Beck: Volume 6
Aaargh! I'm never looking at the Internet again. I finally get my hands on the final volume of Beck, and just to satisfy my curiosity about the series, I decide to do a little research. That was a bad idea, as the first thing I learned is that Beck is based on an ongoing manga series, which is somewhere in the mid-twenties in volume numbers. Beck the series was made in 2005, which instantly tells you one important thing. While we may get an ending in this final volume, it won't be the ending. I suspected as much with the previous volume, but to have it confirmed that those tantalising images in the opening sequence, of the band touring America, the diner, the wide open spaces, and the iconic anime version of New York, won't be realised in the story proper, instantly delivers a sinking feeling. Of course in this world teetering on the edge of destruction/depression/recession/minor downturn/green shoots of recovery/vote for me, the likelihood of the subsequent manga volumes being adapted into anime are slim indeed. The most galling thing is that the Beck manga is one title that isn't released in the UK, not that it would be as appealing, lacking the music. So for once, I place a volume of Beck into the DVD player, scowl on my face, arms crossed, daring it to deliver an ending worthy of the series. Of course it only takes the opening credits to erase that sour mood…
It's a problem common the world over, the disaffected, disillusioned and rebellious teenager who wants to get away from the reins of authority and do something meaningful with his or her life. That means picking up a guitar and starting a band of course. That's before realising that they'd have to learn how to play, and most instruments are gathering dust within a month. There are some brief bursts of raucous glory, bands of Wyld Stallyns calibre, which provide a summer or two of memories, and tales of rock and roll excess to tell the grandchildren. But once in a while there emerges someone with genuine talent, someone who really can perform and has charisma. Then they have to deal with the fickle music industry, the adulation, and the groupies, all the while avoiding those pesky creative differences. Beck tells the story of Koyuki Tanaka, a daydreaming student who wandered into the wrong side of town one day, and had his future opened to world of possibilities.
This final disc of Beck-Mongolian Chop Squad, entitled Dream Out Loud, comes with four episodes. Previously on Beck, the band's greatest chance came up when they signed to play the Greatful Sound music festival, only in doing so, Ryusuke may have sold his soul to the devil. Now, unless they get more of an audience on the third stage than either of the two main stages, Beck will have to disband. On a personal level, Koyuki's rivalry with soap opera boy Yoshito over Maho's affections gets even more serious when Yoshito lays down an ultimatum. And this is when Beck suffers those dreaded creative differences. Volume 6 may just chronicle the final hours of a dying dream.
Maho shows up to the festival with her friends in tow. Who will she see, Beck or Belle Ame, Koyuki or Yoshito? It doesn't look good as she's been arguing with Ryusuke. It's no surprise, as the stress has been getting to Ryusuke, and tact isn't his strong suit. With the morning starting with Chiba storming off, and Taira threatening to quit, it may be that they won't even make it as far as the stage. Koyuki's trying to keep it together, and he spends the next few hours looking for Chiba to no avail. Worse, he runs into Maho's friend Maria, who likes musicians, a lot. When Maho sees her trying to get frisky with Koyuki, she doesn't give him time to explain. As the time approaches, the clouds draw in, and the third stage only has an audience of 500, compared to the 20000 at the first stage ready to watch Belle Ame and Yoshito. Beck is as good as dead, Ryusuke's missing, Chiba's missing, Taira's ready to quit, and only Saku still hopes for a miracle. Then, as the rain starts to come down, Koyuki picks up a guitar and walks on stage.
24. Third Stage
Koyuki's keeping the dream alive, and first Saku, then Taira join him. The crowd's interested, and slowly growing, but it may not be enough. Then Ryusuke shows up, having conquered his nerves, and somehow obtained Lucille from Leon again. Then Chiba finally gets away from security, and on his way out of the festival, changes his mind and heads for the stage. But those creative differences are with them all. No matter what happens, this will be the end of Beck. Not that it matters, as Ryusuke's bet with Leon has no way of going their way. Then the rain drowns out Stage 2, and a groupie crush at Stage 1 knocks Belle Ame's performance into the pits. When someone pipes a video feed from Stage 3 onto the screen for a few seconds, it triggers a mass exodus of the audience, and they're all heading for Beck's gig. But where's Maho?
25. Slip Out
The rain's stopped, the people keep on coming, and it looks as if Leon Sykes has lost his bet with Ryusuke. It may all be too little too late though. The set comes to a close, and despite 10000 fans clamouring for an encore, Beck walk away from the gig, from their future and from each other. Six weeks later, it's as if time's standing still for Koyuki. Leon's seen the light, and is willing to offer Koyuki a solo deal, but Koyuki still dreams of Beck.
Koyuki's still drifting, aimless. He's tried playing with another band, but he can't recapture that magic. He needs Beck, and the world needs Beck too. Fan interest is still high, and Koyuki is serious about getting the band back together. But Taira has a new band, Saku's family moved away and he left school to go with them, and Chiba's determined to forge a new career in the illustrious noodle business. As for Ryusuke, he vanished after the Greatful Sound contest, and no one has seen him since.
Beck gets an unproblematic 4:3 transfer (NTSC on the Region 1 of course). The image is clear throughout, the colours are strong, and there are no signs of obvious artefacts. The US disc gets multi-angle credit sequences. The US credits are re-versioned to show the English cast and crew in addition to the original crew, and when overlaid on the credit animation, the image suffers from strong aliasing. Fortunately the jagged lines are absent from the textless credit sequences in the extras, as well as the original Japanese language credits.
Madhouse studios provide the animation for Beck, and it is strong, vibrant and dynamic. The world design and the character designs are distinctive, and the singular feel of the show is palpable. As with all modern anime, CG and traditional 2D animation combines to make a pleasing whole. Here it is the guitars that are given the digital makeover, and the care taken on animating the instruments really adds a dimension to the anime.
You have a choice of DD 5.1 and DD 2.0 English, along with DD 2.0 Japanese and optional translated subtitles and signs. Naturally, given that it is a music heavy show, you can expect some serious j-rock tunes to nod your heads to. The sound design is more impressive in the 5.1 track of course, but it's pretty standard for a television anime. Given the music content, it's a shame that the Japanese couldn't have been a 5.1 track as well.
There is an extra dilemma in choosing languages this time around. Beck is a show about cultural differences, with everyday school kid Koyuki entering a new world of music. This difference is most apparent in the language spoken. In the Japanese dub, while Koyuki and his friends speak Japanese, Ryusuke and his circle are more used to speaking English (Ryusuke and Maho were raised in America), so for all the Japanese dialogue you'll be reading subtitles for, there is a fair bit of English too (the songs are mostly in English). The trouble is that fluent English spoken for a Japanese audience by Japanese voice actors, isn't fluent English for an English audience. Accents vary, with Ryusuke's VA quite good, while Maho's accent is strongly Japanese. Understandably then, the English dialogue is subtitled as well.
For the English dub, the cultural differences remain, but the script is reworked to lose the difference in language. It's understandable why this is done, and you don't have to suspend that extra bit of disbelief. It's like Arnold Schwarzenegger's perfect Arabic in True Lies. The thing that I am not quite au fait with yet is that the songs are rerecorded for the English dub as well. On the one hand you have performances by Japanese bands for the show, on the other you have voice actors rerecording those songs, and I'm not sure that is necessary in all cases. Regardless, you have both versions to listen to here, and you can make your own mind up as to which are better.
The usual animated menus, jacket picture, and textless songs are here. The Region 1 disc gets a large selection of trailers too, autoplaying with a trailer for Black Blood Brothers, and looks at Fullmetal Alchemist, Aquarion, Dragonball Z, The Clamp Double Feature, Witchblade, One Piece, Shuffle, and the Z Store on the disc. The US disc also offers multi angle credit sequences for the episodes.
There is another 'A Life On The Road' music video, this time it is, "By Her (Endless Travel Man)".
The big offering is the "We Can Work It Out" Music Commentary, featuring music ADR director Mike McFarland, and voices of Koyuki (Greg Ayres), and Chiba (Justin Cook). This accompanies episode 24, and is an interesting listen. It turns out that not even the anime industry is free of rights issues, with a certain Beatles track used in the Japanese dub, impossible to licence for the US version. It also turns out that it became necessary to adapt certain songs, changing lyrics, smoothing translations, ranging from minor tweaks to major changes. It's interesting that the Japanese company didn't supply karaoke tracks for the songs, requiring the dub creators to re-record the songs from the ground up. It's surprising how closely the instrumentals match on both versions then.
Finally, you'll find a Beck guitar pick slipped in the Amaray case, not the best idea for disc integrity.
Beck comes to a close with an ending worthy of the series, with four episodes focussing on their final gig together, and the immediate aftermath. It's brilliant storytelling and character drama that exemplifies exactly what I have come to adore about this excellent series, and it fulfils everything that I had wanted from the conclusion and more. Beck also has an epilogue, which is mildly annoying. It's annoying for two reasons, one being that it tries to tell in 2 minutes of montage a whole new story. Fortunately it does it in a way that while not exactly satisfying, certainly doesn't seem forced or out of place with the rest of the show. The second reason is that it decreases the likelihood that a second series will be made, for the events related in that photomontage really should have been another series of Beck. There's plenty of life in the old zombie dog yet.
As I'm usually wont to do with final volumes, especially of serial stories like this, this is where I forego my customary episode analysis, preferring not to spoil the surprise and expound on any last minute plot developments. The fact that the conclusion of Beck really boils down to the Greatful Sound gig and its aftermath, and focuses specifically on what happens to the band, and what happens with Koyuki and Maho, then even talking around the subject becomes spoilerific. But as always happens with this series, I was enthralled, engaged and utterly involved with what was happening on screen. I certainly wasn't disappointed. If you have been following this show as avidly as I, then this volume is a natural purchase.
Looking back at this series, I'm still struck by how unique it is, how singular an event in anime. It's certainly a topic you never consider in anime, a story that so easily could have been told in live action, but somehow really excels in this medium. The writing is astounding, the characterisations are memorable, the pacing is spot on, and of course the music is excellent. All of that, coupled with the brilliant animation from studio Madhouse makes this a must own anime. They hit their peak in this final volume, bringing to life the Greatful Sound concert with a vitality and energy that you would expect to be lacking come the end of a series. But these crowd scenes, usually so difficult to animate with any degree of effectiveness, are effortlessly accomplished here, not so that they stand out, but that they don't stand out, that they feel absolutely real and natural.
Beck's has been Koyuki's story, following his growth from aimless teenager to fledgling rock and roll star. But it's been such a measured, and honest progression, that it's never been less than enthralling. Koyuki's path has been strewn with more than his fair share of pitfalls, but I'm sure that many can relate to his problems, whether it was with the school bullies, or girls. Watching him grow from an uncertain and indecisive follower, to confident and independent young man has been revelatory, and when he takes the stage at the Greatful Sound festival, you can see the weight of those past 24-odd episodes on his shoulders being shucked off, as he takes his final steps towards becoming the man he was destined to be.
The characters make this show what it is, and Beck has been replete with memorable characters. It's also replete with memorable moments, and it's definitely a show that will stay with you after the end credits have rolled, and you will be compelled to return to on more than one occasion. As a slice of life show, Beck is simply without peer, and I'd recommend it to anyone as an example of what good anime truly is. The 10 is not only for this volume, it's for the series as a whole, as while it isn't perfect, it's a whole lot closer to perfect than most other series manage. As with Suzuka, this really is a show that needs to complete its UK release as soon as possible, probably even more so. Keeping UK fans deprived of the final two volumes constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment.
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