Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 20th 2006
In an environmental catastrophe of a distant future, mankind still stubbornly (stupidly?) tries to get by in a hellish desert that once, in times long past, was a great city. In this harsh environment, one handyman has developed a fearsome reputation for skill in battle, dependability on a mission, and elusiveness to his foes. His only “short”comings? He's severely height-challenged and a sucker for a massive set of hooters. Sometimes called the Ghost of the Desert because of his seemingly magical abilities, his trade name is Sunabozu, aka the Desert Punk.
Post-apocalyptic “warrior of the waste” stories have been a recurring theme in sci fi/fantasy anime ever since Fist of the North Star popularized the theme back in the early '80s, but rarely before have they seen such a gleefully irreverent treatment. With Desert Punk, GONZO has sought to turn the subgenre on its head by creating a gimmick-rich hero loaded with attitude and giving him the most typical of weakness for male leads in anime: he goes ga-ga over a huge set of breasts. And of course one of his biggest rivals in the business is a gorgeous female handyman with an almost impossibly curvaceous figure...
It isn't just Desert Punk who's swimming in attitude, either. Even the narration is very sharp-tongued and many of the “commoners” can't be trusted, either. Scenes alternate between being semi-serious and completely ridiculous, such as a village elder breaking into song about the reputations of the two combatants in a duel, the “Hulkosis” suffered by one of the villains, or the couple being robbed by bandits where the man gets stomped because his wife is so ugly that not even the horniest of the bandits wants to have anything to do with her. Despite loads of violence and heavy doses of action scenes, it's an amazingly non-graphic series; Desert Punk seems to delight much more in humiliating his foes than in killing them, which leads to a few scenes where certain exposed body parts are digitally masked. (And yes, the digital alterations were probably done intentionally, as the scenes are actually much funnier that way.) It is a rather ribald series, though, with a good amount of bouncing breasts and lots of related jokes/references. Both dubs also offer the completely unedited version of the series, which was originally edited significantly for broadcast; for a sample of what that sounded like, refer to the Bonus menu.
Exactly how many breast jokes and references you get, and the nature of them, depends heavily on whether you're listening to the English or Japanese dub. The very loose English script usually follows the general meaning, attitude, and intent of the original dialogue but that's as accurate as it gets. It totally rephrases things, adds in a few extra jokes and slang terms, revamps many of the insults, and occasionally even replaces the original script with something completely different. The latter incidences are never out of character, though, and in some cases they are necessary; sexual references about a prepubescent girl, which come up near the end of the fourth episode, would never be allowed in the States, for instance, and even the most diehard American otaku would be left scratching their heads over an insult like “your Momma has an outie” (changed to “your Mother's a dirty whore” in the dub). And of course there's the name translations, but “Desert Punk” is a reasonably close approximation of how “Sunabozu” would translate. Most importantly, though, the snappy English script is a distinct improvement over the original, which wasn't shabby on its own merits. It may not be as accurate, but the English script does have more bite – and “bite” is what a series like this is all about. FUNimation has a well-established reputation for being more concerned with making nice-flowing dubs rather than accurate ones, but in this case it's the right call.
The accuracy of matching English voices to the original seiyuu may vary from role to role, but the English dub does take full advantage of its script by beautifully capturing the essence of the series and its attitude. Eric Vale, who is probably best-known to American fans as the voice of Trunks in Dragonball Z and Yuki Sohma in Fruits Basket, takes a quite different approach to voicing the title role but absolutely nails his smarminess and occasional craziness. It's a great performance, though it's definitely more an English-styled take on such a character than a Japanese-styled characterization. Other roles are closer matches for the original performances, except in the case of the songs sung by the Elder in episode 2; in Japanese the songs embody the essence of classic early '70s anime theme songs, while in English the songs have more of a mock Broadway flavor. The English dub also muffles the voices of masked characters somewhat, giving the impression of talking though a mask, an effect completely absent in the original Japanese vocals. In typical FUNi style, both the opening and closing songs (the latter of which has lyrics describing how to draw the title character!) are dubbed when the English dub is playing. The English versions of these songs are remarkably close matches for the originals in style if not lyrics.
Since this is a GONZO production, one would expect nothing less than top-notch technical merit, and GONZO mostly delivers on that. It is a sharp-looking piece with well-detailed backgrounds and distinctive “desert gear” outfit designs. Some might complain that not being able to see the face of the protagonist most of the time makes it harder to relate to him, but considering how unattractive the face under the mask is it may be a blessing. Most characters whose faces can be seen look like they were borrowed from other series, while Junko's design is so unbelievably hot that she could have stepped out of a top-notch hentai title. The animation is also quite good, with a few great CG-supported scenes of sweeping movement mixed in amidst occasional shortcuts. (But considering how much of a bundle GONZO saved by not having to animate a lot of what its characters say, the occasional highlight scene is to be expected.) The one notable visual flaw is common imperfect foreground/background integration, but it's a minor detail. Interestingly, the opener is entirely a live-action piece featuring someone dressed up as Desert Punk, while the closer is very simply animated. The fun-loving musical scoring is also well-done.
Like most FUNi titles, the first volume of Desert Punk offers a wealth of extras, but these are particularly tasty. The highlight is the “As Seen On TV,” which plays the first episode with the original TV audio and visual edits restored. The sound effects for the “bleeps” arguably make the episode even funnier than it is in unedited form. “Life in the Desert” provides profiles on Desert Punk, his rival Rain Spider, and their equipment, while “Desert Parody” provides original DVD (?) covers. In “Original Japanese Extras” are two subtitled 8-minutes featurettes taken from the original Japanese DVD releases, one a “making of” piece on the live-action opener and the other an interview with Hideaki Tatakori, who did both the opening and closing songs. And there's “Voice Actor Auditions,” an audio-only commentary featuring audition clips for the major roles. Also present are clean opener and closer and a Mr. Stain on Junk Alley clip, which you're better off not wasting your time watching. Typical FUNi design features, like being able to use the “angle” button during the opener and closer to switch back and forth between the original Japanese text and its English translation and including both English 5.1 and English Stereo audio tracks, are also present. Annoyingly, the opening advertisements can't be skipped, so be sure to stick the DVD in a few minutes before you're actually ready to start watching.
Desert Punk is hardly highbrow or sophisticated entertainment, but it is great lowbrow fun. Lively dubbing, excellent extras, and strong production values all contribute to a title well worth a look.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ English dub, plentiful extras, amusing take on a normally serious theme.
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