Akira Toriyama’s Sand Land makes a better show than game

Between Dune, Fallout, and Mad Max, it’s a good year for stories with lots of sand and little water. Now, you can add Sand Land — an adaptation of the late Akira Toriyama’s manga of the same name — to that list. The difference here is that Sand Land comes in two new flavors. There’s an anime streaming on Hulu (or Disney Plus if you’re outside the US) and a video game that turns the story into an open-world RPG. Both follow a similar plot, have the same characters, and even look nearly identical. Which means that if you’re looking to jump into this postapocalyptic wasteland, you have a choice to make — and it turns out, the animated series is a much tighter, more exciting adaptation.

The first thing you should know is that, whichever version you’re experiencing, Sand Land is pretty weird. It takes place in a world that has been turned into a giant desert following a series of wars and natural disasters, where water is running out for everyone but a king who hoards a private supply. So a sheriff named Rao sets out to find that supply for the good of everyone in the desert. Oh, also, demons exist, and Rao ends up partnering with a young Beelzebub, whose dad (Lucifer) agrees to let him help the human in exchange for screen time. They’re joined by a demon named Thief who commits crimes in a Santa outfit, and they drive around the desert in a spherical tank.

What sets Sand Land apart from other postapocalyptic worlds is its tone — think of it like Mad Max meets Dragon Ball. It can get very serious at times, exploring the impact of a militaristic monopoly on everyday citizens and putting its characters through some real tragedy. But it’s also silly and strange. Beelzebub is almost like a demonic Bart Simpson, someone who thinks of himself as evil but really is just a goofball obsessed with video games. There’s a gang that dresses like Olympic swimmers, a floating cyborg general, and an army of insect men. It may take place in a desert, but it’s bursting with strange life, like raptors running around and demonic blobs lounging with umbrellas. All of this is rendered in Toriyama’s very particular style.

The show manages to capture this in a brisk 13 episodes, which are mostly devoid of filler and have lots of really fun action — there’s everything from slow-mo sniper shots to high-speed chases (on foot, no less) — along with goofy character moments. The game, unfortunately, is full of filler. And that’s because it’s a pretty by the numbers open-world game, with lots of quests vying for your time, most of which are not that interesting. The combat, the stealth missions, the dungeons — pretty much every aspect of the game feels simple and underdeveloped. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s missing that hook to make it distinctly Sand Land. And because it’s drawn out to RPG length, it’s also lacking the pace and energy that make the show that much more exciting.

The one thing the game does really well is its vehicles. In addition to a tank, you’ll also get access to things like a jumping robot and a slick motorcycle, all of which can be upgraded with new weapons and whatnot. They make moving through the world a lot more enjoyable, and the vehicular combat is probably my favorite part of the game. The Sand Land game also does a great job with scale: you regularly feel like a tiny demon surrounded by a huge, oppressive wasteland. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t do much with that feeling since the world is pretty empty. Early on, for example, you have to explore an absolutely massive downed airship, but inside, it’s mostly bare rooms to run through with the occasional boss fight.

The main thing the game has going for it is the story and style of Sand Land — which the show does a much better job of exploring. The series even introduces a brand-new story arc from Toriyama that moves the series in an interesting new direction, making it the perfect place to jump into this oddball postapocalyptic universe.

Sand Land: The Series is streaming now on Hulu, while the game is available on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC.


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