- Titles: BECK
- Genre: Music, slice of life, school, drama, romance
- Episodes: 26
- Studio: MADHOUSE
Yukio is going to start high school soon but he hasn’t really figured anything out yet. He doesn’t know what he wants to do or who he wants to be. He doesn’t have any really close friends and isn’t passionate about any hobbies. He’s just sort of drifting along. And that’s not bad exactly but it can be a little…dull. That is until he saves a very odd-looking and ungrateful dog from a bunch of bullies and ends up meeting Ryusuke. For the first time, Yukio has someone he wants to impress and is getting excited about something: learning how to play guitar. But will he ever get good enough to be a professional musician? He certainly is willing to put in the hard work!
Even as I write this I’m not sure how I feel about Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad. There are some things in this show that are pretty unique and I was really impressed by them. And as far as anime goes, this is not a genre I have seen a lot. On the other hand, there are elements that I thought didn’t work that well or just weren’t for me. In any case, I can say one thing about Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad that I have never said about another anime.
This is an older show although not that old either. It came out in 2004. Still, it has a vintage look complete with old-school aspect ratio. That’s not to say the production is bad. On the contrary, it’s actually quite good. Both the story and visuals have a certain dedication to realism (we’ll get back to how realistic the story is) so the character designs aren’t too exaggerated, the colours aren’t all bold and in your face and the backgrounds look like, well Tokyo and New York and wherever they are.
I thought it looked good. That realism in the images helps a lot with the story and I enjoyed the art style personally. There are also little visual tributes to all sorts of music legends peppered throughout. Most obviously, Yukio (Koyuki) often wears a classic The Who hoodie with the target design. It’s never commented on so if you know, you know. There are a lot of guitars and sometimes the characters will give us the details but other times, it’s simply the image of well-known instruments and once again, it’s there only as an easter egg for music dorks to spot.
I like that. It doesn’t add anything to the story, there is no interplay of these elements with the narrative. But it does give you the sense that at least a few of the people involved with Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad are real big-time fans of rock & roll and just popular music and its history. It adds a bit of extra context and life to the series.
Story & Characters
Hmm. how do I go about this? OK, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is a music-focused teen drama. You know, the type that use to be on the CW. It’s a good one if you like teen dramas.
It starts off very down to earth. Yukio is a sympathetic main character and his challenges and ambitions are very relatable. If I could fault him with anything, maybe he’s a bit too reserved at times and sort of defaults to doing nothing. But I liked Yukio as a character. This is good because he is the character we spend the most time with and probably the one with the least amount of character development. To be fair, the others have a few flaws they have to deal with more pressingly.
Most of the characters are relatable now that I think of it and for the first half of the series, all the events make sense and progress quite naturally.
That’s actually something I really liked about Beck. Yukio has a good ear but he isn’t a prodigy, it takes him a year to get good at guitar and even then most of the other guitarists are better. It also takes a really long time for the band to get any traction. all of that is really realistic and it plays out well. In some ways, it reminded me a lot of Given.
But then you have Ryosuke. His back story is never fully spelled out but it seems wild. Really wild! Almost impossibly wild! He lived in the states, he was part of a bad that is now no1 in the world and is still close friends with them, he has some unknown organized crime tie in, he’s a high schooler that lives more or less unsupervised but also has a hot little sister. I like Ryusuke but he is the character they put all the extravagance on so it feels unbalanced.
And in the second half of the series, they decide to ramp up the tension with a kidnapping story and some pretty convoluted turns of events that felt forced and didn’t really feel like they belonged in the same series. Which is very teenage drama.
I’m not done with stuff I liked. I had a very two-sided experience with Beck so this post is going to attempt to convey that duality.
I really liked Yukio’s relationship with Mr. Saitou. It’s an actual mentor relationship and it’s sweet. You can really see why they would get along and how much Mr. Saitou’s influence has helped Yukio. And I really like Mr. Saito. That’s why it was so tough watching this man in his late 30s or early 40s get tipsy and try to trick a 14-year-old into stripping. He also oogles teenage girls the entire series but luckily ends up with an adult…in her early 20s.
The thing is, I still like Mr. Saitou and while I was watching Beck I got a bit weirded out at certain scenes but immediately forgot about them or thought, awww what are you gonna do. And that sort of makes it worse. I self normalized it? In any case, I’m a bit conflicted about the character and I respect anyone who would not enjoy watching an old man make advances on teenagers framed as an endearing trait.
I’m creating layers of like and dislike here. My last few points are unrelated though so it’s going to be a bit jarring.
There is a very slow romantic subplot throughout the entire series and, surprise! I didn’t care for it much. I dunno, it was just a bit boring. And all the girls in this show are super manipulative in one way or another. Not bad and I really like all the characters. They just all sort of play games with Yukio and I’m not sure why.
I also really liked the band dynamics, especially at the very end. Spoiler, but not really, for the end of the series. Throughout the show, we see and hear about a lot of other bands and it’s emphasized that bands break up. Like all the time. So as a viewer, you sort of subconsciously start waiting for things to go bad for Beck.
And in the latter half of the series, it seems pretty much inevitable as the drama gets ramped up and they start throwing conflicts in left and right.
But then, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad goes in a different direction. It shows things going right for the band. Really incredibly right as they are set to actually break into the business. The personal drama gets settled and each of them is happy and excited yet, they still don’t think they can work as a band anymore. It’s not some big explosive catalyst or anything it’s just that it’s run its course. And that was great. You never see things end peacefully and because people grow up. Well rarely, and never in teen dramas!
Now I’m not going to tell you whether they get back together again or each forms very successful bands on their own or maybe discover that they also had a passion for cooking… You’ll have to watch to find out!
As for the thing that Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad made me think that I have never thought about an anime before: I might have liked it better as a live-action series… I know, I’m shocked too! It’s like everything I have ever known is wrong…
You might like this anime if:
You are a music nerd. You enjoy teen dramas and slow burn romances. You like frankendogs!
My favourite character:
Yuji Sakurai, he’s a sweetie. I want to see his spin off.
Beck’s Butter Beer (when you want to add some magic to your rock ‘n/or roll)
- Every time anyone says “Dying Breed” – cheer
- Every time Yukio gets bitten – take a sip
- Every time Ryusuke talks in English – take a sip unless you are watching the dub. There is a lot of interplay and importance put on the use of English in the show that gets completely lost in the dub (I tried both) so keep that in mind.
- Every time Izumi is in a bathing suit – take a sip
- Every time we see a full moon – take a sip
- Every time someone mentions Eddie – raise your glass
- Every time a guitar breaks – noooooooooooo!
- Every time they have band practice – get some snacks
- Every time Beck performs – cheer louder
- Every time Momoko ropes Yukio into something – sigh
- Every time anyone ends up in a pool – take a sip
- Every time Hyoto gets angry – take a sip
- Every time Yukio gets bullied – take a sip
I save all my screencaps on my Pinterest and you can find more there if you are interested. But I still like to show you a few in the post. If you’re like me, screencaps are something that really helps you decide to watch an anime or not.