Studio Orange Reflects on the First Season of ‘Trigun Stampede’

At SakuraCon 2023, Trigun Stampede director Kenji Muto and producer Kiyotaka Waki, as well as Studio Orange producer Yoshihiro Watanabe spoke in detail on their involvement on the hit anime and how it came to be. Although Muto was unable to make it to the Studio Orange panel at Anime Expo 2022, Watanabe shared a video of him on the animation studio’s rooftop solemnly drinking beer, as Stampede was still in production at that time. Meanwhile, the attending staff from Studio Orange enjoyed Los Angeles with Trigun’s author, Yasuhiro Nightow. Now, Muto was joyfully alongside his coworkers enjoying Seattle and the fans who attended their panel at SakuraCon. APA spoke with the guests from Studio Orange to dive into Trigun Stampede, discussing character design and performance and visual storytelling.

Clarifying their roles, Watanabe shared that he’s responsible for distribution and strategy for Trigun Stampede, and that Muto is a freelancer but works with Studio Orange on a project basis. Starting from the beginning, Waki explained the two reasons for why the studio decided to work on a new Trigun anime. It turns out, TOHO producer Katsuhiro Takei—who is a longtime fan of the series— approached the animation studio first. After that, the studio approached Muto, whose previous animation direction and storyboard work on Land of the Lustrous impressed the staff with his ability to convey scenic emotion to the audience.

Nightow was also involved in the production process, and after discussing his thought process when he originally created Trigun, the team behind Stampede began fleshing out the concept art. Watanabe previously shared development details on his Twitter account. Takehiko Oxi wrote the story concept based on what he gathered on the original manga and anime, and Koji Tajima later developed the concept design for the setting. During every step of development, the staff would check in with Nightow. Following his involvement in the early production stages, he voiced his confidence in the project and gave his approval for the scripts and character designs that would later go into pre-production.

To create Trigun Stampede, Waki mentioned the studio spent five and a half years working stealthily on the projectConsidering the initial rollout of key information on Stampede in 2022 and Watanabe’s active presence on Twitter, the studio took various considerations into account when sharing information to the public. “We can’t control everything because we’re just a production studio. When it comes to distribution, there’s different partners, and it doesn’t mean we can talk to everyone at the same time.” Studio Orange took great care to make sure to use specific language. “For example, how July/JuLai (ジュライ) was revealed in Japanese was that it was always phonetically described in katakana. We never revealed the kanji until later, but we knew that subtitles do not work like that.” For any written material, even the written letters shown in the series, they designed it so people will interpret July/JuLai/ジュライat first. But, eagle eye fans may have picked up the hint early on.

Studio Orange also leans heavily into engaging with an international audience, particularly participating in interviews and panels at trade shows such as Anime Expo and SakuraCon. Watanabe explained he had many ideas for how audiences around the world could enjoy anime. But he couldn’t act on his inspirations at other companies. Luckily, Waki gave Watanabe the approval to go forth with the proposals for Studio Orange, and the rest is history.

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Diving into specific characters, Director Muto shared how he guided Junya Ikeda (Japanese voice actor for Millions Knives) during the emotional rejection by Vash. In the beginning, since Ikeda lacked the full picture of Knives, he couldn’t fully grasp the character. “There [were] times that he acted as a villain.” At those times, that wasn’t the direction Muto wanted for Knives. “Knives is not a villain, but one of the main characters.” They began working together starting from episode three and continued to communicate closely to achieve their vision of Knives in episode nine.

Unlike Knives’ depiction in the original anime, his Stampede design is closer to the literal description in his name. When Knives makes his introduction in the series, the sight of him surrounded by millions of knives highlights his overwhelming power. “Inside of his head, he’s only thinking about Vash and about the Plants,” said Muto. “He’s not thinking about humans at all. Or if he is, they’re on the same skill as bugs to him. If they’re in his way, he’s just going to exterminate them.”

The circular repetition of these knives is striking and can induce a sense of grotesqueness and nausea. On the patterned look of the knives, Muto explained, “It was out of necessity to create that contrast [between Vash and Knives] that Knives came out like that. “In this case, [I think about] the contrast between Vash and Knives,” continued Muto. “It was out of necessity to create that contrast that Knives came out like that. Also, with the name ‘Millions Knives,’ the millions of knives is the reason that Knives named himself that in the comic. I was thinking about how to visualize that, and that’s the answer we have.” In addition, there is a scene with Tesla in episode 10 where she’s an eyeball, which formed a strong impression on Knives. “If you look at his knife at the time, there’s an eyeball on his knife as well. So that image is very strong within him.” The inspiration behind the way the knives are aligned are not that of a typhoon motif, but “more of an eye-shape,” and “a subconscious image from within.”

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Muto explained there was an intentional design contrast between Vash and Knives. “I didn’t want Knives to wear anything made by humans, as much as possible. His robe is made out of knives, and his inner body suit is from the space era.” This is contrary to Vash, where “everything he wears was made by humans.” Even the technology vastly differs in that world, where there’s both lost technology and scrap parts. He continued to say that things made from either has different tone and color, to highlight that contrast. “Vash’s fashion is based on one concept: his relations with humans. His relationship with humans is very strong, with the people who originated from Seeds and people like Rem.”

On his approach to visual storytelling, particularly the lighting and color contrast between Plants and Humans, Muto takes initial ideas and colors from the original manga as the foundation and attaches the identities with the associated colors. “Vash has red and green, which are very vibrant colors, and those colors are tied very tightly with his identity. In the case of Knives, he’s a blue-ish color, which is associated with the Plants.” Humans, on the other hand, resemble the West. Specifically, “space frontiers,” and as such, they’re migrants. In JuLai, there are more “Asian themes,” and that’s how the base color themes were set from the start. For Nicholas D. Wolfwood, Muto explained his identity is “shifting throughout the series” in Stampede. “He’s fluctuating between Nicholas the Punisher and Nicholas D. Wolfwood, and that’s described within the color of his shirt.” As opposed to the manga, where he’s already Nicholas D. Wolfwood, he’s still searching for his own identity in the anime.

From developing Land of the Lustrous and Beastars to Trigun, the studio noted many lessons learned. “As a studio, we want to continually challenge ourselves to achieve better results in areas that are difficult for CG.”

Kalai Chik

Pop culture writer focusing on animation, music, and games. Los Angeles native, USC alumni, and contributor for Asia Pacific Arts since 2015. Follow me on Twitter, @kalai_chik.

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