Yukio "Koyuki" Tananka is a 14 year old middle school student who is completely unsure of his existence. His life goes through a slight change when his childhood friend loans him a rock CD. He also saves a strange looking dog, and this is where he meets a 16 year old guitarist named Ryusuke. Later Ryusuke gives Koyuki a guitar and this is when his life changes completely as he now finds that missing piece. -summary
The anime genre is so over saturated with the action packed and heavily fan service driven titles that serious down to Earth works like Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad can easily be overlooked. This isn't one of those anime shows I choose to praise because it's kind of unknown and unpopular, instead I think very highly of Beck because it's well put together. Based on the manga written by Harold Sakuishi, with this 26 episode series directed by Osamu Kobayashi, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is an introspective, slice of life drama/comedy that follows people who found their way in life through music. This is an anime that was put together by those who have been around music and love it for it what it is and can be.
Beck shines brightly in a few areas, the first is definitely in the characters and with some of their development. Koyuki is your typical flawed teen, and the writing works unbelievably well with his development. The viewer will no doubt become attached to him as he grows; you will want him to succeed in everything he does, such as in his music, making new friends, and even in possible romances. The viewer may also grow disgusted at times with his annoying weaknesses as well. He's very different from the typical male characters in anime for the most part which is actually a very good thing. Some of the other characters are developed better than others, and for the most part there's someone for just about everyone.
The story is also very well developed examining multiple themes with bullying and friendship being among the main issues, but music itself is the main story here. This anime was indeed assembled by music fans, as they pay homage to a plethora of acts and people such as The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and many others. The music scene is also heavily delved into. Koyuki and Ryusuke put together a band called Beck, and through them the viewer is taken through a tour of the underground music scene. I love how its so well portrayed, as the band spends countless hours not only putting together songs, but trying to jell as a unit to perform at local bars with the goal being to make it big.The story vibed with me on many levels as a former song writer myself, especially watching Koyuki attempt to write songs in his room and blistering his fingers doing it. I can't imagine a fan of music not feeling this anime. The behind the scene cutthroat part of the business is also examined, and I have heard similar stories like these from many people.
Beck is very solid, and I mean it outshines plenty of anime titles concerning its production values. Most of the music is done by the former Japanese rock group The Beat Crusaders, and I think these guys were very good at their craft. There are several songs being played throughout the anime with even some good background music at times. The music was indeed the focus here to deliver a truly genuine experience, and there is a focus on guitar riffs, bass, drums, and vocals. As a fan of rock I can say that I was never bored with the tunes. The animation is very good for the most part and there is a nice cohesion with the camera work. The characters fingers and hand movements flow nicely, and the camera uses several crafty zoom-ins; the jam sessions and performances are just so cool to watch.
The character designs are heavily manga influenced, and this visual style was quite original at that point in time. There is a big influence in pop culture, and the characters portray it well with their variety in clothes, hairstyles, and even mannerisms. The dialog is pretty well laden with profanities, and even though it may feel forced to some viewers, I have to say it fits like a custom made glove. These characters are city dwelling teens and this is exactly how they should be acting. None of this could have possibly worked though if not for the top notch voice acting consisting of the usual Funimation suspects; Justin Cook, Greg Ayres, Brina Palencia, and Eric Vale. Greg does a great job with displaying the puny geek in regards to Koyuki, but as usual, as great a voice actor he is, I find his squeakiness quite annoying. I'll also come out and say that the English dub is far superior, because I think it's far more energetic and captures the personalities of these misfits very well. The only issues I have in this area is mainly with the frequent use of stills concerning the animation. I understand that the budget for this anime must have been huge, but a handful of scenes did look pretty weird though.
Despite my praise for the writing and the story, Beck does have its flaws such as small story elements either not being wrapped up well or satisfying enough. The romance cliche concerning the male keeping his feelings in check should have been jettisoned, because this is used way too much in anime. Some characters such as the bass player Taira and the drummer Saku could have used more development. The viewer will understand how they think, but bass players, drummers, etc. would've definitely appreciated some depth in regards to those often overlooked instruments. In addition, although wrapped up for the most part the ending felt pretty rushed.
Sadly, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is not an anime for everyone. It's pretty slow-paced, not the least bit action packed, and fan service isn't over the top ridiculous. Although the anime does take itself serious at times, it never ventures off into the dark realm creating some type of genre clash. It's light-hearted, dabbles very well with drama and comedy, and it's actually very uplifting. It's one of the better coming of age stories in anime that can probably help someone find that missing "thing" in their life. If you enjoy strong character development, rock music, and just an overall good story, then you may not go wrong with this.
-Very strong characterization, animation, and music
-Small story elements
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