Remember the ladies?
Recently, I began a quest to re-watch Trigun, spurred on by the impending removal of the series from Hulu, as well as a previous decision to re-watch it… at some point. It has been about eight years since I first saw the show, and it seemed that a new viewing of it was in order; after all, I’m in such a vastly different place now versus then, and I was curious to see how my own attitudes and beliefs had shifted. As a fourteen year old, Vash’s extreme pacifism had appealed to me strongly. But would his idealism now strike me still as admirable, or merely stupid? And, actually, did the show even ultimately support his stance? Enough time had passed by that I could not longer precisely remember what happened in the final episodes of the show, beyond that Vash is forced to kill Legato, that Wolfwood dies, and that Milly may or may not have slept with him. But, mostly, I was curious – did Vash’s killing of Legato constitute a repudiation of his personal code to that point or not? I would have to re-watch.
I haven’t completely finished re-watching Trigun yet. The episodes have expired on Hulu, although I can watch it on Netflix fairly easily. I managed to plow through twenty-three episodes over the course of three days, but was unable to bring myself to watch the twenty-fourth episode. I stalled. I stuttered. I did not want to see what happened next. Why? Well, very simply, I am apparently too… well, I’m not sure what term would describe it adequately. Put into more words, I did not want to see Nicolas D. Wolfwood die.
However, I’m not exactly interested in delving into that in this post. No, rather, I wish to address one of the major problems I had with the series upon re-viewing it: the women and the attitudes the series held towards women. Because, quite frankly, it ain’t all that hot.
First off, I want to say that problematic attitudes held by characters towards women are not inherently bad. For example, it would be strange if, in a show about the Shinsengumi, everyone was a raging feminist. It just wouldn’t make sense for the historical context. For another example, if a bad attitude about women is depicted as a flaw in the character possessing those beliefs, that is also fine. What I do have a problem with, however, is when these misogynistic ideas are presented as being correct. *That* is what I have a problem with.
And, oh, does Trigun love its patriarchal beliefs about women.
Vash, our hero, condescends to women many, many times throughout the show. When he is cornered by a bunch of women who are attempting to catch him, he doesn’t simply try to flee or try to outsmart them. No, he berates them for brandishing guns while wearing aprons, and admonishes them for their actions – after all, what would their children think? Later on in the show, when confronted with the sole female Gung-Ho Gun, he starts off the fight by plucking buttons off of her shirt, treatment that, mysteriously enough, none of the male Gung-Ho Guns receive. He also tells her that what she really should be doing is working hard to please her man at home, not fighting him at all.
And this, all of it, coming from our esteemed hero of the piece.
Of course, the larger problem is that the women and girls of Trigun are sketched so lightly as to barely be present at all. When they do appear, it is most often as objects to be saved or lusted after. Prostitutes are common, as are damsels-in-distress. A female engineer appeared in two early episodes, a very encouraging sign, although her dress served to highlight her hefty breasts. There was also a female government agent who was largely competent, although apparently not competent enough to not require Vash’s savior routine. But women like this are gone within five episodes, and none that come after come anywhere near them in terms of breaking with the usual tropes and stereotypes.
At this point, it is an excellent time to bring up Meryl and Milly, our insurance “girls”. Just the language used to refer to them is telling enough – they are “girls”, not women. They are continuously in over their heads, trying to use doughnuts to cajole criminals they believe to be Vash, forever playing catch up. Ultimately, they are the running gag of the show; what would really change were they removed from the narrative? Less jokes about people disbelieving Vash’s identity, less of an awareness that Vash really loves doughnuts… Not much else.
Put another way: do you notice when Meryl and Milly aren’t around? Do you care? Does anyone walk away from the show wishing we’d spent more time with their antics?
No – because the two do not matter in the grand scheme of the show. Why is there a forced romance angle from Meryl toward Vash or Milly toward Wolfwood? What on earth does this add to the show? Maybe if it were even executed at all one could make an argument for the inclusion of both. But it feels more obligatory to have any hint of romance at all rather than organic, as if someone looked at the cast and said, well, there are two guys and two women, so obviously…
I take especial issue with the entire Milly and Wolfwood thing. I quite frankly find the idea that Milly does sleep with Wolfwood gross. Milly for the entirety of the show has been played as an innocent, as an overgrown child. She loves pudding and speaks and thinks in simplistic ways. She does not know her limits on alcohol. Meryl essentially plays the role of her mother, ensuring everything from making sure she wakes up on time to that she remembers to pack everything. Milly demonstrates little to no ability in caring for her own self.
Someone who is functionally a child should not be having sex with someone. And someone who is an adult should know better than to have sex with someone who is functionally a child.
Of course, it also doesn’t help that there has been nothing to really build up to this. Why does Milly sleep with Wolfwood? Why does Wolfwood sleep with Milly? There are some one-liners from Wolfwood about Milly’s attractiveness (and by some, I mean perhaps three at most), but these are thin at best for supporting evidence of attraction between the two. The better answer for why they sleep together? Because the writers wanted some insta-drama. Better writers would’ve at least actually bothered to give some pretense for the incident, even if the base dynamic remained downright creepy. Add in the fact that Wolfwood has a lot of affection for children (which, taken alone, is wholly innocent), and it all just gets more and more distasteful.
Moving along, I wish to consider Mary, a woman who exists solely to have the violence of the men around her projected upon her. Mary is sexually harassed several times by one of her fellow co-workers on the spaceship, a man who then goes on to rape her. Another of her co-workers kills her rapist, but murders Mary when she rejects his marriage proposal. She is fully the victim of male violence. She has no other identity. The only time we spend with her at all is right before she is raped, when she is supposing that it isn’t so bad to have two guys interested in her. (Of course, it is disappointing in and of itself to see unwanted physical advances in the form of groping to be thought of as not so bad given that the man is signaling his interest in her. Curiously enough, I myself nor anyone I’ve ever met has taken unwanted physical advances as a positive sign.)
And then the madonna to Mary’s whore (after all, she did admit to enjoying the attention!), Rem. Rem is basically an ideal. She exists as the reason behind Vash’s beliefs. She spends much of her screentime tending to children (another strike against Mary, it would seem, is that she doesn’t spend any of her time taking care of Vash or Knives). Her final act is heroic, and Vash may base his life around her vision, but that doesn’t alter the fact that she is, as I said before, an ideal.
So we come back to the same problem: the women in Trigun aren’t depicted with any depth. If you take away most of them, it makes no difference to the core plot of the show (Rem is our exception in that regard). The poor quality of the female characters renders any romance within the show contrived at best, unsettling at worst. Vash is an interesting character; Wolfwood, a fascinating one. Surely they could’ve remembered the ladies?