Movie: Due in large part to marketing forces, most anime is decidedly within a specific niche these days. It might be the action adventure type, the romantic comedy style, or the futuristic tale of space faring races engaged in combat but the bottom line is that little on the market truly seeks to fit the adult market without delving into the disastrously weak hentai titles that teenagers and weirdos seem to enjoy so very much. Well, in what could be viewed as a compromise between some of the more sexually oriented material and a bleak future where things just didn't turn out the way we expected them to, we have Desert Punk, a series that shows how screwed up modern society could become if allowed to continue on its present path of selfish greed and dwindling resources. The latest volume in the series came out this morning with Desert Punk V3: Vixen of the Desert for sale at the local anime store. The volume thankfully maintained the same level of quality started with Desert Punk V1 and Desert Punk V2, now picking up with Kanta trying once again to score a big payday, as well as some sack time with Junko, pretty much following the path set before us previously. 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 had 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 show established that Kanta was not exactly a heroic type of guy. In fact, he was a jerk with only two things on his mind, sex and money. He uses his survival skills to get what he wants and doesn't care about anyone else in the desolate future where the world has taken a significant turn for the worse. The world is an unforgiving place though few have raised the art of selfishness to an art form as much as Kanta has done, though he pays for it routinely as the fates conspire against him. The second volume showed he wasn't infallible in his skills, but managed to come out ahead in the end because as terrible a guy as he might be, those around him are just as bad when push comes to shove (they just hide it better than he does).
Okay, the episodes this time were 9) All That Glitters, 10) A Little Bit of Wisdom, 11) Compromising Positions, and 12) A Change of Heart. What I truly appreciated about them is how they essentially formed one long arc of a storyline with Kanta signing himself and Kosuna up for a particularly treacherous mission that involves, of course, Junko's latest scheme. The basic premise was simple; she had a rich client that had made his fortune off uncovering a relic of the past; The Game of Life (with the spinning wheel). He replicated it and it sold like crazy to the population desperate for the better times of the distant past, a past where they could actively control their future. Well, the geezer leads the quartet into a hidden city where many had gone before but no one ever came back, hoping to find a new treasure to sell. Needless to say, he forgets to mention that the city is guarded by someone, or something, that has mysterious abilities and doesn't like intruders. The end result of the plan leaves Junko at the mercy of Kanta, explored in a fashion that I doubt any other anime company would handle these days, in which she is his prisoner. The two have an extended contest of wills and the result will be whether she goes free or whether he gets to have her in a carnal manner. In all, a great set of episodes with the same hilarious antics by the cast of wacky characters doing what is expected of them with some surprising results. (I don't want to spoil it for you; this was good stuff).
I admit that Desert Punk is a guilty pleasure of mine and could see where those of you looking for something well outside the boundaries of political correctness would be high fiving each other about. I thought some parts dragged a little or I'd have giving it a higher rating than Recommended but this was as different as I've come to expect from a show with little class but lots of ass and the willingness to break out of the modern rituals of showing the future as a swell place to live. Let's face it, between the idiots in charge of this planet and the idiots who oppose their every move, there's simply no way we're going to advance to a utopian society as shown far too often in pop culture pieces of fiction. The Punk, as I refer to him, is an acceptance of that fate as well as a sneering look at the events taking place right now all over the world. This being handled in such a fun manner just makes it all the more enjoyable; and I could see a boxed set of the show getting a higher rating based on how well done the various aspects are covered.
Picture: Desert Punk V3: Vixen of 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. 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: The extras this time were just as cool as previous volumes with some more of the textless songs, movie poster parodies, trailers, and some silly material for the Japanese release about the group going to a survivalist store (they can shoot one in Houston easily as we have plenty of stores like that here) and seeing what kind of great equipment can be had even now, never mind in the desolate future. The audio commentary was actually better than average but I'm not going to tell you why since it was a hoot to listen to twice (once as I type this review); some fans hate the English language voice actors but they were spot on this time with their comments, even those I disagreed with.
Final Thoughts: Desert Punk V3: Vixen of the Desert provides the FUN in FUNimation, the company releasing the show domestically. To date, the weakest episodes were those that tried to foist modern day sensibilities onto the dark and bleak future that the show is set in and thankfully, such episodes are few and far between. This volume had a stand alone quality that the four episodes could have been made into a single movie with limited editing, with the central concept being how everyone is out for themselves (except for the naïve Kosuna) and routinely pay for this attitude in one form or another. The weakness of the minor points wasn't allowed to foster given the way the these all ties in together so even if you haven't picked up the previous two volumes, you can get this one on its own merits and enjoy the fun of the show.
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.