Heroes inevitably trample on others in pursuit of their dreams.
People of the Desert is about those others, who are are subjugated and enslaved by ambitious invaders. More specifically it is the story of Tem, a young boy. Like any sane person he has no desire to war, but circumstances form him to fight to survive. As he fights those close to him are endangered, requiring larger and larger force of arms to protect his ever-growing comrades. Tem overcomes the pain of death vicariously through his people, while growing into the hero who may one day lead them to victory.
The story is told with a
unique presentation. Rather than speech bubbles, dialogue is placed outside the frame; and rather than sound effects or visual motion cues, actions are often communicated in prose. Combined with the dark and muddy, yet somehow clear and expressive art, the resulting experience has a film-like feel.
Sadly, the short length never allowed People of the Desert to completely mature. Bystanders remain largely stereotyped, and almost all named characters are static. The themes, too, suffer from an overt focus on a single faction. The deaths of the subjugated are presented as tragedies, and indeed they are; however, there seems to be a moral flaw in casually disregarding the deaths of enemies, who are simply following orders under a system they cannot individually control.
I still liked this manga, both a history lesson on Miyazaki and as an independent work. At barely over 50 pages, there is not much to lose in checking it out.