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.
The show begins simply enough and introduces a young boy (Tanaka Yukio, age 14) on the cusp of outgrowing his childhood. Known to his friends as Koyuki, Tanaka is a quiet lad who enjoys music, goes to school, likes girls, and largely feels misunderstood by those around him. Chances are very good that we were all like Koyuki at some point in our adolescence because there's always that awkward phase around that age.
By chance one day Koyuki is spotted by Izumi, a female friend who has a tendency to make him blush. The two are brought back together after a couple of years apart and their friendship is rekindled like it was never broken. They go out bowling and for drinks/eats with a group of friends but in one particular location Koyuki spots someone he had just met shortly before. It was when he was walking home from the arcade with one of his other friends. He spotted a funny looking dog being chased by some boys and he stepped in to help the pooch out. He got bit for his efforts but the dog's owner, a 16 year old boy named Ryusuke, showed his appreciation for helping Beck (the dog) out.
Despite his young age it turns out that Ryusuke has actually spent plenty of time in America, speaks English very well, and was part of the band Dying Breed with Eddie Lee. Due to all of this, and his kind treatment after Beck bit him, Koyuki begins to idolize Ryusuke. The two become friends and along with Izumi, Koyuki goes to his first Live Club to watch a battle of the bands style concert.
Things don't turn out so well for Ryusuke's band and he actually splits with his partner in music Eiji. The two vowed to outdo the other by creating the ultimate band and thus Ryusuke begins his quest. He finds a bassist but is told he won't join unless Ryusuke's band has a good lead singer. Through this volume we see Ryusuke explore his options and eventually he goes for an eccentric guy named Chika who is hot-tempered and a little crass. During all of this Koyuki remains the central character and goes through many stages of development.
His appreciation for Ryusuke's music continues to grow and he even gets lightly involved with his friend's sister, Maho-chan. Things are going great for Koyuki and Ryusuke even gifts him one of his most prized possessions, a guitar given to him by Eddie. Through a series of events Koyuki winds up being careless with the instrument and his relationship with Ryusuke hits a sour note. He's told to never come around again and begins to wallow in self pity. When his swimming instructor discovers the broken guitar he promises to get it fixed and help Koyuki learn to play.
It's this journey of self-discovery that really propels Beck into another league as far as anime is concerned. Koyuki's character has so many levels and the writing is so tight that you can't help but feel what the kid is going through. This first volume is a rollercoaster of emotion and the five episodes offer a lot of subtleties to pick through. Sure the pacing was on the slower side and more development in the story would have been appreciated but as it stands I think this approach was appropriate. It gives time for things to sink in and offers you the opportunity to appreciate the little things.
Beck's second volume can't come quickly enough in my opinion. If the four episodes contained within that installment are anywhere near as good as these were then we're in for a real treat. I could go on about this volume all day to be quite honest but I want to leave something to be discovered for those of you interested in watching it. Let's just say that if you love anime, have an appreciation for music, and desire a great story with rich characters you have no further to look than Beck.
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 first 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. The opening track "Hit in the USA" by Beat Crusaders really gets the blood pumping and "Moon on the Water" is a heartfelt little ballad. The grunge music in between isn't really my cup of tea but there are many outstanding tracks available in this first volume alone. Once FUNimation completes this release I hope they can release a soundtrack here in the States.
This review is for Beck's Limited Edition release. The extra money you put down gets you a sheet of Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad stickers and a kick ass collectible box. This package is inspired to put it simply. Designed to look like an amp the box is heavy weight, attractive, unique, and so sturdy you could almost stand on it. If you like showing off your collection in fun ways it's definitely worth putting forth the additional money for Beck's LE.
As far as the special features on the first volume of Beck are concerned there are, once again, some unique inclusions. For starters there is a guitar pick attached to the inside of the DVD case with rubber cement. During Anime Boston, FUNimation had a conference where they announced that each volume will contain a pick. Hopefully they'll hold true and continue this trend.
Textless animations and trailers make their way onto this disc but so do a couple of fun items. There is a music video for "A Life on the Road" and Audio Commentary. The commentary track presented here is very similar to others that you'll find scattered throughout anime releases. Christopher Bevins and Taliesin Jaffe do their best to keep things interesting and light at the same time but it tends to get a little silly after a while. They do go into some detail about crafting an English dub from a show with Japanese music which is kind of interesting.
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. From the very first frame to the last I was glued to my television, humming along with the songs, and constantly wondering what was going to happen next. I have seen a lot of anime in my day but few have grabbed me like Beck's first volume did. This show is something special; a gift from the gods if you will, and it deserves a place in any otaku's anime collection.
The Limited Edition packaging is quirky, unique, and attractive. The video quality on the disc suffers a bit but it maintains a seedy atmosphere which actually works for the series so it's easily acceptable. Highly Recommended