One of the series that really made a splash in 2007 was Beck - Mogolian Chop Squad. Released by FUNimation over six volumes, the show gained a devoted following and was a pretty big hit with the fans. DVDTalk reviewers Todd Douglas and Jamie S. Rich both enjoyed the volumes they reviewed, highly recommending each one. I was curious about the show, but held off on picking it up, waiting instead, as many otaku do these days, for the inevitable complete series set. Well, that wait is over as Beck has now been released in an attractively priced boxed set.
Koyuki Tanaka is an average high school student. He's a bit awkward, especially around girls, and he doesn't have much focus in life. The latter changes when he finds an ugly dog named Beck and his owner, Ryûsuke "Ray" Minami. Ray's a slacker; he lives in a shack and runs a fishing business on a stocked pond his grandmother owns. He's also a very talented guitarist. Koyuki starts hanging around Minami and gets bitten by the guitar bug. Borrowing a guitar from Ray, Koyuki is soon practicing hours and hours a day. He takes lessons from a shop owner down the street, as starts to gain some amount of proficiency.
Though he loves guitar, Koyuki still doesn't fit in at school. He's still being picked on by bullies, and the girls he likes never act the way he's hoping they will. One of the girls on his radar is Ryûsuke's sister Maho. She's a tough and independent girl who seems to really like Koyuki. But if that's the case why does she hang around with other guys? She's hot one minute and cold the next, and Koyuki can't understand how she really feels. He does manage to make some new friends at school though, including Saku, a self taught drummer.
Eventually Ray starts up a band, Beck, named after his dog. Koyuki sits in on some jam sessions and when the original drummer quits, he and Saku are inducted into the band. Being in a band and making a living playing music are two totally different things however.
The reason this is such a great anime is that it's grounded firmly in reality. A 'slice of life' show, this program focuses on some interesting characters but never deviates too much from what could really happen. That's very refreshing. It shows how one part of your life can be going great while another area is not working out at all. Over the course of the show Koyuki is interested in a few different girls, but he's a bit shy and afraid to make the first move. That hardly ever works out in real life, and it doesn't here either.
While Beck is a great band, they don't achieve overnight success. I really appreciated the way the program showed them climbing the ladder, from dives to better clubs to the biggest venues in town, and still that didn't lead to record companies fighting over them. The show also showed the tensions that can build up inside a band, and how sometimes having talent and a desire to play music isn't quite enough.
There were a couple of things that happened where I really had to suspend my disbelief. When an agent from America shows an interest in releasing a Beck album in the US, it's hard to believe anyone, no matter how hungry they were for fame, would have signed the contract that was signed. To make matters worse after that fiasco Ray lets the US company handle all of the details for the second pressing, including the cover shot. When someone's on the run from the mob, they should think about things like that.
While I won't give away anything about the ending, the final episode was very rushed. They could have easily expanded the events in that last half hour into another 5 or even 10 episodes and it's too bad that they didn't. Having said that, the conclusion of the series is one of its strong points. The show wraps up in a very satisfactory manner, but like life itself, not everything is settled and not road ahead for Koyuki and his friends is not clear. This is one of those series that you hate to end, but the way they concluded this series was just right.
The 26 discs that make up this series come on six DVDs. They're housed in double slimcases which in turn come in an attractively illustrated slipcase. These discs seem to be identical to the original releases and have all the extras those contained. It's a nice looking set.
Like the original releases, this show comes with the option of the original Japanese soundtrack in stereo or an English dub in either stereo or DD 5.1. The 5.1 mix adds a lot to the show, especially during the concert scenes. When the band is playing the multi-channel mix really comes alive. It's too bad that the Japanese track didn't offer a 5.1 mix, as the English voice cast good but not perfect. I thought Koyuki's voice was a little whiney at times, but aside from that the dub was fine. The Japanese track has some English spoken over the course of the show, by supposed Americans, and that sounded pretty bad. Overall I ended up switching between tracks at random times trying to get the best of both worlds, something I almost never do. Aside from those critiques I found both the English 5.1 and Japanese tracks to be full and free from defects.
This show comes with a 1.33:1 image which is how it was originally shown in Japan in 2003. The show looked okay, but overall. The opening credits were done on the cheap and had a LOT of aliasing. It really looked bad and I was worried for a while. Thankfully the show itself looked significantly better, though there still was some aliasing and banding going on. When all is said and done, the show looks fine with only minor defects.
This set seems to come with all of the extras that the individual releases had, which wasn't much. There are clean openings and closings, commentary tracks to three episodes (the 'music commentary' on the last disc was pretty interesting if you're into music and were wondering about the author's influences and some of the in-jokes associated with famous bands,) and a couple of music videos.
Beck is a wonderful slice-of-life show that hits all the right notes. The characters are believable, the story is simple yet heartfelt without being too melodramatic, and the music is pretty good (especially the opening song which has a hook that will stay in your brain for days.) If you missed this great series the first time around, now's your chance to pick it up. Highly Recommended.