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 fourth volume of Beck introduced Ryusuke's mysterious past with Lucille and tells a tale of the events that lead up to the death of one of his friends. It wasn't a particularly interesting way to close out the volume as it detracted from Koyuki's quest but it served as a nice way to fill in some background for the characters. In between Koyuki and Maho had some awkward relationship stuff as a pompous TV actor got in between the two and mucked things up a bit. Fortunately for Koyuki he has grown past some of that and seemed to be getting the hang of meeting other girls and talking to them as was evident by his accidental encounter with a girl working at a donut shop.
With only one installment left to go Beck's fifth volume starts off with a focus on Ryusuke and the trouble he's in. The rest of the Beck's members have no clue where he is and little do they know but he's fighting for his life. He was kidnapped by Leon Syke's thugs and finds himself getting the crap kicked out of him for his dealings with Lucille and Beck (the dog; not the band). You see, when it was in America Ryusuke stole both from a Blues legend and his past events have come back to haunt him. Everything comes together with a session between Ryusuke and John Lee Davis that determines his fate.
After things get squared away Beck shifts gears and turns its attention back onto Koyuki and Maho as the girl winds up crashing at his place for the night. Naturally there is the same awkward tension between them and as a viewer I have to say that I'm starting to wonder where they are going in their relationship. Still, there are some amusing moments especially when Ryusuke shows comes back after his beating.
The focus then goes back onto Beck as a band and where they see themselves performing in the near future. Everything is left up in the air and the four episodes here do a fantastic job of setting up the run to the finale. You're left wondering what's going to be down the road for these characters and what the ultimate fate of the band will be. This was another rock solid installment though I must admit that compared to the previous discs it felt somewhat unbalanced. The pacing is slower in these episodes and the way things are left up in the air is somewhat frustrating.
Despite those nitpicky flaws Beck remains one of the best shows on the market. The characters are so well developed and the story has a lot of heartfelt emotion latched onto it. If you're a lover of music and appreciate quality writing and voice acting then this is a series you absolutely have to 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.
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.
The bonus features keep in step with some of the previous volumes as a guitar pick, textless animations, and a music video are the only things you'll find here.
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. Koyuki's journey through childhood and relationship awkwardness is compelling by itself. Add to that his quest for a solid guitar and Beck's attempts to make it in the industry and you have a quality story all around. This installment continues the tale just fine but the Ryusuke side plot made things feel a tad unbalanced. It's over quickly enough and before the end of this volume Beck preps the stage for its grand finale.