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Geek Review: Sand Land: The Series (Disney+)

From Dragon Ball Z creator Akira Toriyama comes Sand Land: The Series, one of the mangaka’s lesser widely known, but still beloved works since it was serialised in Weekly Shonen Jump in 2000. Twenty-three years later, a CGI movie, about a trio’s attempt to seek a new source of water, was released, and in 2024, gets turned into an animated web toon series on Disney+. Sadly, Toriyama, who passed away in March 2024, won’t live to see his work reach a new audience, but his legacy continues on and fans unaware of this series will find that Sand Land: The Series is reminiscent of Dragon Ball Z, with a distinct retro feel to it. 

Sand Land Disney+ March 2024

What’s interesting about the Disney+ version is that the 13-episode series consists of two parts. The first six episodes covers the original Prince of Demons arc from the manga, which will then be followed by a new Angelic Heroes sequel story specially written by Toriyama for the series when it was in development. 

There’s plenty going on in Sand Land’s dystopian desertscape — fifty years ago, the rivers and oceans dried up due to natural disasters and war, turning the world into a barren wasteland. Demons, who exist in the same world as humans, struggle to survive, but are blamed for the events that led to the war. A tyrant king controls the only remaining source of the world’s water supply, the Legendary Spring, but sells water at inflated prices to make a profit.

As the people panic over the water in their town drying up, Rao, the sheriff of the town, seeks out the teenage demon prince Beelzebub’s help to find the Legendary Spring to save his home. The duo, accompanied by Thief, a demon skilled at disguises and theft, embark on a quest to find the last source of water.

Sand Land: The Series keeps its main cast small, with Rao, Thief, and Beelzebub getting plenty of time to develop as characters. Rao is the most compelling character out of the trio, being an infamous military figure who previously was part of the war effort but retires and refuses to kill despite carrying a gun around, leading to some creative solutions. When the history he’s always known is challenged by interacting with Beelzebub and Thief, Rao acknowledges the damage he’s done as part of the war and has an emotional breakdown, which fuels his anger towards the Royal Army. 

Beelzebub, the son of Demon King Lucifer, is a spirited teenager who has demonic abilities but prefers to use his strength to aid the inhabitants of Sand Land, and holds less of a grudge against humans than the other demons do, while Thief, who his chosen for his disguise skills, is hostile towards humans, though he soon warms up to Rao.

sand land: the series

Sand Land introduces a cast of antagonists, and out of its villains, General Are, whose father died in the explosion gets most of the spotlight as he grapples with serving a corrupt king and doing right by his men. However, Commander Zeu, the main villain of the first arc, serves as an archetypal antagonist whose motives for resorting to violence are not fully fleshed out. It becomes apparent that the king is a figurehead as complicit as Zeu is, though he rarely makes appearances that last more than a few seconds.

sand land: the series

Its ambitious plot introduces many elements, with the angels making a surprise appearance at the end of the first arc. With Sand Land’s many factions and complicated dynamics, it’s hard to keep track of the overarching plot, and the second half of the season is set up by introducing Forest Land, ruled by a dictatorship controlled by angel Muniel and General Bred, the second half’s antagonists from the new Angelic Heroes arc. 

Unlike the long-running Dragon Ball, the original Sand Land had 14 chapters released across a three-month window, so the source material for a proper web series might be a bit lacking – the manga stops at one arc, as it was intended to feel more like a miniseries. The clunky transition between arcs is to be expected, as the original manga closes off the main plot solidly.

The series faithfully adapts the original manga plot over the first six episodes. adding more nuance to certain scenes from the manga and extending them for much-needed character development moments. With the characters driving the narrative, the anime gives its protagonists room to breathe while keeping the ever-present threat of the Royal Army. 

sand land: the series

Kazuhiro Yamaji (Record of Ragnarok) portrays Rao’s emotional depth with sincerity, and shines in moments where he recounts his past, or faces off against the Royal Army. Mutsumi Tamura (Future Diary) channels Beelzebub’s youthful inexperience with her performance, and Chō (One Piece) gives Thief convincing character development, being a grounding presence to Tamura and Yamaji.

Expanding a time-loved classic is a challenge when the original ending feels definitive, and despite Toriyama’s attempt to shake up the plot, a lot of setup feels rushed without prior introduction, such as the sudden appearance of the angels and their antagonistic relationship with the demons, which was absent from the original story. 

Sand Land’s rushed setup of the Angelic Heroes arc introduces a new source of conflict to the world, but suffers from a disjointed transition, though it shines in its character-driven moments. 

Sand Land: The Series premieres 20 March 2024 on Disney+.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

Sand Land: The Series delivers a dystopian adventure with compelling protagonists, but is hampered by its pacing and expansive worldbuilding. 

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10
  • Story - 8/10
    8/10
  • Direction - 7/10
    7/10
  • Characterisation - 8/10
    8/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 7/10
    7/10