Background: Firefly was a quality show that aired years back describing a future where Earth was effectively "used up" by the people inhabiting it which gave them the motivation to leave the place for greener pastures. Apparently, they were not subjected to a civilization ending war or event as was the case in another futuristic show about a dystopian Earth where things did not go quite so well. That show would be Desert Punk and a delightful case of over the top characters barely making it in an uncaring world where water is precious and people had to rely on themselves to survive. I've reviewed some of the volumes in the past but this new boxed set gave me the chance to see it all at once, making me a happy camper given my routine attempts to get the second half of the show to review for the last year.
Desert Punk in his element.
Series: Desert Punk as detailed in my reviews of Desert Punk V1, Desert Punk V2, and Desert Punk V3, had a protagonist 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. Just a teenager with all the thought processes such types have (sex on the brain being the top priority), he survives based on instinct and skills honed by the harsh realities of his 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).
Junko has exactly what Kanta enjoys in a woman!
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.
The episodes on volume two were 5) The Price of Water, 6) Wandering Lust, 7) Age Before Beauty, and 8) A Dog in Heat. The first couple of episodes made up a single arc as Kanta signed on to protect a possible well a town was collectively digging. The price of water in this arid climate is outlandish but no less important to survival so as the town starts to get results, a gang threatens to take it away from them. In response, they hire the best mercenary money can buy, Desert Punk. Being who he is, he takes complete advantage of the situation, much like the Clint Eastwood character from High Plains Drifter, always staying one step ahead of the people in terms of what he plans out and how he thinks. When the gang comes into town, things don't go as planned and a bit of treachery on the part of all involved make the two episodes rather classic, especially the manner in which Kanta plans to fend off the bad guys. This leads to the following two episodes where the return of Kanta's apprentice, Kosuna, causes some additional headaches. Kanta, being a jerk, decides to use her willingness to learn from him as a means to fill his pocketbook so she shows him that she's no dummy and plays him right back. He keeps her around on the hope that she'll turn out a hotty like her reported mother was but the type of job they end up with is not suited for his unique skills and he soon finds that he gets what's coming to him, even if it nearly kills him to restore his damaged reputation. The level of humor and fan service aside, the four episodes were strange but also appealing in a cynical way, making me want to pick up a copy of the next volume as soon as possible.
Kosuna is a capable apprentice even if she doesn't have the body Kanta would like of her.
Okay, the episodes on the third disc 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).
The fourth disc was originally released as Desert Dung with the episodes being 13) Opposites Collide, 14) Kosuna: Fully Automatic, 15) The Girl Next Door, and 16) A Load Of.... Initially, Punk saves a couple of orphans in the desert at the bequest of Kosuna but his underlying motivations are the same as always; profit above all else. He encounters a skilled military man that begs for their lives and freedom, eventually showing Punk to have been the smartest one of all but only after a lot of problems involved from the man (Stryker) and the kids alike. Kosuna then finds out that she needs to grow up quickly or die when she nearly bites it during a scuffle and her crappy handgun doesn't do the job. Punk brings her to his favorite weapon supplier but her ability to survive is put to the test and firepower alone is not the determining factor when all the angles are displayed for her. That leads to the return of Natsuko and her wonderful body as she employs Punk, Kosuna, and her dopy siblings The Machinegun Brothers on a mission that sounds important (and profitable) but has a distinctive odor to it (insider joke; you'll know what I mean when you watch it; no spoilers here!). Needless to say, there are opposing forces that want in on the cargo being transported and that leads to a bit of exposition about her true motives once more. The second half of the story shows the value of the cargo and the Rain Men attack the mercenaries in order to get what amounts to a powerful weapon. Punk's plan is simple (as always) but problematic in that it could get them all killed, not something any of the others bargained for.
The episodes on the fifth disc (from Under the Desert) were 17) Perv In Pursuit, 18) Too Close For Comfort, 19) Scratching the Surface, and 20) A Raw Deal. Initially, Junko makes Punk an offer he simply can't refuse when she comes to him for help with an erstwhile suitor. He is outfitted with an advanced military suit that tests even Punk's skills but the promise of having her sexually is as enticing as keeping her out of the hands of anyone else so he gives it his all. The man's name is Tech and his equipment advantage is substantial but going against the libido of Punk is always a dangerous gamble as he soon finds out. The end result turns the tables on Punk once again, but it starts the final arc of the series that had been largely episodic until this point. Punk's plan to overpower Tech using the regional military jerks backfires and Punk is faced with a deep depression over how he lost out impacts his livelihood until he accepts a mission to find the missing Natsuko. As always, all is not as it appears and a huge conspiracy evolves over the rest of the series involving treasure, military technology, and the balance of power with Punk precariously poised on the edge of a deep cliff of trouble if he didn't pick the right position.
The series ended with the sixth disc Death of the Desert which included episodes 21) Successor of the Desert, 22) Hidden Agendas, 23) Voices in the Wind, and 24) The Demon Revealed. Punk appears to be MIA or dead after his last mission, leading Kosuna to pick up the gauntlet in his place, even taking an apprentice. Her training in the arts of survival and mercenary skills having grown steadily, his absence only gives her more resolve to become the best she can be, even when facing the Kawazu Gang that had given her and Punk so much trouble in the past. Kosuna's success in her work leads the Underground Mercenaries Union to hire her as a guard while they plot the overthrow of the government, leading to more interesting developments as things go awry for her and the group. Her hatred of an old foe also hired to assist on the mission puts her on edge and results in some peculiar events that no one came explain until her next job for them shows an impossible task of taking down some old tech helmed by a deadly foe. The final episode of the series was full of surprises with much of the series cast in evidence as motivations were revealed, betrayals in abundance uncovered, and Kosuna showing how well her training served her as the entire desert came alive with explosions.
Kanta fantasizes a lot when it comes to women, much like all human males.
I was a big fan of the original series and while the nasty talk about sex, crude jokes, and other adult behavior might have turned off some buying the volumes for the younger crowd, the big picture was a series willing to show the kind of character that would likely survive a major catastrophe and excel as a result. Yeah, the repetitive innuendos and sexually gratuitous material won't be for everyone but as a guy, I can tell you that most men think about sex a lot with women doing likewise whether they admit it or not. That makes the character motivations more realistic to me, much like the lack of a pristine future a more reasonable conclusion to me given how things have evolved in the reign of mankind. The inclusion of all the extras at a lowered cost in a super cool metal case made this boxed set well worth a rating of Highly Recommended for me, though I accept that some of you will find this too crude and adult in nature to appreciate (thankfully, "adult" does not mean ridiculous like the hentai titles on the market).
Picture: Desert Punk was presented in the same 1.33:1 full frame ratio color format that it was shot in by director Takayuki Inagaki for Gonzo to air on Japanese broadcast 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 (using a 448 Kbps bitrate), the 2.0 Dolby Digital original Japanese track, or a 2.0 Dolby Digital English dub (the last two using a 256 Kbps bitrate). 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.
This is just one page of extras out of the six disc set.
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; combining all of the previous extras unlike so many competitors that release boxed sets in the barebones format. The first disc 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.
The extras on the second disc weren't bad with some more of the textless songs, movie poster parodies, trailers, and some silly material for the Japanese release with the cloaked live version of Kanta brandishing a rifle around a bunch of office geeks (although a few of the geeks were attractive geeks). The internet radio station material and campaign caravan lasted longer than most extras I'm used to on an anime release, adding to the value of the show more than a little bit.
The extras in the third volume were just as cool as previous material 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.
The fourth, fifth, and sixth volumes of the series were also saturated with the original extras fans appreciated a whole lot. The inclusion of Japanese extras like a tour of an animation college, parodies of mainstream movies, and cast interviews only scraped the surface of the discs. Radio shows using the characters, biographies, blooper reels, silly compilations for fans that provided a lot of Punk's key phrases, and the audio commentary added a lot of value for me as it covered some of the missing elements for me. The promotional clips added some interesting footage as did the gun store footage but there was so much to enjoy here that fans demanding extras on boxed sets will be in silent awe compared to the plethora of barebones sets proliferating on store shelves these days. The metal box cover alone was sweet (raised metal too) and the addition of paper mainstream movie parodies unexpected, as well as the artwork on the folding book style of holder that kept the 6 discs intact (mine had a broken hub on one of the six spindles holding the half dozen discs though).
Final Thoughts: Desert Punk: Boxed Set reminded me of how powerful a combination FUNimation and Gonzo are these days. FUNimation is one of the best at providing quality shows with sweet extras and Gonzo in Japan has long proven itself as a top notch production company; making this natural team up the only ones I'd have wanted on a show like Desert Punk as based on Masatoshi Usune's manga serialized in Comic Beam in Japan. The show explored the darker side of human nature in a comic manner, often employing an over the top dynamic to make various points about greed, lust for power money and sex, and a host of other messages but it did so in such a way that you can smile at the jokes that don't quite work and appreciate how tough it would be to get a show like this made in the USA where Adult Swim seems to be as far as anyone will go (which isn't half as far as many would like it to shoot for). Oh yeah, look below for a link to a second take on the boxed set where Todd seemed to "get it" too.
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, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.