Wasteland Heroes and Hijinks: Desert Punk

After sinking my teeth into the joy and drama of a good anime adaptation like Steins;Gate, I decided that I needed to broaden my horizons a little. Take a stroll into some straight-up comic, full-action show set in the middle of a giant desert, with plenty of explosions, shootouts, and gorgeous girls to go around.

So… that’s basically why Desert Punk exists.

Copyright © 2011 by Gonzo and FUNimation
Copyright © 1997 by Usune Masatoshi

The story is set in some distant future wasteland called the Great Kanto Desert, where survival is a daily battle and outlaws roam every corner. One such bandit is Kanta, better known to the locals as “The Demon in the Desert” and “Desert Punk.” With his iconic mask and hat, he spends his time collecting bounties and debts, and more often than not getting others into trouble while he tries to score big on cash prizes and to score at all with large-breasted women like his rival Junko. But the real heart of the story is Kanta’s apprentice, a young girl named Kosuna, who wants to become the toughest mercenary around.

Going in, I was prepared for a pretty standard anime with a halfway decent English dub. What I didn’t expect was that the dub would be so good. Eric Vale really earns his pay and brings the main character Desert Punk to life with one-liners and rapid dialogue. And I’m impressed that the studio responsible for translating the anime from the original Japanese even went to the trouble of translating and recording English-language versions of the opening and closing title songs.

The English dub also allowed for some interesting changes to the show’s humor. Some elements are translated word-for-word, but some of the jokes definitely got an alteration, adding a more Western style of humor. In particular, I laughed pretty hard at a fourth wall joke thrown in during a firefight in the very first episode.

“Remember kids, a smart man knows when it’s time to RUN LIKE A LITTLE BITCH!”

However, even rapid-fire comedy and visual gags can only do so much. As the series went on, I started to lose interest pretty quick. For one thing, so much of the beginning arc consists of filler, with a long time before we hit anything resembling a consitent plot. It’s good for establishing Desert Punk’s character, but even then, there isn’t much to work with. By the time it got to the dramatic side of things, I was half tempted to give up.

Another irritant for me was the constant use of boob jokes and daydream sequences of a mini-Kanta bouncing up and down on some giant pair of breasts. I get that it’s probably poking fun more at the dreamer, but by the fifth or sixth episode, that gag was growing stale for me. I’d would’ve rather seen that time better focused on the actual plot and developing said female cast members.

Looking back, the whole series reminds me a lot of another high-end anime set in a desert: Trigun. Both shows follow comedic protagonists (whose English dub voice actors do amazing work) across an endless wasteland populated by colorful mercenaries and bizarre gun battles, all with the specter of a shady past looming overhead. But the real difference is that I found it much easier to care about Vash the Stampede than I did for Desert Punk. Vash’s story was comic when it wanted it to be, but it never felt weird or depressing when it slid toward a more dramatic angle and it added depth to Vash’s journey.

Trigun‘s theme was more about the value of pacifism in a cruel world whereas Desert Punk is more of a romp through violence with a cast of morally questionable comedic characters. Still, the show’s redeeming qualities can be found in its animation and its voice acting, especially around the first few episodes. It’s not the worst anime ever made, but it won’t be anywhere near my Top 10 List anytime soon.

The English dub for Desert Punk is available through FUNimation.

Bibliography: Desert Punk (anime). Directed by Takayuki Inagaki. Gonzo (studio). FUNimation Entertainment (US). Starz Edge (network). Original broadcast run: October 4, 2004March, 30 2005.

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