Wednesday, 25 May 2011

BECK / BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad

I had mixed feelings all the way through Beck. In the end, I can only say I really enjoyed a handful of the episodes. In general, having tried out both, I'd say that the manga is high-quality, but the anime adaptation lets it down. The plot is simple but effective – a young boy called Koyuki, picked on at school and without any real friends, meets an older boy called Ryuusuke, a keen guitarist who used to be in a band with one of the most successful rock artists in Japan.

Koyuki-kun soon takes up the guitar, helped by his eccentric teacher, Saito-san, and practices as hard as he can. Soon, he’s good enough to play rhythm guitar in Ryuusuke’s new band, along with some other strong musicians – a band named after Ryuusuke’s dog, Beck. It is only when Koyuki reveals his angelic singing voice that the band truly begin to shine, and through Ryuusuke’s connections and a successful American independent release, they get to headline the third stage at a popular festival.

The band seems to be falling apart, based on the impossible wager that they can get more people watching the third stage then either of the others, and Koyuki is the only band member willing to perform. He goes up and sings a Beatles song, gradually joined by the other members, and they play such a storming set that the unlikely (indeed, faintly ridiculous) feat of drawing the biggest audience slowly comes about – helped by the fact that the main stage band have no integrity (as if THAT really matters!) and the second stage’s equipment broke down.

The real charm of the series comes from the relationships Koyuki has – the achingly ambiguous relationships with girls, the friendships with band members, the comic relationships with certain adults. Where the series gets somewhat daft is in a crazy crime-subplot about Ryuusuke’s stolen guitar, which involves people coming in helicopters to see him, assassins and shadowy rock legends.

The real trouble with this being an anime, not a manga, is that no band, no voice, is ever going to do justice to what you can imagine when you’re told that this band is incredible. I can forgive the dodgy Engrish and terrible animal noises. But I never once believed that Beck could be a success, because they just weren’t a good band. That, along with an often slow and far-fetched story means that this anime will never be a favourite.

For all I was unconvinced by the band, though, Beck had one of the most catchy opening theme songs I've ever heard.

(originally written 6.4.05)

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