Boy makes it big with a band, thus overcoming the loneliness of being an outcast. Using this unremarkable foundation, the series proceeds to erect an impressive plot quite unlike a lot of other shows around. It's mainly the style of presentation, the attention to the details of this musical world, and the fantastic characterisation that allow the story to shine.
If there were one literary word to sum up the entire story, it would be ‘engaging'. It doesn't grab you with stunts or sick twists, but with drama that is textured and intricate in delivery. How does this show make you feel? Well, being a sucker for long-haired men in baggy jeans and Vans trainers, I immediately wanted to blast out some Silverchair, stick posters of Kurt Cobain all over my wall, dig out my tattered jeans from days past, and lounge in a smoky room pretending I know a lot about Hendrix.
On the one hand, the most fun episodes portrayed the practical obstacles in the way of the characters' dreams. For example, the episodes where Ryuusuke, the lead guitarist, hunts around for various characters to enlist for the band, all the while considering the compatibility of these individuals, are excellent. Koyuki's awkward progression from rookie to decent guitar player is believably slow, and the way he and his friend Sakurai Yuuji come to form the final additions to the band comes across as a well-deserved triumph. On the other hand, the personal dynamics found in the bullying side plots, Koyuki's love triangle, and Ryuusuke's semi-gangster background added real value.
In a more general sense, this series also celebrates the universal power of music to shape a person's life. We all have a song that means something to us, or an album that describes how we think about the world, or a band that first bonded us with our friends, and this fact of life makes it easy for us to connect with Beck's central theme. Not once does this series lose pace or divert into silly unrelated subplots in order to bulk up the mid section. If anything, the level of entertainment rises consistently until the very satisfying climax.
Created in an era when glossy animation, flawless movement, and bold colours are the trend, Beck presents us with something directly opposed to the norm. Nothing but deliberate stylistic choice could explain what the creators did with the visuals; for one, movement was generally awkward and what I can only describe as ‘easygoing'. The animation also had an unrefined quality because of the muted colours and simplistic character designs.
Yet, I could tell that different did not mean shoddy in this case because the attention paid to capturing Japan's rock counterculture was fantastic. Everything appeared lifted from real life, from the various phrases on people's T-shirts, the labels on their baseball caps, the layers of colourful outfits, to the fashionable glasses, their distinct hairstyles, their peculiar mannerisms, and the posters and shop signs that depicted where these people went to have fun. I was also impressed with the CG shots of instruments being played, and the realistic way in which the musicians moved. In the end, the high rating is deserved simply because the quality of the actual product - the effort put into capturing the culture - is so high, and the unconventional, unpretentious style works so well to enhance the mood of the story.
Well, it should be clear by now that Beck is very much about sound; in fact, making beautiful noise is all Ryuusuke and his band care about. Do they achieve this? Most definitely. Is it worth buying? Hell, yes. That is, if you like that kind of music. ‘Hit in the USA' by the Beat Crusaders is such a catchy rock opening theme, that I insisted on listening to it every episode (maybe even rewinding to hear it a second time before the story started). ‘My World Down', the ending theme, reminded me a lot of classic nineties Brit-rock bands like Oasis. Whilst the songs during the rehearsals and live gigs often had nonsensical English lyrics, the heavy riffs and hard guitar sounds were right up my alley. Interestingly, unless a radio was present or the characters were in a rehearsal, music was largely absent from the everyday scenes, with natural sounds being used in the background instead.
Just like the animation, the voice acting has a laid back quality to it which I find captivating - moreover, all the voices are well suited and competent in straight Japanese. A few of the characters, like the bullies in the first episode, have genuine American voice actors, however, Ryuusuke, Maho, and a couple of other Engrish speakers sometimes did not make the grade. With lines like ‘Who do you think I'm making me scary?' Maho is the second worst Engrish speaker I have yet come across (Black Lagoon's Revy being number one). Ryuusuke's is more weird than bad because he has the accent down, but not the pronunciation. Fortunately, although Engrish features relatively often in this show, it doesn't detract much from the overall quality.
Beck's approach towards its cast is very well considered. I got the impression the creators allowed these personalities to be themselves and to develop and drive the plot in the way that suited them. The characters, in essence, felt natural.
Yukio Tanaka (generally called Koyuki) is introduced in the first episode as an isolated individual. For example, he gets embarrassingly tricked in class, but rather than get upset or angry, he just sits down again, as if this were normal. However, Koyuki isn't a simplistic introverted dork, nor is he strictly antisocial, because he does have friends of sorts. Moreover, he will unreservedly stand up for a physical fight even against three massive American bullies to protect his friends. It is only in the face of conventional social situations that he rolls over. He is not a coward, exactly, but a person who is so overwhelmed by group dynamics that he can't comprehend being a part of ordinary society.
Ryuusuke Minami is a company executive's son with a legendary guitar, well-travelled, well-connected, and charming in that mysterious musical genius sort of way. Like Koyuki, he is disconnected from the norm, but unlike Koyuki, he gets noticed. One of the first instances he is introduced, he's coldly and publicly breaking up with a girl, showing no sensitivity whatsoever. At the same time, he is a passionate and inspirational person who helps Koyuki to find meaning in music. Ryuusuke is not straightforward, and the several facets of his very subtle personality are revealed incrementally throughout.
Other band members worth some limelight include my favourite, Taira the bass player, who has a calm, self-assured attitude, and Chiba, a silly, aggressive front man who provides some classic comedy moments.
A host of important but less central characters include Maho Minami, who is Ryuusuke's sister and Koyuki's love interest, and Saito the perverted former Olympic swimmer, who makes for a good comedy addition. He links seamlessly into the plot by helping Koyuki build a sense of self-worth through swimming and work. Izumi Ishiguro, Koyuki's childhood love and Hyoudou the bully make enlightening contributions too despite being minor characters.
There are many musical anime, a multitude of coming of age stories, and countless plots about nobodies who become somebodies, and yet Beck still manages to navigate a refreshing route through these well-worn ideas. The characters have a notable intricate quality, the story is an uplifting one about perseverance and passion, and the animation style both surprises and delights. Beck is just a superb piece of work.
“There are two types of people in the world: those who do what they’re told, and those who are true to themselves” -Saku
For those young disenchanted days, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad plays out like a national anthem. Beck enlivens the notion that realism and idealism go hand-in-hand. Sure, life can be cruel, but dreaming isn’t hopeless. We grow up to accept the harsh reality, but it is our naive aspirations that make life worthwhile. Despite the one-in-a-million odds of becoming a famous musician, artists take risks to follow their passion. Beck takes this bittersweet existence and packs it with the gritty, “live hard, die fast” subculture that is rock n’ roll. From the electric walls of sound to the punk rock hipsters, Beck is a Japanese zeitgeist all on its own. Kids cut class, groupies get high, and all are lured into the musical underground—smells like teen spirit if you ask me. But honestly, there couldn’t be a better background to this coming-of-age story.
Beck excels at the “show, don’t tell” game. Characters speak freely, and yet their emotions are implied, making the storytelling more poignant. When Koiyuki is utterly restricted and feels his life’s at a grinding halt, the subway foreman bellows, “STAND BEHIND THE YELLOW LINE”. Or when two lovers feel conflict, there is a heated confrontation between Ryusuke’s dog and a paper wasp. These visual cues convey a range of character emotions that are subtle yet effective. Rather than relying on weak, overbearing narration, the show builds mood through tactful drama. There is an understated joy in watching long still-shots just to listen to Beck’s music in an isolated fashion.
Where Beck isn’t so subtle is in its use of cheap antagonism for our protagonist. From geek to guitar god, Koiyuki still manages to let himself get punched around. How many more bruise-faced bullies do we need until Koiyuki gets the balls to stand up for himself (I lost count after three)? Tack on some soulless groupies, a perverted swim coach, one oversexed teacher and you’ve got a lot of extra baggage. Frankly, the show could cut them out, focus more attention on the band members, and still perform well.
The dynamics between Beck’s band members hit the perfect balance; they create just enough tension and ample amount of camaraderie to get us rooting for them. From cool-headed guitarist, Ryusuke, to rowdy rapper, Chiba, the band is a gold mine of emotions. Each member carries his own personality and flaws, making for some of the most real characters I’ve seen in anime. Maho, in particular, is a fascinating love interest who strings us along for the ride; her free-spirited individualism is a refreshing change of pace (at least for anime). Wunderkind Koiyuki holds the helm of the show, but his personality pales in comparison to that of his band mates. Although his progression is slow, Koiyuki steadily matures across the show’s 26 episodes. By the climactic end, I felt completely attached to the band’s journey.
Ultimately, Beck is all about the music. If classic 80’s/grunge rock is your thing, you’re bound to love Beck; notorious rockers like Lennon, Page, and Cobain are referenced throughout the show. Moreover, Beck gives rare insight into the ruthless, competitive music industry of the now. If you’re a guitarist or a band member, it goes without saying: Watch Beck. There seems to be a love/hate reaction to this show due to its “sluggish” pacing and heavy rock influences, but that simply comes with the musical slice-of-life territory. For everyone else, there’s still a universal message to be gleaned from the roaring madness…
Oh, and I watched this dubbed, so no complaints here about the Engrish.
ANIME NORMAL LIVES SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Beck is a slice-of-life/romance/motivational show about everyday teenagers aiming to become *random shounen lead pops up* THE BEST MUSIC BAND IN THE WORLD! Now before I start I have to clarify how slice-of-life is for me the dullest genre imaginable. What saves face to it is when they try to mix it with something else besides that. Romance is the easy way most of them head for. We can’t have a series about everyday people who can’t have love problems, right? And since this is an anime, we just can’t have a show without an indecisive lead or the world will come to an end. Ok, we might as well throw in some youths who want to accomplish something great and awesome that will inspire the audience to cheer for them. All that sound just fine and we can have something good if all go well.
… And guess what, they didn’t. It is a fine romcom of a show if this is all you ask for, which is at best a completely average anime for me. Teen flicks are not exactly the brightest or most well made shows you see. Reasons?
The production values are messy. There is a huge quality gap in several episodes and the result just makes you think they were running out of money half the time. It is also very confusing to see them looking cool in one scene and like stupid caricatures in another. Something which does not count as artistic choice but plain laziness. This is not the usual treatment we get from Studio Madhouse.
The songs are not as awesome as they are supposed to be. For a series about a band who claims to aim for the top and doing pretty well in terms of popularity as it goes on, the songs don’t exactly excuse it. They don’t sound as amazing as they are supposed to. In fact, most sound pretty average so you can only think they are popular only because people with no taste cheer for them.
Their English pronunciation plain sucks! They aim to be the best in America when they can’t even talk properly. Maho in particular is supposed to know it perfectly and she obviously can’t speak English. I know that the songs and the language are “supposed” to sound great and that the viewer is “supposed” to suspend his disbelief long enough to accept a series were the band is a lot better than it sounds. But come on, it’s not like we couldn’t get a far better soundtrack or proper English-speaking voice actors. This again feels lazy.
The romance part is completely useless. Seriously, it is there but it never seems to matter. EVER! This is the story of some teens who want to be the best in the world and not to score with some girl (who conveniently is in the same band). In fact, they can get all the romance they want from groupies as soon as they succeed. Instead of that we get this ridiculous romantic triangle of sorts which couldn’t be more juvenile than that.
The main lead is too indecisive. Seriously, Yukio is shown to be antisocial and reluctant most of the time and yet we are supposed to think he wants to show his worth and cheer for him as he struggles for acceptance. Sorry but I can’t suspend my disbelief that much. People who want to take over the world (at least the musical one) are supposed to be cocky sons of bitches and not these frail chicken.
The story is very simple and is even left incomplete. Well, there is no need to further analyze that; simple stories are easy to get over and incomplete ones are extremely annoying. Yes, you can still read the continuation in the manga but this is a review of the anime.
The anime is not very motivational. Seriously, it ain’t. If its goal is to make you cheer some simple guys who aim for the top, then the whole thing is done lazily. Just compare to the far greater response other music band anime had. Detroit Metal City, Suzumiya Haruhi, K-on, these tuned thousands to either start their own band or at least scream of joy every time they heard one of their songs. Beck didn’t have this effect because the songs weren’t that good and the protagonist was neither a death metal king of demons nor a cute loli. HE WAS A CHICKEN!
The anime is not realistic. In case you wonder “It’s anime, of course and it isn’t” I just have to mention this because most people I know who like it is exactly because they consider it realistic. The above anime I mentioned are to them too unreal but Beck is down to earth for having average everyday people. That is so sweet; too bad they are drawn lazily half the time, their songs are not that great, their English is terrible, the romance is out of place, the lead is a chicken, the story is incomplete, and I don’t dance like an idiot every time I hear them perform. And for Pete’s sake, WHAT DOES A MOTIVATIONAL SHOW HAVE TO DO WITH REALISM? They aim to take over the music world; does that sound like something everyday normal people would do? Normal people just want a job, money, sex, and/or lots of time wasted on their hobbies. Jeez, get your facts straight already…
VERDICT: MEEEEH. I have seen far better and I sure don’t feel like ruining my English in order to become famous.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 5/10
General Artwork 1/2 (seems good but it’s messy in too many places)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 1/2 (basic)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 6/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 2/4 (average)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 4/10
Premise 1/2 (typical)
Pacing 1/2 (slow)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 1/2 (so-so)
Conclusion 0/2 (left incomplete)
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 6/10
Historical Value 2/3 (rather famous)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot)
Memorability 2/4 (kinda memorable for its presentation but that is all)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 3/10
Dull and hardly motivational as it claims.
Personally, for me this anime came to me at a time I needed it. Introducing me to newideas in music and slice of life anime. I say give it a go, this is a first rate anime and should be given a watch. If for no other reason than the kick ass soundtrack.
Gonna keep this spoil free. Typically, I'm not a huge fan of the Slice of life genre. I can't remember why I even started to watch this anime in the first place since it's usually something I wouldn't go near. But I'm very glad I did.
To say that I really enjoyed this anime means a lot since by my typical tastes, I shouldn't have. I watched the dubbed version so I can not speak on the original with subbed.
The first thing that I think of in regard to this anime is the music. They did a great job filling that garage punk rock sound and really brought me back to the days of the 90's. The music writen by the characters were actually very entertaining to listen to and on occasion I still listen to it.
The story revolves around their band trying to make it big and we follow them as they grow together musically. You get a feel for their struggle and passion in what they are doing and you can't help but root for them the entire way.
I liked that there was no supernatural or magical element to this anime. In my experience, even the more down to earth anime like to throw that in somewhere. The story felt real the whole way through as if it followed the life and growth of a real band.
The characters had a nice mix of personalities between them. Nothing felt too over the top dramatically which seems to be a popular theme in this genre.
My problems with the anime are pretty minor; with one being the relationship between yukio and maho. But to be completely honest, that really stems from my general dislike of this kind of genre. Childish love drama really doesn't interest me. I felt it took away from the real story which was the growth of the band and their struggles as a whole.
The other issues really are minor and forgettable compared to the whole of the anime. After watching this anime I was left with the strong desire to learn how to play the guitar. That is one reason why I consider this such a good anime. I don't too often leave an anime with a desire or inspiration to follow. It was able to move me and intice me enough to have that urge to buy a guitar and fail at playing it. I still have that desire even so long after watching (2-ish years). That feeling along with my thorough enjoyment of the music they played is the foundation of my reasoning behind my impression and review of it.
Even if this originally didn't seem like something you would like; give it a shot like I did. You might end up surprised.