Write great protagonists!
I'll be at LDSPMA
Tips organized by topic
Read about me
Editing Services
Read Testimonials
Learn the "bones" of story

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Writer's Take on Trigun: Knives, Part 2

So last time I mentioned that the Trigun series really revolves around a war of values and ideas. Knives' logic of survival and killing for self-preservation vs. Vash's morals of saving and caring for everyone.

Get this: Everything Knives does to Vash in the series is used to not only cause Vash suffering, but ultimately for Knives to prove his point: that you can't save everyone. If he can break down Vash's values, he can beat Vash. So we see all the situations Knives forces on Vash, putting him in circumstances that hit at Vash's morals hardest. Here are some:
  • Knives creates situations where Vash must risk injury and his own life to save people, like in the third-to-last episode, "Sin," when Midvalley is attacking humans, and Vash goes out of his way to block them, receiving personal injury.
  • Knives shows that even those Vash saves end up dead. He does this by killing those Vash cares for, and by even killing the Gung-ho Guns Vash spares, like Dominique and Monev. 
  • Knives mocks Vash's inability to save people by having characters like Caine and Midvalley commit suicide right before Vash's eyes. I mean, there is literally nothing Vash could have said to stop Caine or Midvalley. And because saving others is so important to Vash, he takes the death on as if it was his fault and mistake. He feels like a failure because he couldn't save Caine. And Knives wants Vash to believe that if Vash had died, these other people wouldn't have. (You can't save everyone.)
  • Knives plans to show how even Vash's friends will kill those closest to them. He does this by assigning Wolfwood to kill Vash. I really don't think Knives expected Wolfwood to succeed in beating Vash, but it would have added to Vash's torment to have Wolfwood try.
  • And finally, the closing act is to prove to Vash that even he has to kill to save others, and Knives does this through Legato. For Knives, it was imperative that Vash shoot Legato dead himself. It wouldn't have had the same effect if Legato had made him do it. Knives scores a goal in this because Vash does shoot Legato and he does it to save Meryl and Milly, driving home that "you can't save the butterflies without killing the spider" mindset.

If you watch that episode, "Sin," through most of it, Vash is having his beliefs shredded by Midvalley and Legato, and because Vash already feels responsible for others' death, they know just how to hit him where it hurts. They tear Vash down by arguing that Vash has killed people, even though not directly, that he's his friends' and humankinds' real problem, that he is the same as Knives. "You can deny it," Midvalley says, "but you are a monster. You and [Knives] are exactly the same breed."
It's to tear Vash down and hit him hard before the ultimate act: Vash killing someone. And Legato even tempts Vash into it--and how tempting it must be.

And it's so crazy, because Knives succeeds! He made Vash kill someone, which completely uproots Vash's morals and identity. Knives beats Vash's belief system. But like I mentioned in my Vash posts, it's because of this experience that Vash learns what to do about Knives, so, very indirectly, it's because of this experience that Vash can "defeat" Knives.

"People have many different ways of thinking." It's a war of ideas.

And even before the Gung-Ho-Guns, Knives was trying to attack Vash's ideals. I mean, yeah, he killed Rem, but he then went and killed Rem's only relative. And what does he tell Vash? "Now everything that connected you and Rem together is gone." Knives thinks that by physically defeating Rem, by getting rid of everything about her, that he can win over Vash's morals! But he's wrong. It's deeper than that. In fact, he can't even win over Vash's morals after he gets Vash to kill Legato!


That's why I love this dialogue exchange in the last episode:

Referring to winning over Vash's beliefs, Knives says, "It's usless, isn't it?"

And Vash says, "I've made my decision."

Knives makes one more attempt, pulling out what Vash has been so ignorant of: "You're not a human being, you're a Plant."

"I know that."

"You're a superior being."

"I disagree."

Despite everything Knives has put Vash through, Vash still holds onto his original beliefs. So, in reality, Knives failed. He can't convince Vash. He's lost.

So cool.

Knives, Wolfwood, and Wolfwood's Cross
Side note.
In the second-to-last episode, after Meryl saves Vash from some angry townsfolk, by telling them that no one has the right to kill another person, she, Vash, and Milly are discussing it. Milly says she knows that in her heart Wolfwood would have done the same thing: tried to save everyone. Like I talked in my Wolfwood analysis, Wolfwood is a changed man.

I love when Milly gives Vash Wolfwood's cross when he leaves to confront Knives. As she does, Vash remarks, "it's heavy." Milly says, "Yeah, of course it is, that's because it's so full of mercy." If you're like me, you laughed the first time you heard that. It's great because it calls back to a past joke in the series. But have you ever stopped to think about the significance of that? That's what Vash plans to do, show Knives mercy and compassion. "It's so full of mercy." Of course the cross is going.

And ultimately, it's the cross, as a symbol of mercy, that allows Vash to defeat Knives. It's voth Vash's and Wolfwood's mercy.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, by injuring Knives so severely, Vash forces Knives to depend on others' mercy and compassion in order to survive, and likely, he'll have to depend on human mercy and compassion--the very thing he tells Chapel he despises about humans. "The only reason," Knives says, "that humans came to possess compassion was because they mistakenly believed they were a superior breed of beast." Knives fights with death and destruction. Vash fights with love. (Okay, and peace).


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. Just read through all of your Trigun posts. I really loved your character analyses. Thank you for for the insight. I particularly loved your posts on Knives, what drives his character, and his motivations for the awful things he does.

    Vash the Stampede is probably my favorite fictional character of all time (too... if you still stick by that statement). The subtly that I love in his personality came to me on my second watch-through of Trigun. I was with a friend who, after a couple of episodes asked: "so is Vash an idiot or a badass?"

    I tried not to ruin it for my buddy, but I realized I don't think he's an idiot at all. It's 100% an act, both to the people around him and for himself. Vash is a goofball because he is so filled with love and compassion, and his godlike abilities separate him so much from the general population, that the only way he could prevent himself from emotionally self destructing is to fake incompetence. His masking of his prowess not only disguises his identity, but it also:

    * Allows him to have friends and exist among people without being feared.
    * Prevents him from humiliating his foes by making his skill seem like luck.
    * Acts as a crutch for his own sadness and anger towards both himself and his brother.

    To me, he is a nearly ideal moral character. He is Superman living in a world where no one would be fooled by a pair of glasses. Instead he has to overcompensate his tremendous abilities with a farce of incompetence, just so he doesn't have to be alone. To me this is both tremendously sad, and insanely impressive.

    I don't know why I randomly thought of Trigun today, but I googled "Vash favorite character" and came to your site. I'll probably watch the series (one of my top 5 anime of all time) again soon. Thanks for the trip down memory lane :)

  2. Brad,
    Yes, he is definitely still my favorite character of all time. And LOVE your insights as well (made me just love Vash even more!).

    "Instead he has to overcompensate his tremendous abilities with a farce of incompetence, just so he doesn't have to be alone. To me this is both tremendously sad, and insanely impressive." --so well said.

    Well, whatever the reason, I'm glad you randomly thought of it, found me, and read this so you could tell me your thoughts too. I seriously love Vash so much. Trigun is definitely at the top of my list too.

    Thanks again :)

  3. Hi September, Thank you so much for the great character analysis on Knives! I watched this anime over 20 years ago so I don’t remember much - I should really watch it again. I read through the manga (skimmed through, really) recently in order to catch up with the recent Trigun Stampede reboot.

    Knives is a bit more complex in the manga and it is so interesting that in the Stampede reboot they decided to shed a more sympathetic light on Knives.

    In the manga it may not be so much about whether one should kill to survive, it is more about Vash having faith and trust in humanity while Knives has none. The manga has a rather interesting ending - while in the anime it was Vash who decided to show Knives mercy and compassion, in the manga…(wouldn’t spoil if you haven’t read it).

    In the recent Stampede reboot they have a very interesting take on Knives as well as Vash that centres upon the theme of love and penance/redemption which is apparent as well in the manga. The voice acting and facial animation have made a difference in making the characters easier to relate to.

    1. Hi Isabel, I have been *insanely* busy, and so I apologize for taking so long to respond. I haven't watched the reboot yet, but as soon as things slow down for me O_o I plan on checking it out! I hope it's good! (Or, that I like it) I'll be interested in seeing Knives for sure in it.

      I have read (and own) and like the manga too!

      Thanks for commenting.


I love comments :)