The 2nd Dimension

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Viewing Journal: Beck (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info

Overall= B-
Story = B-
Video = D+
Audio = C+


Tanaka Yukio, better known by his nickname Koyuki is a 14 year old who feels disconnected from life in general. Through the act of saving a mismatched dog, he meets guitarist Minami Ryuusuke, and becomes involved in Ryuusuke's new band BECK. Koyuki's life starts to change as the band struggles towards fame. (Source: ANN)

There is no shortage of shows involving teenagers discovering that they have an innate talent for something, and -- with the help and encouragement of those around them -- "working their hardest" to develop and increase their abilities until they become the best in the world. It's a formula that works well most of the time because friendship, encouragement, triumph, and rise to greatness are all uplifting themes that most anyone can get behind, Beck being no exception. But Beck also has the added benefit of being about a rock band, which makes it more relatable than most.

Koyuki is a normal 14-year old who one day happens upon a freakish-looking dog, and through it meets up with Ryuusuke -- a guitarist who is working to start a new band. Koyuki begins to learn some guitar and develops his singing talents and eventually ends up bringing the new band Beck/Mongolian Chop Squad stardom in Japan with hopes of making it big in the US.

I think the biggest draw of this show is the fact that it actually seems plausible. Sure, some of the characters and plot threads are unlikely to exist in reality, but the general idea of someone going from being a nobody to being a rock star is plausible because there are so many real stories of rock bands who made that happen. Plus Koyuki's feeling of detachment and his desire for freedom and expression through music are also easy for most people to relate to because music is such a universally understood medium of expression.

The show also does a good job of maintaining a relatively subtle tone. One way it does this is by eliminating any background music in its soundtrack; so the only time you hear music is when the bands are playing. This kind of technique was also used in the Paradise Kiss anime and in both cases was successful in giving the show a realistic and genuine feel by allowing to characters and drama to stand out on their own without the crutch of background music.

The one unfortunate thing is that there isn't much of an ending to the show. The last episode is mostly just a bunch of music-related visuals with Koyuki's voice in the background narrating what the band is doing. My guess is that -- as with so many anime with similar endings -- either the show's writers didn't have an ending planned, or it ran out of material to pull from the original manga, or both.

As for the animation, it's pretty bad. The character designs and animation vary between episodes, but the majority of the time they are sloppy. The only parts that really stand out as being better quality are the times when the bands are playing on stage. It's disappointing, but still didn't keep me from enjoying the story much.

There are a couple of interesting things to note about this show. The first is the fact that the characters -- in the original Japanese dialogue anyway -- will occasionally shift from speaking Japanese to speaking English because two of the characters were raised in America. It's amusing because their accents are so thick when they speak English that if it weren't for subtitles I wouldn't have any idea what they were saying. This is made all the worse when they start swearing in English, which looses some of it's effect because the voice-actors didn't seem to know how to act as well in English as in Japanese.

The other thing that I thought was interesting was how character's reactions to Koyuki's singing -- and Beck's music in general -- compared to the actual quality of the music itself. Back before I saw the anime and had heard of the Beck manga I thought, "How can you have a manga about a rock band? There's no way to hear the music!" But now that I've seen the anime version I can see where the story would actually work better in manga form. That's because in the anime, Koyuki's singing, even at the best of times, is pretty bad. (He reminded me of someone who would have gotten kick off of American Idol in the early rounds.) But regardless, the characters in the anime would react to Koyuki like he was the greatest thing since The Beatles. In manga form this wouldn't be a problem because you couldn't hear the music, so it would be easier to accept that his singing was great as long as you used your imagination. (Though I do have to say that I did enjoy the opening and second ending songs. And if you listen closely you'll catch a Pillows song in the last episode.)

Musical quality discrepancies aside though, I really did enjoy the Beck anime if for no other reason than I generally like stories that involve rock bands. I'm not sure that everyone would like it though since the general storyline is unoriginal and it's animation is sub-par.

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