Reviewby Mark Sombillo, Jan 20th 2008
BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad
DVD 1 - V1
Koyuki is only 14 years old, yet he's already tired of life. Everything seemed to be meaningless, monotonous and lead nowhere. There seemed to be no point in even trying. A rather painful encounter with a dog named Beck and its owner Ryusuke one day changed all of this. Soon Ryusuke finds he has talent and introduces him to the life of a rock star. Slow at first but gradually getting quicker, Koyuki begins to live in a world that he is a complete stranger to. As music begins to become his life, Koyuki starts to understand not only who he is, but what his purpose could be. Together with Ryusuke, his old school friend Izumi, the slowly forming band members and Ryusuke's sister Maho, this is a story of how Koyuki discovers that life wasn't always what it seemed.
Production Company: Madhouse Studios
What can I say, I'm a fan of music based anime series. One of the reasons which has kept me interested in anime for as long as I have has been the music. Almost every new series has a new opening and closing song and quite often these songs are performed by some of the best musicians in Japan. And then you have anime revolving around music, which tend to have brilliant soundtracks and then some!
Hence, I immediately assumed that I was going to like Beck and I would like to say that I did so from the very first episode, however that would mean I wasn't being completely honest. Just as much as the story is about Koyuki's “gradual” introduction into the world of music, so is the pacing of the story “gradually” getting better. This in theory means that the first episode would be the the worst episode I could watch, and every episode thereafter would be better. And after watching this first volume of Beck, that theory holds true.
The first lot of episodes are primarily focused on the introduction of the characters, and there's a fair few of them. The story is based around character development, more so than the music. This is possibly why I found the first episode underwhelming. I expected to see a big awe inspiring performance, if not by the main character then by at least someone who was to be the kind of person they aspired to be. What I found instead were rather well rehearsed profanity-ridden English rhetoric, flashback glimpses of how Izumi and Koyuki started out, and angst-filled reactions to situations which seemed a bit out of place. These things weren't really that bad and after watching the next episodes I understand what their point was, however I think you needed to be willing to stick with it. As we reach the third episode, things start to pick up a bit and Koyuki starts his road to self improvement, and as one would hope, to fame.
Two other major characters are worth highlighting here. The first is Ryusuke, the band leader. Pretty much from the onset of the show, he starts to become the major driving force in Koyuki's life. His rivalry with a former band member and his quest to create the “ultimate band” pushes him to find out what Koyuki was capable of. At the same time his cool exterior and steely resolve makes Koyuki admire him immediately. The other character which I found to be a real joy to watch was Maho. Reminiscent of Mamimi from the cult favourite FLCL, she is the out of place and often misunderstood delinquent who loves nothing more than attention but whom you would be the better for if she gave you hers. Ryusuke's motivation for wanting to involve Koyuki in his band was purely selfish, while hers seemed to be a genuine belief in Koyuki's talent and it's easy to predict that she could be his love interest in future volumes to come.
Attempting to be more believably contemporary and to show that Ryusuke and Maho came from a different background, the original Japanese dub has bits and pieces of English thrown in, often during confrontations with supposedly English speaking tourists. At first, I found this to be some of the best English in a Japanese series that I've seen, but as more is dribbled out, it begins to feel like the voice actors are probably not as fluent in the language but might just be helped along by language instructors. This becomes more obvious on the later episodes of this volume where it sounded like they've let the language instructor go, seeing as how you've now been hooked, and the English grammar took a tumble.
The use of English in the actual Japanese dub, as expected, can throw a spanner in the works when it came to the English dub. There were a few moments when Koyuki was expected to feel left out because everyone was speaking English, but this doesn't come across as easily in the English dub, the language difference has to be assumed rather than heard. This fact is amusingly admitted by the English dub directors Christopher Bevins and Taliesin Jaffe in the directors' commentary who knew this was going to be challenge from the start.
In my personal opnion, the most promising feature of the show thus far is the animation for the concerts. For the most part, the animation is of normal quality, but a lot of effort has been put into animating the use of the instruments and more accurate lip syncing to the songs. Couple it with good cinematography and I have to admit that the concerts are what I'll look forward to more and more as the show progresses. Coming a close second would be the opening song and animation sequence, aptly named “Hit in the USA” by the Beat Crusaders. Cheesy as it sounds, it still made me want to bop along.
Special features in this DVD release include the aforementioned director's commentary, promo spots, textless opening and a music video of a song which one can assume will be heard in later episodes. Along with the song, there are also footage shown in this music video which do not appear in these first five episodes so readers beware, you might see things that could be considered spoilers.
It's been a while since I've genuinely thought a new DVD release by Madman was worth collecting from the start and not wait for a cheaper complete box set to appear. Each episode gathers momentum from the previous one and if this pattern continues, one can only hope for a powerful climax. This also means that for the impatient people like myself, the wait for the next volume has been too long already.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : B-
Music : A-
+ Well paced story telling. Good animation of concerts and fantastic opening sequence.
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