Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Beck

 

Similar: Kids on the Slope

Legend of Black Heaven

Detroit Metal City

Nana

K-On!

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Music Drama

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Dives into the struggles of musical success.
  • Creates a complete album for the story.
  • Depth of music knowledge.
  • Excellent soundtrack.

Negatives:

  • Unremarkable first act.
  • Engrish, if accurate, may be too much to handle in the Japanese track.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Beck is the story of a group of teenagers on the path for music stardom. On their journey, reality will throw all of life’s problems in the way as trials to overcome, should they ever take dreams seriously. We follow 14-year-old Koyuki and his encounter with decrepit guitarist Ryuusuke before joining his new band BECK.

I was not optimistic for Beck. Its first few episodes aren’t particularly interesting nor do they have that certain something which promises greatness further on. Take Koyuki for example, whose slant is complaining about how his life is at a dead end. He’s fourteen! This conflict hook didn’t convince me, never mind the stereotypical bullies that torment him. Even Ryuusuke, a guitarist fallen from grace having once played in a famous band, lacks a reason for sympathy. Sure, his Engrish lisp is amusing, but that doesn’t hook a viewer.

But then things start to change.

A girl enters the picture. Her relationship with Koyuki has a natural quality to it that I find refreshing, free from hype and melodrama. There’s also the crazy former Olympic swimmer turned guitarist who has to butt in and correct any swimmer with poor form. He coaches Koyuki in aquatics and music – his pet bird can only say “asshole.” Then they reference established pre-millennium rock bands – Beatles, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, The Who, Rolling Stones, etc. (the list is lengthy) – with a serious understanding of the bands as they write their own tracks, showing research on the subject matter by the writers. And once Koyuki starts playing and singing, in particular, Beck had me. Koyuki performs a song around the middle that is truly beautiful. The mid-crescendo in the plot erased the dull start. One of the greatest surprises comes from those bully stereotypes I mentioned earlier, for they evolve into complete characters by the end. This never happens.

Better yet is the second half when Koyuki gets serious about making it as a musician. He and the band struggle to book gigs, afford equipment, manage personalities and egos, all while working side jobs to pay the bills, and surviving high school on top of that. Beck leaves no corner of the music industry unilluminated from how to craft a melody to contracts to advertising and agencies – even a dip into the darker corners of music to spice the final act. Beck has the reality check that Shirobako should have had.

I love that Beck goes through an extensive arc from middle school through high school and beyond. Often with single-season coming-of-age anime, they only show a year or two of school and leave too much up in the air. To me, the result of the characters’ education is just as important as the journey that made them learn. I always feel unsatisfied when they leave the result in the ether. It’s like watching a film about someone training for a match but it fades to black just as they step onto the field for the big game (What the hell?). I am so glad Beck doesn’t torture like this.

The first half could do with a few episodes’ compression, but the second half is excellent. I experienced the passion for music in these characters.

Art – Medium

Has a distinct style with a drained colour palette that suits the underground music scene. Animation is wobbly and low FPS, but improves in the second half.

Sound – Very High

For a show about rock music, you would expect great rock music. Beck delivers. Beyond its references to rock classics, many original songs were created for the band’s journey, adapted by the actors in both Japanese and English versions. More than the music, the acting is good. In the Japanese, characters sing and speak in Engrish, which is technically correct, for they are Japanese. That said, it might become unbearable to some viewers. Ryusuke in particular has a thick accent with an Engrish lisp. On the other hand, Koyuki sounds almost native when singing English. Americans voice American characters even in the original track, but their dialogue is subpar, which the dub rewrite fixes. Japanese version: technically accurate. English version: easier on the ears. Up to you.

Story – High

A band starts in middle school and aims for stardom through to adulthood. The deep insight into rock music and the industry more than make up for the tepid first half, and is one of the few anime to portray the struggles of professional industry accurately.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for music fans. If you love rock in particular, Beck is a treat. If music isn’t your passion, Beck may still engage you with its characters, but music is the focus.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Deep NarrativeGreat Music

Negative: None

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad – Anime Review”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s