This post is part of a series I'm doing where, as a writer, I'm dissecting Trigun. We're getting deep into this story. If you're a writer, maybe you'll learn some new skills along the way.
What I love about Trigun is that it's one of those stories that changes every time I watch it. The best stories do that, because they're layered. You know, the kind where you catch onto something new the second time, the third time, the tenth time you watch it. Or the meaning of the story changes because you've changed.
(And I'm not talking about noticing Abraham Lincoln.)
This time when I watched Trigun, I finally really caught on to and appreciated what the heck Vash planned to do with Knives at the end of the series. The show has a pretty open ending. I've always wished there was just one more episode, or even 15 more minutes. What do you do with someone as sadistic as Knives when your morals prevent you from killing him? When no jail is capable of holding him?
If you watch the series closely, you'll see Vash struggles with that same problem. He claims he needs to find Knives, but he actually doesn't make much of an effort to. When Wolfwood confronts him about Knives, Vash says that Knives killed someone very important to him.
"So you want revenge?" Wolfwood asks.
"I don't know," Vash answers.
He still doesn't know what he's going to do about Knives all the way up to the second-to-last episode. He gets his answer indirectly from Meryl, and I've never picked up on quite like this. What Meryl says is an answer to Vash's own problems and Knives' problems simultaneously.
After Vash kills Legato, his very first and only kill, he's tormented by it. He considers it a sin, thinking he is no better than Knives is. Guilt-ridden and horrified, he spends most of the episode feeling as if he deserves to die himself, or at least, deserves to be abused. In the least, he's in the midst of his biggest identity crisis.
When Meryl steps in to save him from some towns folk who want to kill him, she says, "No one ever has the right to take the life of another. And everyone, everyone deserves a future. . . . It's up to us to end this cycle of hatred. If we don't work to end the sorrow this time, then the cycle of pain will just continue on. When we were all born, were any of us made to steal or cause harm?"
Vash realizes these are the same things Rem always taught, but they take on new meaning. He remembers that Rem said "If people realize their mistakes, they can make it right again. The ticket to the future is always blank." So Vash realizes and repents of his mistake in killing Legato, and he realizes he doesn't have to live a doom-and-gloom life dwelling on it, because his future is blank; it's not predetermined because he sinned. He can choose to learn from what he did and go on living however he wants. He wasn't born bad, so he's not naturally bad. He still deserves a future. He learns to forgive himself.
Simultaneously, he learns to forgive Knives. Vash has harbored so many ill-feelings toward Knives for over a hundred years, and the truth is, while Vash is capable of forgiving everyone for everything around him, he's never been capable of fully forgiving Knives (since Vash is shown to have some desire to kill him over it after the SEEDS ships crash landed).
Simultaneously, Vash realizes that Knives' ticket to the future is blank too. Just because Knives has done all of these terrible things doesn't mean he is predetermined to do them for his whole life. The ticket to the future is always blank. Everyone deserves a future. And if Vash can make Knives see his mistakes, Knives can be "made right" again too. If Vash doesn't fix the problem this time, it will just continue to be a cycle of hate and hurt, which frankly, it's been that for Vash and Knives since their birth.
So Vash gets answers for himself and answers for Knives at the same time. It's really cool.
For Writers: Look into making one event solve two problems on different levels at the same time. It's one sweet move that adds depth to your story.
Perhaps the coolest little twist about this plot tactic is that Knives wanted Vash to kill Legato because he knew it would torture and break down Vash, but because that happened, Vash was able to realize how to help Knives on a personal level. In a round about way, killing Legato actually strengthened Vash's character and brought about Knives' own defeat. I love that. Can we just take a second and marvel at that complexity?
For Writers: Look for a way to make your character's failure or setback a strength, one that ultimately lead's to the protagonist's triumph.
So, here is the question I've seen and heard so many of Trigun's audience wonder: What is Vash going to do with Knives when he gets back to town?
We don't have an exact concrete answer--like we don't know exactly how Vash is going to win Knives over. I like to think that Vash immerses Knives into the human world, and since Knives is so seriously injured, he can't take care of himself, and for once has to be taken care of by humans--he is forced to be the recipient of mercy and compassion, the very qualities he says he detests about humans, the qualities he says are weak. But he has to succumb to them in order to survive. And I like to think that starts to effect him, though it could be a long road.
But, while we don't get a concrete answer, we actually do get an answer. Vash intends to help Knives realize his wrongs so Knives can shape another future.
Next time, I'm going to start breaking down the character of Vash the Stampede. What probably blew me away the most about it was that Vash has at least four character arcs (character "growths"), all compacted into about 12 episodes.
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