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Monday, November 24, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: Meryl Stryfe (Character Analysis)

Oh Meryl. . . people both love and hate her. I love her. Okay, maybe the very first time I saw the show, she wasn't my favorite in the first few episodes, but that's because I didn't understand her or her role. I think I do now. Out of all the Trigun characters, Meryl has the biggest contrast between what she feels and what she says, and I find that interesting. She also fulfills a pretty important role in the story.

I think the fact that Meryl was assigned to hunt down the most dangerous man on the planet says a lot about her capabilities and work ethic. Her tightly wound personality provides more opportunities for Vash to be humorous. She provides a nice foil for him. And one of the most important aspects of her as a character is that she embodies (almost) everyone's experience with Vash the Stampede. So many minor characters go through theses same stages.

For Writers: You might want to consider creating a character that embodies the average guy or girl (generally speaking). Sherlock had John Watson. John Watson embodies the average guy and as such, he helps us as an audience keep up and connect with the psychopath genius. Not every story needs an "every man" character, but if you're audience isn't connecting with your story or characters, consider creating one.


Meryl's growth looks like this:
Seeing Vash as a horrible outlaw --> Seeing him as a complete idiot and goof-off --> Seeing him as he is --> Understanding him at the deepest level
She's the only character we spend the entire series with who goes through each of these stages. She's kind of a stand-in for the average guy (or girl) that way. Her changing views of Vash echo everyone else's. Also, out of all the main characters, Meryl is the most "normal." Her normalcy helps contrast with the other characters to bring into focus how not normal they are.

So Meryl's character growth really revolves around Vash. She hears of his reputation and judges him to be a very dangerous and evil man, but when she runs into him, and he's the complete opposite of his reputation, she dismisses him as being the legendary outlaw. His reputation is so evil that she can't even see Vash when he's right in front of her eyes. She loathes him at first; he seems like a total idiot and a nuisance to her job. Does the audience not feel the same way in cases? Thinking that Vash is an idiot and wondering how he got such an awful reputation?


As Meryl continues to seek out "Vash the Stampede" she keeps running into the real Vash. She's looking for a "gunman who is so good, he's got a $$60 billion bounty on his head." As she watches Vash and witnesses his incredible skill, she finally comes to realize--he is the Vash the Stampede. And, he's not a bad person at all, he's a hero. There is this complete contradiction of what she expected Vash to be and how he behaves. (I love that. I love how the writer, Nightow, plays with reputation in this series.)
Opposition for Humor


At this point Vash and Meryl's relationship provides us with plenty of laughs because they are complete opposites of one another. What Meryl lacks, Vash has. What Vash lacks, Meryl has. One of Vash's weaknesses is that he's not very proactive, but Meryl is extremely proactive--probably the most proactive character in the series. So of course it's humorous to pair that with a very unproactive job: Vash. Also, Meryl's also wound tight, while Vash is more relaxed. Meryl can't express her feelings, but for the most part, Vash doesn't have a problem displaying his own. It's all this opposition that makes their interactions so humorous.

For Writers: One way to create a humorous relationship is to make the characters opposites of one another. But in order to pull it off, you've got to find something that forces the characters together. If Vash and Meryl had it their way at the beginning of the series, they would stay far away from each other, but Meryl's job forces them together. So something needs to force your characters together. It can be a common goal, familial relations, or they could be trapped together somewhere like an elevator.
Despite their differences, the more Meryl tails Vash, the more she realizes what kind of person he really is. Vash has a better heart than most people, he's kinder than most people, and more loyal to his beliefs than most people. She starts to even kind of like Vash.

But, she won't admit it. Milly, who ironically catches on to everything, notices, but Meryl denies it. I think Meryl not only denies it to others, but she denies it to herself. In a way, I think she's too tough and too job-focused to fall in love, especially with someone she hated only months ago. She uses her job to cover up her feelings for him.

What's cool is that prior to that, Meryl's job was pretty much the most important thing to her; it's even implied that it's more important than her family, but it shifts so that she cares about Vash even more than her job.

So she falls for Vash more and more, and there's this nice contrast because she can't verbalize or accept that.


It's precisely because Meryl hated Vash so much to begin with that her transition to caring about him is so powerful. She's not romantic toward him by any means, but rather than falling for him out of attraction, she falls for his good qualities and she falls for him as she comes to understand him on a deeper level.

I love the part after Vash blasts a hole in the fifth moon and people are cursing him and wishing he were dead, and Meryl hears it. It hurts her to hear it because she's come to realize he doesn't deserve any of the harassment people give him--that they don't even know Vash the Stampede, not really. They don't know him like she knows him.

Honestly, it's because of Meryl--her character role--that we get a better perspective on things regarding Vash, like this example. Her character "stands-in" places that allows us to feel more emotions.

Toward the end of the series, Meryl comes to terms with her feelings for Vash. Milly helps Meryl accept those feelings and accept that acting on them, is perfectly fine. I don't think Meryl fully believed that before. She was too tough.

So Meryl moves like this:
Hating Vash --> Loving and understanding Vash
Resisting and thwarting her softer feelings --> Accepting and acting on them
In the last episode, Meryl finally comes to terms with verbally expressing her feelings to Vash. That's a big change for her character.

Like Wolfwood, Meryl eventually takes on Vash's beliefs and ideals as her own. At the starting of the series, she's not only tough emotionally, but her ideas are a little tough. She kind of has "Gunsmoke" morals--morals bred into those who have lived through the hardships of that desert planet. She expects Vash to shoot and kill people, but by the end of the series, she's preaching Rem's words, that no one has the right to kill anyone. Like so many others, Vash has helped her become a better person.


How Meryl Cares

Because Meryl has this big contrast between what she says and what she feels, she doesn't always come across as the most caring person, but she is. She's just indirect about it. If you watch the episode "Alternative," you'll see that Meryl can tell that Vash is sad and upset about something. She tries to ask him about it, but like usual, her words fall short and fail her. But when a child steals food from Vash, Meryl immediately seizes the moment as a means to distract Vash from his pain. She and Wolfwood push him into a little side trip as an attempt to cheer Vash up.

After Milly loses Wolfwood, Meryl tells her partner that she doesn't really want to follow Vash. She tries to act like she's glad he's gone, and she does it for the sake of Milly. Meryl doesn't want to add to her burdens. So she is caring, she's just not straight forward about it. As a writer, it might be helpful to look at how your characters show they care and how straightforward they are.

The Giveaway

Every time you like or share or reblog or retweet any of my Trigun dissection posts on my Tumblr, Facebook, or Twitter outlets, you will be entered to win a Trigun decal. You can pick out of the ones below. Obviously you can stick them on things other than iphones and mini ipads, like laptops, car windows (you can get them in white), whatever. This is an international giveaway. You must be a follower to win.

If you win and don't want the prize (you just wanted to like and share my posts), just let me know, and I'll select another winner.


  1. Thank you so much for your analysis. See right now in Brazil I am living a very strange situation. This is because we have a far-right government right now, and one of their ideologies is that owning guns and being violent is one way to promote Law and Order. When I remember t r i gun and it's ideologies, I recall Vash saying love and peace; then I realize that never once while watching tree gun I felt threatened by the guns. However when I look around me and I listen to the speeches of the politicians and the way some people are worshipping guns I tend to feel threatened. In short, Trigun has helped me become a better person.; it has helped me value how being peaceful is important to lead a calm life.

    I wish more people in Brazil thought that way. Right now, we are suffering the consequences of such violence-worshipping mentality in the way our president ignores the pandemics and seems to be content in seeing over a thousand Brazilians die every single day.

    When I watches Trigun, I never felt like guns were the solution, and Vash's character comes along the way to play with first impressions and reputations, as you mentioned yourself.

    1. Hi Emmannuel, I'm glad you enjoyed my analysis. It really is a great story. I like how Vash encouraged people to feel love and peace, despite being surrounded by violence and evil. Hope you can find peace in Brazil.

  2. Me gustó mucho tu analisis, Trigun es mi adorado anime, creo que por momentos mientras miraba la serie estaba de lado de Vash, otras veces entendia a Knives, pero realmente me di cuenta al final que incluso los malvados tambien tienen sus propios motivos y ser bueno no significa siempre salvar a todos, porque no somos dios para hacer algo asi, cuando vash mató a legato senti tristeza porque practicamente destruyó su espiritu, pero despues el comprendió que debe seguir su propio camino y eso me pareció un gram cambio positivo para él.


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