Trigun Maximum can best be described using the line of text on its contents page: “DEEP SPACE PLANET FUTURE GUN ACTION!!” The series includes lots of over-the-top, gunslingin’ action, with machines and weapons advanced far beyond what the Wild West-style setting suggests, coupled with a large helping of slapstick comedy.
Our protagonist is the infamous Vash the Stampede, a wandering gunman in a red coat who causes chaos and destruction wherever he goes—to the extent that he is designated a Natural Disaster with a 60 billion “double dollar” bounty on his head. The title may refer to Vash’s three guns, comprised of his signature handgun, concealed machine gun, and a third gun that serves as a major plot point. Traveling with him is Nicholas D. Wolfwood, a minister whose huge crucifix also functions as a machine gun and rocket launcher. Respectively, the two gunmen practice pacifism and pragmatism, and as the story takes place in a harsh world where violence is the norm, it has a strong focus on the conflict between two friends who understand—but do not endorse—one another’s moral standpoints. The purpose of their journey is to prevent someone known as Knives, strongly implied to be non-human, from killing all humans on the planet. We are also introduced to Meryl and Millie, two capable insurance ladies who seem to know Vash and will likely appear in later volumes.
Trigun Maximum is a continuation of Trigun, a series that was cut short due to the cancellation of the magazine in which it was originally published. Trigun Maximum picks up two years after the events of Trigun, which ended with Vash’s disappearance after a traumatic experience. However, readers who are unfamiliar with the first series need not worry; the new series does a good job of providing context and explanations without smothering the plot in details. The dynamic, expressive artwork is better than that of the first series, moving easily from quiet emotion to slapstick comedy to horrific gore. The plot is solid, and stays intriguing without becoming frustrating.
While fast-paced and filled with heavy action, the heart of this series is in the moral exploration of killing that is woven throughout its plot. The strength and depth of the main characters keep this from being a boring or emotionless discussion, because we can understand both Vash and Wolfwood’s positions. Spoiler alert: the arid, inhospitable planet turns out to have been the crash-landing site for a ship full of space colonists in cryogenic sleep pods, 150 years before the beginning of our story. The crash is implied to have been caused by Knives, who considers humans to be worthless and morally degenerate. Vash believes human lives to be priceless, and the two have been enemies ever since they parted ways at the crash site. This makes them each at least 165 years old. One by one, Knives sends skilled killers known as the Gung-Ho Guns to kill Vash’s friends and acquaintances with the intent to provoke Vash, to kill or break his spirit. Even in such circumstances, Vash will shoot to incapacitate, but will not kill; Wolfwood will kill if the opposition displays murderous intent and poses a sufficient threat. Wolfwood’s actions pain Vash, while Vash’s inaction infuriates Wolfwood.
The appropriate age range for Trigun Maximum is 16+ and adults would also enjoy this volume. I recommend this title for readers of shonen manga like Naruto or Bleach who want to read something a little more mature, because it contains a similar mixture of emotions, action, and comedy. Readers of comics who like science fiction and action but dislike manga that includes blatant fanservice or cutesy artistic styles might like Trigun Maximum as well, as it contains little to none of either. Readers should be warned that the series includes graphic violence: we see all kinds of death, including killing for pleasure and profit, self-defense, and attempted vengeance for brutal murder.
Dark Horse has published both Trigun and Trigun Maximum in English, Trigun in two collected volumes and Trigun Maximum in 14 collected volumes. There is also a 26-episode TV series (1998) and an animated film (2010), which are available from Funimation and other sources.