Desert Punk: Volume 3
Post-apocalyptic wastelands are a penny a dozen in fiction, and the one in Desert Punk is truly a classic of the genre. A devastating war has wiped out most of civilisation, and the dregs and descendants of the survivors now eke out a living in an endless desert where Japan used to be. People being people, many of them survive by preying on the weak, and this is truly a society where might is right. You'd expect there to be a champion standing up for the weak and oppressed, someone still possessing a moral backbone and a sense of justice. You'd be wrong. There is however the Desert Punk, a.k.a. Sunabozu a.k.a. Kanta Mizuno. He's a cold hard mercenary character who is in it solely for the cold hard cash. Diminutive in stature, and masked behind a hi-tech helmet, he's fast, wily and is just as likely to outwit his opponents, as he is to outfight them. He's developed quite a reputation in the Great Kanto Desert, but he has one, or rather two distinct weaknesses. Breasts! He can't get enough of them. And when one day he encounters Junko Asagiri, a rival mercenary with an exquisite cleavage, he's truly met his match. The next four episodes of Desert Punk are presented here on this disc from MVM, along with a handful of extra features.
9. Life and Game
10. Guardian and Treasure Hunter
Another two-part story begins volume 3, and the good news is Junko's back. The bad news is that she has another scheme in mind to rope Desert Punk into. Kanta's learnt his lesson. He isn't having any of her feminine wiles; he's immune to her charms, that body, those voluptuous breasts… he'll do it. The ten million yen doesn't hurt either, and as it's Kaoru Kaizuka who's supplying the cash, it looks like a solid deal. Kaizuka is a treasure hunter who years ago rediscovered the classic Game Of Life in the ruins of an abandoned city, and became filthy rich off the back of it. Now he's heading into the desert once again to find some more treasure, and he needs bodyguards. That will be Junko, Kanta and Taiko then. Kaizuka takes them on a roundabout journey to a previously unknown ruin, one protected by an immortal and apparently invulnerable guardian. They'll have to get past him to get to the treasure. Kosuna doesn't trust Junko, who is working her own plan, while being dangerously coy and demure at Kaizuka. Sunabozu is following the advice of his forebears, the filthy rich guy is always right, while Kaizuka has a completely different treasure in mind.
11. Crime and Punishment
Kanta has captured Junko, and after her previous betrayal, he's got a special brand of punishment in mind. Kosuna is dismissed, she's a little too young for what is to come, and he then takes Junko to his secret lair, where she will be preened, pampered, and persuaded to have sex with him. Yes, at last, Desert Punk can get laid, and beget little Desert Punkettes with the delectable Junko. But while Kanta gets ready to screw Junko, Junko starts to screw with Kanta's head.
12. Little Girl and Rescue
Reputation having taken another battering, Desert Punk needs to pull off an impressive job, and he and Kosuna sign on to rescue a young kidnap victim. The dreaded Shimada is holding a little girl to ransom, and daddy wants his little angel back. Infiltrating the ruined skyscraper is easy, hoodwinking the guards isn't much of a challenge, but Sunabozu hasn't reckoned on the kidnap victim being an absolute brat.
This was one of Gonzo's last 4:3 anime, and naturally the transfer reflects that. Once again, I find my perennial gripe with Gonzo DVDs, that odd combination of compression artefacts and vertical banding, although in this case it is really most obvious only during the live action opening sequence. Otherwise it is a clear and sharp transfer with little to complain about.
The animation is dynamic and vibrant; there is a singular style to the character designs that emphasises bold lines, and high contrast, while the desert setting quite understandably invokes a limited sandy palette of colours, as well as lots of sere, parched landscapes. This is a show where darkness and light play a big part in setting the atmosphere, and it works brilliantly in establishing the mood of the show.
You have a choice between DD 5.1 English, and DD 2.0 Japanese, along with translated subtitles and an optional signs track. I watched it through in Japanese first and found it to be a wholly enjoyable experience, the stereo doing a good job of conveying the action scenes, the incidental music for once preferable to the theme tunes, and the dialogue clear throughout. However, in a rare reversal, I find Desert Punk's English dub to be superior to the original Japanese soundtrack, and not just because of the added immersion of the 5.1 Surround. For once, an inveterate sub fiend prefers an English dub. It all boils down to masks. A desert environment means that the characters are more often than not masked or shrouded. You can't see their lips move, so dubbing becomes a whole lot easier as there are no lip flaps to match. Desert Punk's dub is nowhere near as constrained as other anime dubs get. It's a lot more freewheeling, ad-libbed, faster, wittier and funnier. It lacks the awkwardness required to fit English dialogue to Japanese phrasing. It takes an occasional liberty with the translation, but it's all the better for it. I must admit though, that re-recording the theme songs with English lyrics is never advisable.
There are a couple of extras worth noting on this disc, beginning with The Survival Game Course: Part 1. This is a 19 minute featurette that sees Misa Kikoden and Yamaken heading to a shop called Burst Head, with Desert Punk in tow, to look at some merchandise to be used in survival games, sort of paintballing, without paintballs. I don't know who Misa Kikoden or Yamaken are, they aren't listed in the credits for the show, but googling Misa Kikoden leads to some NSFW links. This featurette is up for the least relevant extra of the year award.
Not too far behind is the Desert Punk Side Story, a sort of animated manga slideshow that tells a little Sunabozu story, with the Japanese text bubbles subtitled below. It's in black and white, lacking audio, and also lacking in entertainment value and content. It's only 5 minutes though.
There are the textless credit sequences of course, and the whole thing is rounded off with trailers for Solty Rei and FLCL.
Junko's back, and all is well in the world of Desert Punk. If you recall, volume 2 was four episodes without her abundant charms, and that did tell in terms of entertainment value. Here we get three episodes worth of her devious presence, and the characters come to life because of it. I must admit though, that while I was expecting plenty of 'grinning like an idiot' moments while watching this disc, there were some surprising moments of depth and darkness too. Desert Punk gains a little dimension in this third volume, and it's not just in the bra sizes.
We begin with another two-part story, and to begin with it looks as if it is following a rather familiar vein. Junko shows up, her pneumatic assets hypnotise Desert Punk into accepting a ridiculously impossible job, and he winds up getting deeper and deeper into trouble as he tries to get close to his favourite funbags (You know, half the fun in writing these Desert Punk reviews is being as politically incorrect as possible). Ten million yen is a hefty payday, and it all begins like their earlier adventures. The initial indication that this story will be different is Junko's first meeting with Kosuna, and given Kosuna's young stature, she isn't as predisposed to Junko as Kanta is. There's an initial animosity that sets up quite the interesting triangle.
This first story also accomplishes a fair bit of world building, looking into the past and potentially the future. We meet an entrepreneur named Kaizuka, who made his fortune from an item salvaged from a ruined city. It turns out that ruined cities are like little seams of gold, and that whenever a new one is found, it's strip mined for artefacts that can be re-used in the future. Kaizuka made his name on the Game of Life, Game of Living in the English dub (apparently while people in the future don't have to worry about Trademark law, the company doing the dubbing does), and he's heading back to that city for some more plunder. The reason that this particular city has remained untouched and brimming with treasure, is that unlike earlier ruins, this still has an extant defence system, a Guardian that attacks anyone who ventures into the city limits. The city is now littered with the decayed corpses of would-be treasure hunters, and it turns out that Kaizuka made it out by the skin of his teeth the first time. He needs someone like Desert Punk to clear the way, but it may be that Sunabozu has finally met his match.
The big reveal is that the treasure that Kaizuka is truly after, isn't what everyone else believes. He's looking to resurrect a menace from the dark days, and make a profit by mass-producing it. Where you would be expecting someone with a conscience to take a stand, Desert Punk isn't beyond asking for a little hush money, to keep Kaizuka a step ahead of his competitors. If this isn't dark enough, Junko's up to her usual tricks, backstabbing and double-dealing, but this is Kosuna's first experience of it, and she takes it pretty roughly. This leads to a quite edgy confrontation between her and Junko, and for a moment, I thought I was watching that dark, dystopian post apocalyptic depress-fest that I initially expected this series to be.
But if you come to Desert Punk expecting humour, then buckle up as the next episodes have plenty to spare. Kanta has Junko in his power, and he has only one thing on his mind, getting laid. He locks her in his underground lair, and goes about softening her up. Food, water, a luxurious bath, then messing about with the air conditioning to induce disrobement, and all the while he's hidden in the ducts, doing what comes naturally to a teenaged male. Fortunately it's dark in those ducts, and we have to infer the excessive use of tissues. Then it's everything from threatening, persuading, begging, wheedling, demanding, and praying, anything that will get Junko to act as the mother to a whole race of Desert Punks. It's also obvious that under even such straitened circumstances, Junko gives as good as she gets, and a lot of the entertainment comes from seeing Kanta fail in his scheming even more than in watching him succeed.
Finally, it's back to the usual routine of Desert Punk taking on a job, and coming up against a group of villains who need to be outwitted and humiliated in an imaginative way. Of course this time he has apprentice Kosuna as back up, while the subject of the rescue is as obnoxious and ungrateful a brat as you can comprehend. It all takes place in a derelict skyscraper, and the story channels plenty of Die Hard in its action and suspense sequences. It's still as entertaining an episode as the first three, and unlike the previous disc, there's no issue with inconsistency here.
This third volume actually ups the entertainment value and the humour, but it also fills out more of the show's back-story, and gives it something more of a dark edge. It's the best volume so far, so obviously if you've been collecting the series, it's a must buy. If you have been on the fence about it, this may just nudge you in the right direction.