Episode 5 opens with a boy in a restaurant loudly begging his mother for a real gun rather than the toy he is holding, when a group of armed men break in and start shooting. Vash, who is in the restaurant eating, loos up at the sound of the shots. The title card is flashed, the episode name is Hard Puncher.
Next scene, Vash is lying on the floor in a pool or red while the men laugh and the customers and employees of the restaurant look on in horror. The men are crowing about having takend down Wash the Stampede. One of them begins to prod the body with his gune to make certain that Vash is dead only to have Vash, who has blocked the gun barrel with his finger, reaveal that he’s alive, has been lying in a pool of ketchup, and would like to be reimbursed for the dry cleaning bill. One of the men puts his gun to Vash’s head as a threat, only to find that Vash has, while he was busy making his threat, already shot he and all of his companions in the face with the toy gun (which fires suction-cup darts.) The men, though they know he is Vash the Stampede, ask him who he is. Vash declares himself to be a hunter of peace and a chaser of love, reinforcing a comment made at the end of the previous episode, though in a joking manner, that he believes that the world was meant for love and peace. This angers the ringleader, who again threatens and then tries to shoot Vash, only for Vash to reveal that all but one of the men is out of bullets, and the knows this because he counted the shots. He sends the men off without their weapons or clothes. The people in the restaurant ply Vash with food, only to take (or try to take) him hostage for the bounty themselves.
Meryl & Millie, some distance away, are surveying the town through binoculars, noting that it is half buried in sand and suspecting that the towns Plant must have stopped working. Millie remarks that they should have fixed it, while Meryl suspects that the town likely doesn’t have the money needed to do so. Hearing and seeing an explosion and building collapse, the two head into the town to do risk prevention and capture Vash.
Waxh, who is running from the townspeople falls into a window (where Kuroneko-sama is napping on an elderly woman’s lap) in his attempt to escape, which leads him to the bell tower that Meryl and Millie just saw collapse. One of the townspeople fires at him with a rocket launcher, bringing the tower down. Meryl, arriving in the town tries to stop the residents in their attempt to capture Vash, as their actions are what is causing all the mayhem, casualties and damage. As the townspeople meet to discuss the situation, it’s revealed that Vash has been on the run from them for four hours and has yet to fire a single shot. Meryl angrily demands that the town’s Chairman explains his people’s actions and is told that they need the bounty money to repair the town’s plant, which is working at less than half capacity. Millie points out to him that if things keep going on in the same vein, there will be more damage than just the pre-existing damage to the plant for them to worry about. Moaning that it may already be too late, the Chairman reveals his plan of last resort, two escaped convicts known as the Nebraska Family, who he has called in to act as bounty hunters. Just then, a little girl runs up to the Chairman, announcing that Vash has been captured.
In a small bar, several of the town’s women (including some from the restaurant in the opening,) have lured Vash in and surrounded him. They tell him of the troubles of the town, how the plant broke down and all of the wealthy citizens, including all of the doctors, moved away and about how desperately they need the money that Vash’s bounty will bring in, further saying that only one person has to die to save their town.* Vash begs them not to shoot, only to be interrupted by the arrival of the Nebraska family, who blow a hole through the front wall of the bar, demolishing the building and injuring the women who have taken Vash hostage.
Meryl and Millie and the townspeople arrive to see Vash, unharmed, carefully carrying the women out of the wreckage of the building. Meryl finally comes to terms with the fact that the annoying red-coated man is in fact Vash the Stampede, shortly before the Nebraska Family attack the injured women, causing Vash to draw and fire his gun for the first time. With five well-placed shots he deflects the attack, and with the sixth he incapacitates the thug with the weapon, rendering both members of the Nebraska Family defenseless. They are turned over for their bounties instead of Vash, with Vash once again saying (to the town’s children) that he is no more amazing than they are, and that the world is made of love and peace. Meryl reluctantly files her report as Kuroneko-sama briefly wakes and then returns to napping in an alley over the repeated refrain of “Love and Peace,” this time the children are speaking along with Vash.
*This statement is directly contradictory to their and the entire town’s own actions in the matter, which have generally caused havoc and likely the injuries and deaths of many bystanders through the sheer reckless abandon with which Vash was pursued by indiscriminately firing armed residents.
Episode 6 opens with a man posting a reward notice of $$700,000.00 for the Nebraska Family. Just as he finishes exclaiming over the amount, another man tells him to take the posting down, explaining that they’d already been captured in five hours by the town or Inapril. As the poster is torn down, the scene changes to Vash, happily eating a sandwich. He turns down any share of the reward, declaring that it would only be a nuisance to him. The title card comes up, giving this episode the title of Lost July.
Meryl and Millie are escorting Vash though town, Meryl loudly trying to warn the townspeople away. They are interrupted by the arrival of a Sand Steamer train, and lose track of him in the excitement. The rest of the town has gone to see the arrival of the Plant engineers, and Meryl and Millie follow, assuming that is where Vash will be found. Of the engineers and other arrivals, one is a beautiful women and there is also a large, intimidating stranger.
Vash, who has instead gone to the Plant, shares a drink with/pours a drink on it, remarking to the Plant that he knows that it was just tired shortly before meeting the engineer Elizabeth (who he promptly proposes to,) who seems to know an awful lot about him. She explains that the Plants are a lost technology from hundreds of years ago, and that she has a job for Vash.
Meanwhile, Meryl & Millie are still looking for Vash among the townspeople, who are out in force, trying to sell any & everything to the crews of engineers and the crew of the Sand Steamer. Kuroneko-sama pops up out of a trash can that Millie is looking in**, shortly before Meryl admonishes her for looking “in there.” Vash briefly meets up with them in Elizabeth’s wake. When questioned by Meryl, Elizabeth explains that she’s asked Vash to be her bodyguard. Calling him “Spot” (at which he barks like a dog and rushes off after her,) they continue on to Elizabeth’s hotel, leaving Meryl both angry and disgusted, and Millie simply worried. When they reach the inn, Vash goes to his room, only to be almost immediately attacked by the large man. His room is blown up, only for Elizabeth, looking out the window, to tell him that she switched their room numbers in the hotel registry, implying that the assassin is really after her.
The next day, at the plant, Elizabeth explains that most people don’t like her ability to use the lost technology of the Plants, even though she doesn’t truly understand it. She implies that this ability and lack of understanding is the reason that someone is trying to kill her, and that her usual, company-provided escort was for some reason unavailable. Meryl angrily walks in, demanding an explanation for the incident at the inn and that Vash leave the Plant so that nothing similar will happen to it, only to be countermanded by Elizabeth, saying that she needs Vash to guard her, again referring to him as “Spot.” Just then, alarms go off and a malfunction in another section of the plant is announced and Elizabeth heads off to the affected area with Vash in tow.
Vash enters the room the alarm is coming from with Elizabeth, only to be confronted by the same assassin from the night before. Defeating the assassin, Vash is locked into the malfunctioning sector by Elizabeth who declares that she should have hired someone better to kill him, but that she can still take care of it herself, instead. When Vash asks her what’s going on she says simply that she wants him dead. He asks if she’s after his reward, to which Elizabeth says no, that she wants him to die because of what he had done to the city of July. She says that even though she doesn’t know what kind of weapon he used, the city was destroyed, but no one was killed. However afterward, the people of the city had turned on each other and she was leave to survive on her own.*** As the Plant begins to melt down because of the program that Elizabeth wrote, which will cause an explosion that will wipe out Inapril, Vash asks if there is anything he can do.
Elizabeth, back in the control room, begins the evacuation of the Plant, even though she knows that there’s not enough time for anyone to get to safety. Not seeing Vash with Elizabeth, Meryl heads out to look for him, neither she nor Millie believing Elizabeth when she tells them that he “decided” to stay behind. Meryl becomes even more suspicious at Elizabeth’s offhand remark that they had better leave quickly or be killed in the explosion.
In the affected section of the Plant, the assassin awakens to find Vash communing with the improperly activated Plant. Outside Millie and Meryl, among the townspeople are watching first in distress and then in amazement as the Plant backs off of its distressed state and shuts down. To the Joy of the townspeople and Mille, Vash steps out and is confronted by Elizabeth. He apologises for not dying, saying that he couldn’t’ let everyone in the city be killed. Angry and offended, Elizabeth draws a gun on Vash, but he tells her that if her meltdown had succeeded, she’d have been just the same as he is. She calls him a hypocrite, and for the first time Vash reveals that he has no memory of why he is so wanted/hated, that he remembers his early childhood, and then nothing until the aftermath of the destruction at July. Elizabeth, seeing Vash’s tears, finally recognises him as the tall man who had rescued her from the ruins of July when she was three years old and breaks down in tears of her own, forgetting all desire for revenge.
**the trash can is an obvious callback to Peace Maker, where the question of when and how to use your weapons is first brought up.
***Elizabeth’s memories, though not spoken of at this point, show her encountering a tall, pale-haired man in a long coat who shelters her from a sandstorm shortly after her parents died, presumably at the hands of other survivors of the incident at July.