Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 26th 2006
DVD 4: Desert Dung
While returning from a job, Desert Punk and Kosuna encounter an honest, good-hearted man whose attitude seems so out of line for the harsh environment that Kanta cannot help taking advantage of him. But the man may be quite a bit more than he appears. . . Later, Kosuna's fantasizing about her own future greatness almost get her in serious trouble, but more of a problem from her viewpoint is a gun which she feels packs inadequate stopping power, hence a trip to the gunsmith is warranted. Later still the Machine Gun Brothers approach Kanta about him and his apprentice joining them on a protection job that not only involving protecting a tanker loaded with sewage but working under Natsuko, the Brothers' little sister and onetime playmate of Kanta's, who's grown up to be a fine-looking but serious-mind woman quite capable of kicking serious butt, much to Kosuna's unabashed admiration. But why would a merc as notable as Rain Spider be after such a seemingly innocuous delivery?
There are anti-heroes and then there's Kanta, who may be one of the most despicable leading men ever in an anime series. Rarely is a title character so fiendish, so utterly lacking in redeeming qualities beyond the fact that he's very good at being a merc; as this block of episodes shows, he's not even above selling little kids into slavery to make a quick buck. At times the series takes this too far, resulting in an incredibly crass morass of ugliness, but most of the time it's fun just to see how bad he can be and whether or not he's going to get his comeuppance.
Such a running gag can only take a series so far, however. All successful series of this nature require a recurring second character – whether friend or foe – to play off the lead, and Desert Punk has found that in Kasuna. Making her appear regularly as Kanta's sidekick/apprentice has been a godsend, as the action is usually livelier with her around. Sure, the flat-chested jokes and her repeated claims to want to be the “#1 Killer Babe of the Desert” are just as crass as anything else in the series, but the very notion that someone could respect Kanta enough to willingly follow and pattern herself off him is almost as amusing as Kanta's relentless money-grubbing (and breast-grabbing) nature. The scenes of her imagining herself as a magical girl in episode 14 are priceless, but some of the best story content in the series follows as Kasuna tries to find the right kind of gun for herself.
The first two episodes in this volume are mostly stand-alone stories, although there are hints of connections to The Big Picture. Episodes 15 and 16 form a two-parter which definitely suggests that there's more going on than what Desert Punk and his apprentice know about, but the potential consequences of what was going on there will have to wait for a later volumes. For now viewers will have to content themselves with the hot and very capable Natsuko filling in for Junko's near-complete absence. Rain Spider also appears in most of the episodes in this volume, as do the Machine Gun Brothers. And this series being what it is, naturally it doesn't miss any opportunity to serve up a load of sh** jokes in the two-parter, which inspired the inclusion of the edited (and bleeped) original TV broadcast version of episode 16 amongst the Extras.
Although it isn't the visual feast that Gankutsuou is, Desert Punk's artistry and technical merits still help remind a view of why Gonzo is currently one of the top animation studios in Japan; even their “B team” work, as seen here, is still impressive. Character designs are distinctive and well-rendered regardless of whether the character is supposed to be attractive or not, although a particularly good job is done with the “hunky guy” and “hot babe” designs. Pixelations are used to mask exposed private parts on a couple of occasions, but otherwise the graphic content is less than in previous volumes. The foreground/background art integration isn't perfect, but it's good enough than only someone looking for a problem there is likely to notice, and such a good job is done using color schemes to give everything a drab desert feel that the rare occasions when something especially colorful pops up really stand out. The heavy use of full face masks on the mercs and thugs reduces the amount of animation needed, but what is present is done well, especially the depictions of martial arts maneuvers.
Where the visuals shine brightest, though, are in the technical details. The equipment designers did some serious homework in their design, use, and representations of updated and slightly modified versions of 20th century firearms, a fact which becomes even clearer when one reads the “Life in the Desert” files in the extras. Also well-done are extrapolations of futuristic desert gear, complete with “personal air conditioners” and other fine details.
Musical themes in this volume mix in a couple of new gimmicks with the standbys used in earlier volumes, and are generally effective at backing the tone of a given scene. The move into the second broadcast season brings with it a new opener and closer, both of which are dubbed for the English dub track in typical FUNimation style and both of which are inferior choices, both in visuals and in audio, to the opener and closer used in the first 12 episodes. They're actually fine songs evaluated independently, but just don't fit here.
The true value of the English dub to a given viewer will largely depend on how much of a stickler the viewer is for a dub script closely following the original. Purists will likely not care for how fast and loose the English script plays with things, including replacing a couple of lines with laughs in one place and significantly altering the meaning of what was said in many other places. The dialogue in the English script is snappy, smooth-flowing, and more laden with colorful slang than the original script, however, and the English performances do such a good job of capturing the attitude of the show that they're especially fun to listen to. Forgive it for its script accuracy trespasses and it's one of FUNi's better recent dub jobs – and certainly an improvement on the bland original dub.
This volume's edition of “Life in the Desert” profiles Natsuko and some sub-characters, while the Original Japanese Extras this time around consist of a featurette about the director's return visit (with the ever-present Desert Punk) to his alma mater, the Tokyo Animator College. The previously-mentioned “As Seen On Japanese TV” episode is also included, as are other typical Desert Punk extras like clean opener and closer and yet another edition of Desert Punk parodies of popular movie posters. Curiously, a trailer is front-loaded that is not otherwise available on the Trailers submenu.
Throughout its run Desert Punk has been a “hit or miss” series, partly because it tends to revel in its excesses. This volume is mostly a “hit,” however. It can be rude, crude, and socially unacceptable, but that's also part of its fun.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Great English dub performances, excellent technical detail.
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