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Fan Books Get Serious: 'Trigun Ultimate Fan Guide'

Why hasn't American animation followed suit? Fred Patten reviews the new Trigun Ultimate Fan Guide and wonders why U.S. series aren't similarly documented.

The Trigun anime series ran for 26 episodes in Japan, broadcast weekly from April 2 through September 30, 1998. It was released in America to the home video market by Pioneer Entertainment on eight volumes from February 2000 through May 2001, and has been especially popular with anime fans. Now Guardians of Order, a publisher that specializes in role-playing games, has issued an "everything you wanted to know about Trigun" reference book in two volumes. Volume 1 focuses upon the first 13 episodes; volume 2 upon the last half of the series.

This review is not just about an individual book, however, but about its type. The Trigun Ultimate Fan Guide is one of the first English-language anime complete reference books modeled upon the Japanese "perfect information" albums devoted to individual TV series and theatrical features. Unlike their American fan counterparts, which tend to be puff pieces filled with vapid articles with little serious reference information (such as "interviews" with the fictional characters), the Japanese albums present actual reference information. This was one of the factors that led to the creation of the anime fan cult in the late 1970s and 1980s; the discovery by American teens of these albums and the realization that in Japan animation productions were considered worthy of serious cinematic scholarship, not merely fare for a juvenile comic book.

The Trigun Ultimate Fan Guide opens with an introductory summary of Trigun's history in Japan, from the original comic-book serial by Yasuhiro Nightow through its licensing for TV animation by Victor Company of Japan and its production by the Mad House studio. The main production credits are listed as they appear in the series' opening credits. (Complete ending credits and the translated theme song lyrics are elsewhere in the Guide.) A note explains that Trigun is one of the first examples of what seems to be developing as a new sub-genre of "space Westerns" in Japanese boys' adventure entertainment, featuring traditional samurai and ninja plots in the imagery of the American frontier West in futuristic outer space settings; other examples include Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star.

The first half of the Guide is a 50-page detailed synopsis of the first thirteen episodes. Each episode is given a three- or four-page summary, illustrated with about two dozen small but clear glossy color reproductions of key characters and scenes. Next comes a 19-page section of biographies, illustrated with many portrait cel reproductions. The main characters receive two pages each, diminishing to a quarter-page for minor characters who only appear in a single episode. All information is pertinent to the characters' personalities, motives and actions as seen in the serialized adventure, not "cute" invented data such as their favorite foods and birth signs. All art is actual production or publicity art from the original release, not new pictures drawn for this publication. There are pages that summarize the background history and technology of the desert planet upon which Trigun is set, which are only gradually revealed to the viewers throughout the series. In addition to the color portrait cel reproductions of the main characters, there are pages of line-art character poses from the animators' model sheets. Since Guardians of Order is a specialty publisher in role playing games, it has added a section of instructions on how to create a RPG based upon Trigun; this includes some additional details on minor topics such as individual towns, vehicles and weapons.

In short, the serious anime fan who wants to know everything about the production of Trigun, its cast and its individual episodes, should be able to find all the details here. Compare this with American TV animation from Jonny Quest to ">Ren and Stimpy, South Park, Disney's TaleSpin, ">Spawn, Pinky and the Brain, Samurai Jack, ReBoot or Darla. It is only recently that American TV animation has generated any publications more serious than coloring books and comic books. Batman: The Animated Series has been the subject of a very attractive and informative coffee-table art book, but not a reference guide to each episode. Trigun Ultimate Fan Guide is one of the first of what Guardians of Order hopes will become a series of guides to popular anime series. Others already available include Serial Experiments Lain and Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure (doubtlessly not coincidentally, also Pioneer Entertainment video/DVD releases in America).

Trigun Ultimate Fan Guide #1. Written by Michelle Lyons; Edited by Lucien Soulban. Guelph, Ontario: Guardians of Order, Inc., 2002. 107 pages. ISBN: 1-894525-36-1 (US$24.95)

Fred Patten has written on anime for fan and professional magazines since the late 1970s. He wrote the liner notes for Rhino Entertainment's The Best of Anime music CD (1998), and was a contributor to The World Encyclopedia of Cartoons, 2nd Edition, ed. by Maurice Horn (1999) and Animation in Asia and the Pacific, ed. by John A. Lent (2001).