Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Nov 7th 2007
BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad
Ryusuke's band Beck is really coming together. Koyuki has proven himself a surprisingly adept songwriter and the band lineup has been solidified, fuelled by the dual-vocal attack of Koyuki and Chiba. All they need now is some popularity. Chiba learns that Dying Breed is making its first tour of Japan, and given Ryusuke's former attachment to the popular American band, it just may be the break they need. In the meantime Koyuki signs up with his school chums to join the school's Battle of the Bands and runs afoul of some serious girl trouble when Maho and Izumi meet.
When Beck's English co-directors likened the show to an independent film back in the first volume they really hit the nail on the head. The pace and feel of the show have far more in common with independent films than, say your average magical idol singer show (or your average anime show period). Sometimes the series builds incrementally, sometimes it leaps forward, and events constantly repeat themselves as characters' daily routines cycle endlessly. It doesn't really lend itself well to volume and episode breakdowns; there are neither self-contained narratives nor an orderly procession of events. It simply presents its characters' lives, complete in their mundanity and excitement and all the stuff in-between.
This is the kind of show that thinks nothing of whiling away one episode with the details—part-time jobs, bully avoidance, band practice—of normal existence before horning a life-altering stage performance, the beginnings of a murder mystery, and a potent romantic catastrophe into the next. And then spends an entire episode with Koyuki at a school Battle of the Bands contest before clearing up said catastrophe without a single melodramatic flourish in the episode after. There's a strong realism to it all; in the aimless rhythm of everyday life, in the quiet way that relationships form, and especially in the lack of pat closure. There's no satisfaction in seeing a pompous ass like Eiji get his comeuppance onstage or a bully like Hyodo get his just desserts at the hands of a bigger bully, only more humiliation and pain. Director Osamu Kobayashi keeps things realistic and low-key, eschewing flashy animation in favor of careful composition and editing, demonstrating a minimalist's touch with dramatics and a knack for getting maximum effect from his detailed settings and simple character designs.
Don't let talk of anticlimaxes, directorial restraint, or repetitive everyday mundanities give the impression that Beck lacks entertainment value. The series' humor is as sharp as ever, firmly rooted in reality and all the funnier for it (check out the awful musical acts during the Battle of the Bands). And dramatic developments certainly aren't lacking in frequency or power. The excitement when Dying Breed's lead singer reaches out to pull Koyuki on stage or the satisfaction of a romantic reconciliation aren't less powerful for not being served to us on a platter, but more so for having been worked for and earned.
As much as Beck is a story about life and growing up, it's just as much a tale about making music (or more specifically a story about a person for whom those three are the same thing). So naturally the soundtrack is crucial to the series' success. Luckily for fans of hard rock (and for the show itself) the music remains a treat. This volume serves up such tasty musical morsels as Dying Breed's sweaty, intense rendition of the grunge-flavored ending theme, more of Chiba's rap/rock vocals, and a hard-rock arrangement of the Yokai Ningen BEM theme song (the bizarre brilliance of which can only be appreciated by the appallingly nerdy).
Beck's English dub combines a natural (and profanity-laden) conversational rhythm, superior singing and skillful re-writes (particularly during the songs) to deliver one of the year's better dubs. In several ways it's a significant improvement on the original: Chiba's singing style just seems better suited to the English language, and it smoothes over the rough spots in the original version's English sequences. It's also cast to perfection and features many clever—and generally appropriate—turns of phrase not in the original. Those looking for absolute fidelity won't find it, and not all of the changes made can be chalked up to necessity (it is from Funimation after all), but—considering the quality of the end product—as Ryusuke would say: who gives a f***?
This volume features another episode-long English cast/crew commentary, this one recorded in two parts and featuring both directors and most of the main cast letting completely loose. Much like listening to a group of friends yukking it up at a party, there may be some amusement to be had, but don't expect to discover anything useful (other than the fact that co-director Taliesin Jaffe once bared his rear on the silver screen).
Following the development of Koyuki's love affair with music at its own leisurely pace, Beck saunters up to the halfway point, widening Koyuki's stage and deepening his relationships but never forgetting to keep its feet firmly on the ground.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A
+ Seamlessly continues in the same vein as the previous volumes; excellent soundtrack; top-notch dub.
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