REVIEW: DVD Release: Desert Punk Collection

Series: Desert Punk Collection
Release date: 19th July 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 600mins
Director: Takayuki Inagaki
Starring: Chihiro Suzuki, Tomoko Kotani, Chiwa Saito, Jiro Saito, Norio Wakamoto
Genre: Anime
Studio: MVM
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

Set in post-apocalyptic Japan, Desert Punk finds the title character and the few remaining survivors of a major, unexplained catastrophe trying to survive and prosper despite the hopelessness of their surroundings. Serialised since 1997, the manga was adapted into a 24-episode anime series, first aired in Japan in 2004, with the six volumes previously released by MVM in the UK now gathered together for this box set release.

Desert Punk is the “baddest stack of awesome” in the Great Kanto Desert. Where other mercenaries are too fearful to venture, or fail badly in doing so, Punk always, somehow comes through, even when the odds are firmly stacked against him – even when it’s a giant, spirit-possessed rock!

All Punk dreams of is building a “booby amusement park,” and he’ll do anything to ensure he gets his end away, and that means he needs money. He has no interest in politics – although he can’t avoid them forever once the writers have padded out enough for a 24-episode run - and he doesn’t care who he hurts, or how many lives he ruins in achieving his goal, if he even notices.

However, despite his seemingly limitless fighting and survival skills, he continuously finds himself out of pocket, and with a young girl in toe who is eager to learn from this “demon of the sand,” despite possessing moral scruples herself (Punk more than willing to auction off his fellow man to slavery), matters eventually become far too complex for the boy with a one-track mind…

What initially attracts with Desert Punk are the same characteristics that start to repel after a few episodes, especially when the writers become lazy with nothing of consequence really happening. Desert Punk is loud and offensive; refreshingly he is not your stereotypical hero/moralistic central character, and this is underlined early on when he shows seeming invincibility in disposing of unscrupulous foes only to take the family he saved for all they are worth (which wasn’t much at all); and he has an unhealthy obsession with “milk mounds” (just one of a number of childish terms he uses throughout to describe the assets of the fairer sex). This provides enough guilty giggles early on, especially as his desperation for the opposite sex finds him out of pocket (any inkling of Punk showing good sense is followed be a line such as “those jugs were huge though”), and with a gung ho attitude to the action (Punk showing his worth in outsmarting hulk-like creatures), it’s a riotous opening salvo.

Unfortunately, these adolescent jokes and close ups of, in particular, fellow mercenary Junko Asagiri’s gravity defying, size and shape shifting breasts (seemingly growing by the episode) are used far too often, with the addition of fantasy sequences that see him crawling between her breasts, for example. The joke has already worn thin by episode 3, and it’s surely no coincidence that this element of the series dominates episodes which could quite easily have been cut without missing anything from the overall story arc. It also becomes far more sinister, with Punk trying to force women he takes a shine to into becoming his sex slave, and resorting to kidnap.

It’s a shame that the series had to resort to such cheap tactics, as on the whole, whilst Desert Punk clearly has no respect for women (in his defence, he doesn’t seem to take a liking to any human, his motivation is purely monetary), and his grooming of child apprentice Taiko Koizumi is disturbing ( given his underlying motive to use her as his sex slave as she develops her charms), women are on the whole shown in a very strong light, not often the case in anime. His put upon apprentice ultimately shows her worth, whilst Punk is never able to get one over on the women he chases (and attempts to blackmail into having sex with him), who hold high ranking or powerful positions.

The animation is stunning. With the inhabited landscape desolate, the bareness of the background and the simplicity of the surrounding elements (usually cliffs or rocks), allows the crispness and detail of the characters to really standout, whilst the action scenes are handled faultlessly, capturing the zing as Punk flies across the screen and takes out much larger (in both collective numbers and physical stature) enemies than his diminutive stature, and otherwise irrational behaviour would suggest he has no place in even comprehending a challenge to. Even with the introduction of more characters, and grander set pieces as the series progresses, the visual aspect continues to wow, including the cut screens/intertitles.

It takes a little time for the main story to kick in, or any light to be shed on why the inhabitants find themselves in such a harsh environment fighting each other for what little there is to go around, but what is in fairness a fairly grown up, if not totally original concept is continually undermined, particularly in the middle episodes, by Punk’s perverse mind, and comments about his “boner” and “tittie ramming” – it’s a shame viewers will lose patience as the later episodes, with a significant shift in tone showing unexpected maturity (if coinciding with the introduction of one of the worst title songs ever used for an anime series – the early episodes’ song was fairly diabolical yet great fun), are tremendous, with a bold move from the writers, and plenty of twists to arouse viewers far more than incomprehensible animated breasts ever could.

Despite a fun opening, the series soon finds itself without direction or devoid of storylines strong enough to forgive the annoying and, at times, unsettling nature of the central character, with who the writers become far too obsessed with trying to milk cheap, churlish laughs. But stick with it, content yourself with the beautiful animation, and the series improves impenetrably before the end, with an audacious twist that will leave many viewers agasp. DH

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