Beck is one of the biggest things to happen to anime since Cowboy Bebop. Few shows these days are as talked about as Beck and to be honest you can't go pass an anime crowd without hearing about it. Whether it's on a forum or in person at a convention this is a series that has captured the interest of otaku everywhere. From my own personal experiences at this year's Anime Boston when FUNimation previewed the show the entire room erupted with ear-shattering applause and cheers. That attention, adoration, and praise was well-deserved.
Originally published in manga form about seven years ago, Beck was created by Harold Sakuishi. The animated version was released in 2004 and features 26 episodes to fall in love with. It really is a shame that it took three years for us to see the show here in the States but the wait was worth it in my opinion.
When it comes right down to it Beck is successful on so many levels because it's unique. This is one of those rare shows that bring absolutely no clichés to the table and really it feels like it's in a realm all its own. Everything is inspired from the ground up with a heartfelt story, realistic characters, and an amazing sense of style. An expertly crafted labor of love is the best way to describe this series and it's something that every anime fan must watch. This is required viewing because, quite frankly, it's one of the best anime experiences to come along in ages.
In the first volume we were introduced to 14 year old Yukio Tanaka. He goes by the nickname Koyuki and is basically you're average teenager with a passion for music and that youthful awkwardness we all felt. One fateful day he met another boy named Ryusuke and his life took some unexpected turns. As it turned out Ryusuke was a musician who just returned from America and was looking to start a band. He (and his sister Maho) took a liking to Koyuki and our protagonist became enveloped in Ryusuke's quest to form the ultimate band.
This installment picks up right where things left off after episode five. Koyuki is still working his tale off at Saito's to help finance the repair of Ryusuke's prized guitar. If you recall in the first volume he clumsily broke it from an overpass. This broken guitar is much more than a damaged instrument though. With a surprising amount of depth Beck uses it as a straining point in Koyuki's relationship with Ryusuke. Their friendship is put on the rocks and Koyuki awakens his determination to patch things up and become a person that Ryusuke can respect. It really becomes a journey into adulthood of sorts for Koyuki and there are many subtle changes to his character throughout this volume.
By this point in the series school is back in session and poor Koyuki finds himself in a world of trouble with some bullies. He accidentally dings a Jaguar guitar when a punk tackles him and he's strung along throughout these episodes. He becomes the school's pariah and due to the stature of his enemies the whole school decides its best to shun him. Due to all of the loneliness and despair Koyuki pulls a prank and plays some Dying Breed over the school's intercom. The stunt not only gets him in trouble with the faculty but gets the attention of a transfer student named Saku. Koyuki and Saku become best of friends right off the bat, especially since Saku stands up to the bullies and let's them know he's not going to back down. In the meantime Maho discovers something that brings Koyuki back in touch with Ryusuke.
Given how much Koyuki has practiced Ryusuke's gang is really surprised by how far he's come. When some other stuff goes down and Beck's drummer leaves the group Saku shows off his talent. Both of these cases lead to the two being inducted into Beck's ranks and for the rest of the volume they practice together as events lead up to their first live performance.
Like the first volume of Beck, this installment is ripe with character development as the plot moves forward at a leisurely pace. Hidden in between all of the exposition are plenty of metaphors and subtleties that you'll pick up on if you look hard enough. In so many ways this show exemplifies what good anime has the potential to be. It's thought-provoking, insightful, engaging, and a lot of fun. Beck has gripped me like few shows have and I simply cannot recommend it enough.
Beck is presented on DVD with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. Considering the show was produced in 2004 that's not very surprising considering anamorphic widescreen didn't become the norm until 2006. Stylishly speaking Beck isn't an animated powerhouse. The artwork, design, and world are functional and detailed but not to excess. This is especially true during singing sequences because the lips in no way match up with the lyrics but that's a very minor complaint in the grand scheme of things.
As far as the technical quality of this release is concerned the transfer here is decent but not stellar. The opening sequence fairs the worst with ghastly aliasing and jaunted animation. The actual show looks better by far but there are still many scenes that include gradient blocking, compression, and grain. I appreciate FUNimation's zeal with providing five episodes on the second volume but I would have preferred four episodes and more attention paid to the video.
Beck's audio comes with English and Japanese 2.0 tracks as well as an English 5.1 selection. Due to the inclusion of a lot of singing and musical selections the issue of dubbing is a make or break deal for a show like Beck. The original Japanese dub is fantastic with great emotion and natural voices. The English language offering is adequate and gets the job done but feels a little contrived at times. Each track here sounds like you'd expect they would. The 2.0 stereo tracks are relatively flat and the 5.1 features much more diversity on the soundstage. The rear channels pick up sound effects and music thanks to this being a dialogue driven series. Overall there were no flaws where the sound was concerned.
Speaking of the music in Beck I have to say I was blown away. Not since Cowboy Bebop has a series implemented music in such an impressive and important way. This second volume introduces the song "Face", which is Koyuki's singing debut with Beck. Along with the rest of the soundtrack this song works wonderfully within the structure of the show and goes a long way to giving Beck a voice of its own.
The extra features for the second installment are kind of light but decent enough to toss some points in Beck's direction. There is a music video included called "A Life on the Road", textless animation sequence, and some trailers for other FUNimation releases. Like the first volume this one also includes a guitar pick inside the DVD case.
Beck is one of the best shows that I have seen in a very long time. Everything about this series from the ground up is engaging and feels inspired. The first volume grabbed me and drew me in; the second one kept me equally enthralled. These five episodes really put us in the mindset of Koyuki and you'll constantly be wondering what's going to happen next. Character drama in anime is rarely handled this good and the best way to describe it would be "enchanting". Beck is a revolutionary show that should be on everyone's watch list.
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