoured the series at the University of Sheffield Anime Society, I had expected confusion to be rife. Vash however was still the absurd pacifist, Milly and Meryl were still bashful and at the mercy of fate, and Wolfwood was still the consummate gunslinger. What was unexpected though was the noise of the feature: scenes such as those on the sand ferry, the constant background drone accompanied by Vash's squeals, the thugs grunts and the occasional gunshot seemed to dip into white noise at points.

Contrasting this were the outstanding visuals which demonstrated that a bigger budget doesn't just give slicker action scenes but makes the world come alive. Ne'er-do-wells and brigands of all shapes, sizes and dress bustled about the screen turning the world from the lonely, frontier future I remember from the series into a glorious amalgamation of Mad Max and spaghetti westerns. The action was entirely keeping with the tone of the movie with bedlam and bonkers shoot-outs the order of the day rather than the moral dilemmas and botanical revelations that provided the spine of the series. Best of all it finished with what was, arguably, always the selling point: a duel with Vash.

Laughs aplenty and entertainment abound, the credits rolled and the director, producer, translator and, who else, Jonathan Clements took to the stage for a brief, thirty minute question and answer session. Following the well deserved and enthusiastic applause from the audience, both visitors were practically ebullient as Jonathan pitched his thoughtful questions, beginning with an overview of both gentlemen and how they were involved with Trigun the TV series all those years ago.

Nishimura began by saying that he had always wanted to be a director, and having worked in anime for twenty five years - starting out as an assistant animator - it was a great opportunity with Trigun being his first directorial role. Then came the revelation that the Badlands movie was a direct response to the fans the series had built up in the USA. Kitayama followed up with word that he had worked in anime for over fifteen years, and though he had since worked on shows such as Noir, Excel Saga and Gungrave and had been Assistant Producer for Ninja Scroll, Trigun marked his first full length TV series. His nugget of interest was that even at the time of the series there was talk of a follow up movie – it had just taken twelve years to materialise.

This lead neatly on to the next query about how the movie seemed targeted more towards existing fans than as a franchise reboot or introduction to the Trigun universe. As Bethan began her translation, Jonathan quickly asked the audience who counted themselves as an existing fan (few hands raised) versus first time fans (many hands raised). During this exchange, it transpired that certain members of the audience had brought their DVD box sets of the Trigun TV series, the sight of which seemed to fill both visitors with joy, grins adorning their faces.

Following this led to, what sounded like, a canned response from Nishimura who said that while it was definitely made for existing fans, he hoped first time fans could enjoy it (applause) and he hoped that it was something the entire family could enjoy – another, this time more tentative applause.

The next question was probably the meatiest of the afternoon, and was on what had changed in the anime industry from 1998 to 2010. Nishimura, the director, began by saying that his role – crafting and highlighting cool elements to his team – hasn't changed at all in the intervening years. Since then though computers are used a lot more, TV series used to be produced on film but now PCs are de rigeur. The switch from cels to computer has changed how they work though (a point followed up on in another question) leading to a lot more control which is perhaps the best use of the technology.

Kitayama continued this theme of technology with his perspective, saying that before, there was no internet and no e-mailing of scripts so everything had to be done using the phone or fax machine – even mobiles phones were, at the time, rare in Japan. Now though, anime can be shared all over the world on the internet – this was a point Nishimura would allude to in his answer to the next question, unfortunately the salient issue of piracy and their thoughts or its effects were never directly touched upon. Kitayama illustrated this change by saying that nowadays, the storyline of a man going on out on a date but being caught up and not being able to get in contact with his date simply can't exist any more.

Jonathan then shifted the discussion more towards production by asking Kitayama about how funding and the costs associated with production have changed. He responded by saying that in 1998, video productions were strong and most series only needed a single sponsor for funding which gave that sponsor a lot of control. Since then though the market for anime has expanded into the United States and Europe with rights sales becoming important. Similarly there are more ways of sharing anime and video productions found it hard to recoup costs which turned the single sponsor into multiple sponsors – essentially a production committee made up of different company members. As an example, the original Trigun TV series only had a single sponsor, the movie on the other hand had four.

Technical aspects of the film were brought up then, with Jonathan asking about the night sections of the film, saying that Animation 101 more or less dictated never shooting at night because the lighting is next to impossible to do well. Nishimura came back to the concept of technology, saying that before, bluetones had been used to simulate night scenes, but now PCs and technology took care of most of that. Before, there could not have been any truly dark scenes because dust and scratches would have shown up on the cels, but PCs have all but eliminated that, allowing for a far greater colour range, even bringing it down during the night time scenes.

A murmur came over the panel at the front and Nishimura seemed slightly sheepish as he claimed that what he was about to say may not go down very well with the cinema staff. It turns out that the version of Trigun Badlands that was just shown was substantially brighter than the one he had created, with many of Amelia's scenes in full view when they should have to be squinted at to see. Nishimura rounded this off by saying perhaps they need to take into account how the film is projected as well during production.

From there, the microphone was opened up to the audience as well as some gentle ribbing from Jonathan towards Andrew who had to dash about the cinema, microphone in hand. Unfortunately the quality of the questions was not up to the caliber of the guests, with one asking about Wolfwood and his unusualness in comparison to the standard western tropes visible in other characters – answered suitably bluntly by saying the audience member should perhaps ask the manga author about that. This was followed up more tacitly by mentioning that although the author had no religion, and Wolfwood was ostensibly Christian, he was likely a projection of the author's “believe anything” mentality.

The next query seemed to lack a definitive thrust to it, asking about the supposed presence of static shots at the beginning of the movie and their use within it. This was met with some incredulity from Jonathan but duly passed on, to which the answer was a highly diplomatic “different countries see different things”. When expanded upon, Nishimura said that static shots weren't necessarily bad, and although they can be used for cost cutting, they're simply one of the tools of the director and balance out the action which he hoped people enjoyed.

The third and final audience question after some cajoling from Jonathan to direct one towards the so far slightly sidelined Kitayama, regarding the differences in the TV series to the manga which had far darker overtones to it. In a wholly unexpected turn of events, Kitayama asked whether the audience member was asking about Trigun Maximum, but in very convincing English. His fuller explanation switched back to Japanese though: the differences, Kitayama explained, were mostly due to the magazine the manga was running in going bust and the future of it in jeopardy. The decision was made when the production caught up to the manga on how to proceed, and the TV series is the result.

Nishimura then interjected and asked whether there was call for a second, darker series, to which the majority of the audience erupted into applause. Shrugging, he said why not? But then promptly back-pedalled at the thought of the long hours and hair pulling, saying that as a creator, it's tough to remake what you've already done, so if he can get himself sufficiently motivated then a second, darker series may be on the cards.

With that, the allotted time was up and the pair left to further applause and no doubt to be mobbed in the foyer.

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