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Trigun: Volume 1 | Volume 2
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Original Tumblr Post: Visiting the Dragon’s Nest District
Visiting the Dragon’s Nest District
Most cities and towns in No Man’s Land have been similar in appearance, with a ship or a portion of a ship watching over its people. However, in Ryutsu, where many things happen, the ship is not the only structure that dominates the landscape.
I wanted to do a dive into the city, what inspired it (and speculate on some of the visuals) and what we can potentially understand about No Man’s Land.
Some spoilers for Vol. 4 and 5. Also, this is long.
Even without the baos and wonton-fonts on signage, Ryutsu visually does not match with other cities in No Man’s Land. It’s not just the citadel which can be seen from afar, but it’s also the crammed housing and confusing architecture. The tone of Vol. 4 shifts and leans towards neo-noir. As this arc’s villains move into the city, Hoppered says: “This place is truly the bottom of the dark. […] We’ll walk into a place where the light does not enter.” These lines may not be literal but it certainly brings ideas of seedy places. They move through pitch black and eventually…
The big showdown happens at the city’s main feature: the Dragon’s Nest District – an area that brings up memories of the old Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong. No Man’s Land is a sparsely populated planet, yet for whatever reason, people have sardined themselves into this city and into this district.
Kowloon Walled City had been called ‘City of Darkness’ and it was possible to move through the city without ever seeing daylight. It carries a bit of romantised nostalgia because of its weird part in Hong Kong colonial history, its uncontrolled and chaotic construction, and its lawlessness (though apparently the ungoverned city was tight-knit and communal). The city became a source of inspiration for a lot of media, but not many films were shot in the city itself. Those that I had seen tended to use the city as a ’cool film location’ so apart from the examples below, there aren’t many I know to recommend (happy to take suggestions for films I may have missed).
Clip from Bloodsport (Arnold, 1988)
“No joke, man. It’s a random piece of No Man’s Land in the middle of a tourist paradise. It goes way back to the old lease agreement between Great Britain and China. Once you step out of the sunlight into the narrow corridors, it’s time to protect your nuts, guys.”
Clip from Crime Story (Wong, 1993). This is the climax of the film, which featured actual explosions from Kowloon’s demolition, according to its wiki page.
Off the top of my head, good fiction film substitutes (unrelated and unlike Trigun/Trimax) which more illustrate what life might have been like in these places, may be films like Wong Kar Wai’s Fallen Angels (1995) and Chungking Express (1994) – though these films take place at the Chungking Mansions, Kowloon Walled City’s more modern cousin. I thought of Wong’s films because he treated the mansions as a character more than as a location. His films showed examples of immense density, globalisation, and a bit of that noir crime stuff within small and unusually intimate spaces. They also reflected Hong Kong’s complicated anxiety as the city was approaching its handover from British to Chinese rule.
Panel from Vol. 4 Ch. 7; Screencap from Chungking Express (Wong, 1994).
To talk more about Hong Kong cinema itself would be much longer than a tumblr post but if Nightow is connected with Rodriguez’s films via Desperado (1995), Rodriguez and his collaborative friend Tarantino are connected with Hong Kong films from those like John Woo and Ringo Lam. One example: Mexican standoffs are tropes used in various films, but we see them frequently enough in Tarantino’s films and in Hong Kong action cinema that it becomes noteworthy.
Panel from Vol. 5 Ch. 3
Panel from Vol. 5 Ch. 5
Kowloon Walled City which was demolished in 1993, was visually ‘resurrected’ as Ryutsu’s Dragon’s Nest. Kowloon Walled City was not a city that just looked interesting. It was an agreement between China and Great Britain that was then kind of weirdly botched, thus leaving it pretty much ungoverned. Trimax Vol. 4 was released in 2000, three years after Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China. We don’t get Ryutsu’s history and with the multiple panels of silhouetted buildings against the night sky and hanging laundry in balconies, Ryutsu’s citadel falls into the ’cool manga location’ category. Also, I should be clear: these chapters in Trimax are not an analysis or an allegory of Hong Kong’s colonial history.
Panel from Vol. 4 Ch. 4; Photo of Kowloon Walled City’s alleyway from wiki article.
At the same time, many eyes, including those outside of Great Britain and China, were on the news when the handover occurred. The point is not if Nightow was considering that historic moment or if he happened to be watching Hong Kong films when he was working on these chapters. Instead, I wonder if readers, when they picked up these volumes from the bookshelves, had thought about Hong Kong, Hong Kong’s movies, and Hong Kong’s past and uncertain future, as they were skimming through the pages. But you know… this is 2023 me thinking about 23 years ago. All of this is daydreaming.
I bring up Hong Kong’s history and cinema because I wanted to see what I can envision and interpret about Ryutsu and thus about No Man’s Land. If Hong Kong via cinema brings imaginations of transnationalism then Ryutsu via Vol. 4 and 5 could do the same for No Man’s Land.
There is no literal ocean to divide cities and there are no named countries. There is a broad ‘Federal Government’, so I assume that means the government concerns itself with all settlements in the entire planet. If Ryutsu itself is No Man’s Land’s ‘Hong Kong’ (which opens another discussion of the use and/or misuse of Hong Kong in media – some other time), then despite No Man’s Land being an incredible dystopia, the elimination of borders is, very plainly, very interesting. I am leaning to this being a good thing, considering that one major problem in No Man’s Land tends to be ‘Humans vs. X’ (plants, worms, the planet’s environment etc.). Also, No Man’s Land is already very sparse. No spoilers for later volumes but I am curious about the planet’s future if the population demographic changes.
Panel from Vol. 4 Ch. 4. Western and Eastern hats in the same panel.
There are also thoughts about its class struggles. Vash says in Vol. 4 Ch. 4: “There are too many people here. I don’t like it. The lower and upper class all cramped together.” … which really made me think about the conditions the upper class were living in. Kowloon Walled City was known to be unhygienic, dark and cramped and the wealthy did not live there, so how rough was it to live in Ryutsu when a rich person might still need to live in the citadel? I didn’t interpret Vash’s statement to mean ‘citadel plus those outside of it’ when the high stakes in these volumes were because of the high density and maze-like streets.
Panels from Vol. 4 Ch. 6; Ch. 7; Ch. 7.
The above panels remind me of establishing shots in gritty crime thrillers than the sci-fi western I had been reading up to this point.
Featured is the Juukei Building – a building that looks pulled from the 20th century. It is tall, drawn sometimes in narrow panels to emphasize its height and to show how small the characters are in the claustrophobic space as they navigate towards it. As characters move through the structure once inside, it becomes more difficult to tell where in the building they are or if they are somewhere adjacent. Combining historical and futuristic designs in Trigun/Trimax isn’t new, but it’s not often you see 20th century structures. Maybe wealthier residents lived in buildings like this, though the interiors of Juukei look like abandoned offices.
Panel from Vol. 5 Ch. 3.
Or maybe this was meant to be a mixed-use building? But it seems the entire building is abandoned anyway…. So I’m not sure where the upper class is supposed to live or how I should imagine the upper class to be.
Panel from Vol 5. Ch 6.
… After the end of the battle, once morning comes, we no longer see the citadel. The landscapes return to those reminiscent of American Southwestern deserts. Like we dipped into darkness then we returned to the light.
Anyone who knows about Kowloon Walled City would instantly recognise it in Trimax. The imitative Ryutsu Citadel could be read as a cool manga location where a massive shootout plus some serious revelations occur, but I personally am always interested in what else a location can do. It matters if you set a film in New York City versus a nameless location and how you visually convey that city because it can tell us about its people and helps us understand its characters. So to me, I thought it would be fun to look at certain locations in Trimax (with all of Nightow’s free-form inconsistencies and confusions) and imagine or interpret what they can tell us about No Man’s Land and by extension, the people in No Man’s Land.