Brina Palencia, R. Bruce Elliot, Colleen Clinkenbeard, Laura Bailey
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All photos © Funimation
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
et’s get one thing straight: “BECK: Mongolian Chop Shop” has nothing to do with the American recording artist of the same name. It’s neither inspired by his life as a musician nor is it some stupid Saturday morning cartoon à la Andre Benjamin’s “Class of 3000.” It does, however, have a lot in common with the man. Both are deeply rooted in the music scene and are so refreshingly original that it’s difficult for people not to stand up and take notice. Where Beck has managed to carve a respectable career out of his innate uniqueness, however, “BECK” hasn’t had quite as much luck. It’s a damn shame, too, because the series is one of the greatest things to happen to anime in a long time.
Yukio Tanaka isn’t the most popular teenager in school. In fact, although he’s friends with one of the most beautiful girls in class, he's treated like a nobody. When he saves a strange-looking mutt named Beck from some grade-school bullies, however, Yukio’s life is changed forever when he is thanked by the dog’s owner, bi-cultural guitarist Ryusuke, with an electric axe of his own. The two soon become friends, and while Ryusuke sets out to form a new band, Yukio becomes engrossed in the music that he plays. Slowly but surely, the band begins to form – including Yoshiyuki Taira on bass, Tsunemi Chiba on lead vocals, and Yuji Sakuri on drums – but when Ryusuke realizes that they’re still missing a key component, he invites Yukio to come play with them on stage. Yukio isn’t exactly a great guitar player, but his voice seems to demand the attention of everyone around them, and so, sharing duties with Chiba on lead vocals, Yukio becomes a full-time member of BECK, the new rapcore-pop quintet that might just be the next big thing in Japan.
While the first half of the series is all about the band getting together, the second half focuses more on the trials and tribulations they must go through in order to get noticed. This part of the story doesn’t fare as well – especially a subplot involving Ryusuke’s past that ultimately plays a larger role in the big picture – but it’s wrapped up so perfectly that some might not even mind the slight detour. Plus, though the characters and stories are all well-developed, it’s the music that takes center stage. The eclecticism of the soundtrack is incredible, and it really helps make the series feel legit. BECK’s main sound is mostly reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine (the character of Chiba was even inspired by Rage frontman Zack De La Rocha), but that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you’ll hear. Yukio’s songs sound more grunge than anything else, while Dying Breed (the fictional American band that everyone is obsessed with in the series) is mostly pop rock.
It’s amazing to think that “BECK” started off in manga form, because the music is what makes the series so unique. Of course, “BECK” isn’t your typical anime. It rarely falls into the same clichés that have caused so many other series to feel depressingly unoriginal, and the stories and characters are so rich that you could easily adapt them for a live-action show. What other anime could you honestly say that about? It also serves as a great introduction to the medium, because anyone who appreciates music will instantly fall in love with “BECK.” I know I sure did.
Special Features: Though I honestly didn’t expect very much from this release, the bonus material included on the six-disc set is exactly what fans are going to want to see (and hear). Can’t get a particular tune out of your head? No worries, as they’re all provided here in some shape or form. The show’s opening and closing credit songs (“Hit in the USA,” “My World Down” and “Moon on the Water”) are available sans the actual credits, while music videos for BECK’s six major tracks (“Spice of Life,” “Life of Foojin,” “Face,” “Brainstorm,” “Slip Out” and “By Her”) appear one per disc. Rounding out the set is director and cast commentary for three of the show's 26 episodes, which should help to justify the surprisingly high price tag.