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 second volume Koyuki managed to get Ryusuke's guitar fixed but through some circumstances it was broken once again. However, through the discovery of the "real" guitar at Ryusuke's place the estranged friends are brought back together. Beck's members recognize Koyuki's talent and comment about how his practicing has paid off and once our boy makes friends with a drummer named Saku the two are offered positions in the band. As things were heating up both on stage and off we were left with the impression that the best was yet to come for Beck.
As the third volume begins we receive the astounding news that Dying Breed is actually coming to Japan. While the anticipation grows around the city Koyuki learns that he's scraping by the skin of his teeth at school and he is going to have to work hard over the summer. Still, he continues to practice and the time eventually comes to perform on stage live once again. During their performance, the famous Eddy from Dying Breed shows up and watch as Koyuki sings. There are a few touching moments in between and we even see Maho and Koyuki out on a date during this episode.
The second episode on this disc gets even better. Dying Breed has set up a show and their manager makes a deal to bring Eiji on stage to play with them. Naturally you can imagine the shock from Ryusuke and the rest of Beck considering the two of them are enemies and Eddy is supposed to be a friend. Fortunately Matt, one of Eddy's band mates, sets Eiji's guitar on fire, tells him to f-off, and invites Koyuki onto the stage for some vocals.
At first he's naturally intimidated by the prospect of being on stage with Dying Breed in front of such a large audience. I mean, this is one of the biggest rock bands of the day and you simply don't walk up to the stage and start singing with them. He cracks on a couple of notes and loses his cool. Gradually as he gains his confidence he brings it back into focus and sings "Moon On The Water". The effect of this scene is electric and if you have been following the show you'll undoubtedly be touched. Despite all of the Engrish in the Japanese dub I couldn't help but me moved and felt a tingle during the entire performance.
After the show he spends the night with Izumi, who we haven't seen a while, and when Maho finds out she is naturally upset. The third episode focuses mostly on Koyuki and his growth as a guitarist. It also helps tie up some loose ends with the bully that was beating him up and extorting him for money earlier in the series. There is a contest at the school and several bands join in. After some harassment Koyuki gets on stage with his group and wins the challenge (honestly, was there ever any doubt?). The kicker here is that Chiba is working behind the scenes to bully the bullies into getting back the fifty thousand yen that Koyuki was suckered out of. As the volume closes out the suicide of a singer named Erica Blige comes into focus considering Ryusuke knew her on a personal level. Also Maho and Koyuki gets some attention though I won't divulge what happens in their relationship.
Like the first two installments, the third foray for Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is rock solid. This is hypnotic anime and it breaks the mold in almost every instance. I can't get enough of this show and each episode pushes the story and characters to the limit. This volume may close on a somewhat more reserved not but leading up to it are some of the best moments yet. Whether you've a lover of music or not this is a show that you absolutely must watch.
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. With the presence of four episodes on this disc instead of five the compression rate is noticeable better and the video quality stands out equally so.
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.
Once again we receive a special pick inside the DVD case. This one is yellow with a green logo for the show on it. Like the previous volumes there is a music video, clean animation, and trailers for other FUNimation shows. This installment brings a commentary to the table and it's certainly interesting. In many ways this is a multipart commentary with different groups of people chiming in at different times. It's irreverently fun and doesn't really provide any information about the show but it certainly gives you a glimpse into the behind the scenes workings of the cast. They are kooky and come across as great friends so I suppose that helps translate into the show well. Like most anime commentaries this one is only worth watching if you want a little bit of a spin on things and some laughs.
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. I just about stood up and cheered when Koyuki began singing with Dying Breed and damn near cried when it appeared that he broke Maho's heart. This show is so electric and emotional that it shatters conventional thinking where anime is concerned. 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.