Review: Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad (2004)

Directed by:
Cast: , ,

Distributed in Australia by:

Beck begins the compelling story of a boy who discovers who he is through music. A teenage boy meets an amazing guitar player and together they form the band Beck. Follow the band’s ever-challenging road to fame, as told through the eyes of the impressionable boy.

As much as I am prepared to dive off the nearest stage in appreciation of Madman releasing the single finest anime of the year, that above synopsis must have been written by a heavily-sedated staffer suffering a mid-afternoon caffeine crash. Either that or somebody downloaded stock phrase generating freeware. Beck is about rock n’ roll, man. Say it with me: ROCK AND ROLL! And as everybody knows, rock n’roll is about the primal stuff: discovery and identity. Every decade, without fail, rock n’roll reinvents itself when some teenager somewhere strums three major chords on an electric guitar. From this spark, a new self – a new band – a new family – a new community is born.

That’s what Beck is about.

Koyuki Tanka is living in the purgatory of adolescence. His world extends from his high school to the local video arcade. Koyuki’s personality exists in a proto-form. Lacking the necessary levels of exposure and experience to properly form his own views, his tastes are dictated by pre-packaged pop idols whose success lies in their anodyne nature and slick multi-media saturation rather than any artistic distinction. It is a corporate defined homogeny that early teens know they can safely embrace knowing that it will not set them apart from the group. With adolescence, Koyuki’s identity is primed, waiting for that catalytic something to set him apart. Did I mention how whip smart this anime is?

A freakish patchwork quilt of a dog named Beck is Koyuki’s call to adventure. This seeming homage to Frankenstein-like veterinary practices is Koyuki’s gateway to the out-of-the-ordinary. His owner is the enigmatic guitar playing Ryusuke. Although only a couple of years older, Ryusuke introduces Koyuki to a new world where the pass-out wrist stamp is the sign of membership to basement clubs. Here reside the usual suspects: bad bands with appalling names, more bar staff than audience and beer-soaked carpet. It is a world populated by conflicting personalities: those who crave success and those who don’t; those who want a good time and those who are driven to create something unique; those with real talent and those who think they do.

Koyuki’s attaches himself to Ryusuke and teaches himself to play guitar. His proto-identity seeking to emulate and earn the attentions of the fully-fledged Ryusuke. However Beck is too knowing, too honest for characters to fall into predictable roles. Ryusuke is far too ego-driven and self-centered in his goals of creating the ultimate band to find a mentor role more than a novelty. Koyuki’s childish absentmindedness and Ryusuki’s self-interest and brittle temper cause them to fall out as their differing levels of maturity and contrasting personalities collide.

Intergender relationships are no less fraught. Girls in the form of primary school friend Izumi and Ryusuke’s sister Maho exert their own gravitational pull. But finding common ground for Koyuki can be a tectonic struggle. Female crushes and discussions of manipulating wealthy boys and cars leave Koyuki impassive. It is interesting in Beck that an adolescent’s passage into the sphere adult interactions rarely features adults. Parents are offscreen voices calling to Koyuki from downstairs. For the outsiders in Beck it is friends and bands that are family.

Beck expores how the discovery of rock n’roll is a point of entry into the intricate facets and fragments of self, life and love. It is a process of discovery that crosses generations, where people look for fulfilment in a myriad of ways from commercial to integrity to artistry and relationships are far more complex than can be imagined. Beck is a faultless anime whose razor-sharp insight makes it a must watch. But best of all at tis beating heart, Beck is a love letter to rock n’roll, where rock n’roll can change the world – even if it is one person’s world at a time.

10 bullet-riddled Gibson Les Paul's out of 10.
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