Movie: Shows about an uncertain Future are plentiful to find these days. Maybe part of that has to do with our own economic troubles or perhaps just as an extension of the way things are going but entertainment where the world has gone downhill are actually one of the most popular scenarios from what I've seen over the years. Such a setting allows the viewer to identify with the hero of the show, or anti-hero if circumstances warrant one, and such would be the case with the show I'm reviewing today, Desert Punk 1: Enter The Desert. While no exact date is given for the series, from the looks of it, a nuclear war has taken place and the majority of show takes place in a vast wasteland that was once a large, metropolitan city reduced to a burnt out husk of what it once was.
The protagonist for the show is a young guy named Kanta Mizuno. He wears protective gear that allows him to survive, even flourish, in the future desert. His handle to most people is Desert Punk, the most notorious mercenary of the times who takes on whatever jobs he can to scratch out a living, belying the fact that he is about half the size of most people of the time. Here's what Funimation has to say about the show:
"The Great Kanto Desert is a place of extremes, where remnants of an ancient civilization destroyed by their own evil deeds, still lie intact. Kanta Mizuno is not your typical hero. His methods are not always honorable, but he's the closest thing to a good guy this desert's got. Self proclaimed as Desert Punk, he's out to make a name for himself as the best handyman for hire. No job is too tough, no opponent too nefarious - Once Desert Punk's on the job, it's as good as done! That is, until he runs into Junko. Ever since he set eyes on this chic he can't seem to get anything right, his lust getting the better of him every time. This beautiful, devious, full-chested, whole-lotta woman is not afraid to let others do her dirty work. Desert Punk not only finds himself with a job he couldn't complete, but debt he can't find his way out of."
The first volume of the series had four episodes; 1) The Demon and the Double D's, 2) Rock, Paper, Scissors, 3) Fire Dragon Kong, 4) An Ace in the Sand. The opener explained the premise of the times and the character though it did so with a bit of an edge. Punk handles the Kawazu Gang but soon finds himself punked out and penniless thanks in large part to a gal named Junko Asagiri (the incredibly gifted gal of his dreams). In the second episode, Punk meets another near legendary mercenary, Rain Spider, and the two are set upon one another until they learn to cooperate when a common enemy threatens them. The third episode finds Punk in serious debt since supplies to run his operation cost serious cash and thanks to his losses caused by his dream girl Junko, he is forced to take her up on a dangerous scheme that pit him and a few others against a technological nightmare machine with little ordnance capable of handling the job. The fourth episode pits Punk against a sniper wanting to make a name for himself at Punk's expense. Catching Punk by surprise is almost impossible but the enemy has a secret weapon and even a newly resupplied Punk finds himself in trouble this time.
The most common dynamic of the show is that of the otherwise superior Kanta getting "punked" by Junko in one form or fashion. This is much like the Lupin the 3rd series where Lupin and Fujiko share a similar pattern. Otherwise, what first seemed marketed as a serious show proved to be mostly a comedic look at the nasty future world the characters inhabit. While I might have enjoyed the desolate wastelands better as a drama, seeing Kanta follow his little head off a cliff repeatedly does have a certain charm and the situations where he shows his skill did entertain me. The fact that the series evolved to allow him to take on an apprentice (in the form of young Kosuna) was kind of interesting too since just having the two leads go through variations of the same theme strikes me as limiting to a show with this much potential. I'm going to rate it as Recommended though I could see this one getting even better (or worse) depending on where future episodes take the characters.
Picture: Desert Punk 1: Enter The Desert was presented in the same 1.33:1 full frame ratio color format that it was shot in by Gonzo for airing on Japanese television. The colors were a bit muted but that should be expected given the kind of wasteland that the series takes place in. Far too often, an anime series will come across as cheerful, bright and otherwise inappropriate looking so that helped lend an air of authenticity to the show. That said, there were a few moments of shimmer but this time it made sense since that's a standard desert effect (gottcha!) and the other visual elements were decently handled. I wish the budget had been larger for the show but in large part, it came across as it should and got points for that.
Sound: The audio offered three choices for fans to pick from; a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English language dub written by Eric Vale, the 2.0 Dolby Digital original Japanese track, or a 2.0 Dolby Digital English dub. In terms of the voice acting, I liked the dub a lot but the original was superior by a wide margin this time. Maybe it was the inflections and tones they used but the subtle differences were noticeable right off the bat here and I'm not above saying so. On the surround track, the music and special effects came across as more defined and enhanced but this is typically the case when a company punches up the audio from Japan's broadcast standard. As a side note, the score was substantially different in each of the two tracks, something I really didn't mind but the dubbed version really didn't seem as creative or interesting.
Extras: Funimation has been providing some of the most interesting and plentiful extras on anime now for some time (just witness my review of Samurai 7 #4 as an example) and this was no different. It started off with a parody cover using the mainstream hit Platoon as a guide. Then there were some original Japanese extras consisting of an 8.5 minute long feature "Making of the live action opening" and a moderately long interview with Takatori Hideaki, the singer of a few of the Japanese songs for the show. While he was kind of self serving in hawking his audio CD, it was an interesting way to start such extras (I'd figure they'd get the director, the producers, or maybe one of the lead voice actors for the first volume) but enjoyable at times. There were a couple of text character profiles; one for Desert Punk and the other for Rain Spider, after that. I really liked the next extra; an original episode as it aired on Japanese TV, which was substantially different from the version on the DVD. There was more over the top humor to it and I think some of you might prefer it over the main version on the disc. There were also some textless songs, a fine episode of Mr Junk on Stain Alley dealing with the robot-man tape player that danced until shut down, and trailers to shows like Samurai 7.
Final Thoughts: Desert Punk 1: Enter The Desert was a lot of fun to watch and had some great extras that added a substantial amount of value to the show. I thought the replay value was superior and the premise amusing enough to warrant picking up a copy with my hopes that future volumes are at least as good. Yeah, the basics here have been down many times before in anime and the limited amount of fan service and sexual innuendo probably justified the TV-MA rating nearly as much as the violence did but I didn't think it was particularly outrageous in terms of the this kind of show (I wouldn't have a problem with a younger audience watching it under adult supervision). In short, Desert Punk was anything but a punk when it came to laughs and I hope you give it a look in the future.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.