What They Say:
Koyuki Tanaka was feeling the rut, even though he’s only a teenager. Between the sheltered and stifling grind of school and the girls that spend their time not noticing him, every day was just another day of being a total nobody. Enter Ryusuke, a local rock ‘n’ roller haunted by a shady reputation. Together they form Beck, a dynamic band that just might be the salvation of the stagnant music scene.
Sure, it’s going to take hard work and obsession to make it, but there’s something special in the sound. If the guys can stay true to their vision, the world awaits. Music can change your life, sometimes against your will.
Just remember: when it’s live, anything can happen.
Contains episodes 1-26 in both Japanese with English subtitles and with English dub.
The audio has no real issues – we get two English releases, a 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound and 2.0 Stereo as well as the original Japanese track also in 2.0, the audio is given a lot of love especially in the English dub where they brought in instruments and musicians to bring out many of the tunes in the original (though a particular song near the end had to be replaced due to costs) making it even better than it already was in the 5.1 track – the original Japanese is also superb, though, no need for adjustment in it (had to lower it in the 5.1) with the music, foley and lip-synching, whilst an older series it still shows the love through it especially in English. (And it is fun watching the Japanese with the native English speakers vs. the Japanese speakers trying to speak English…)
Set in the standard PAL format (anamorphic), with the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio on a widescreen format (done with black bars on the sides), the video is a grainy like effect (DVD only) and considering the more realistic nature of the series it fits well – in terms of quality, there was no issues from the series – the nature of the series and how well it comes through is still great, and there were no issues with subtitles with the audio – however during pausing there were some issues of blurring which isn’t the biggest deal in terms of in-show as it flows fine with no slowdown, but this is 2016 and not early DVD releases back in the ADV days so was very surprised this happened. Otherwise, still a good release.
There was no packaging for this test release.
On four discs, each disc is set up in the same way, with one of the members of Beck in the forefront and then all the members showcased on the side in small squares (Ryuusuke in Disc 1 for example up to Chiba in Disc 4) in colour, with the menu selections of Play All, Episodes, Set Up and on disc 4 Extras – the selection is actually a little hard to see as it is done via the word ‘LIVE’ in small red lettering – I could see this being a problem watching it on a PC and selecting with a mouse – it is basic, switches screens quickly and can select from the show back to the main menu so no other issues, just standard.
The only extras we get are on disc 4 with all the clean endings and the opening – considering how good the songs are this is a bit better than standard, but again just the general extras we expect.
Beck/Mongolian Chop Squad first came out in 2004, just as I was starting to get into the anime scene a bit – I remember it airing as a ‘must watch’ at the big anime convention in the video rooms as something a bit different. I didn’t actually go and see it but a few friends over the years said how unique and awesome it was.
Cut to a few years later and I see it in a bring and buy at another convention and gave it a blind buy.
And it still is in my collection a decade later.
Spoiler alert: This is one of my favourite series and it isn’t hard to give a recommendation already in the review and hopefully more people in the UK will give it a shot as it is only a DVD release via Anime Limited, but it is one of those journey series that is more realistic in presentation than your normal show, has great character development, and of course, the music is the big selling point. This is one of those shows that when it was brought into English, the crew knew they had something special that they managed to change the part when the main character doesn’t understand English a lot in the series (the Japanese has quite a bit of English spoken) to a culture shock and it doesn’t seem to clash or get many moans compared to say the 4kids dubs of changing things. This is because of a quality English dub who the actors like Greg Ayres and Brina Palencia legit sing their parts and even brought in musicians when the audio quality in the original Japanese wasn’t up to snuff. It got a lot of love from the cast and hopefully with this release will get more love than the original release.
The story starts with our likable lead, Koyuki, a 14-year-old boy with no direction – he’s your average nice guy but has no major goals in life and wondering what to do in said life. On the way back from school, he bumps into a strange looking dog being picked on by some kids. He sends them away and bumps into the dog’s owner near a fishing hole. The owner, named Ryusuke, is about to give Koyuki the major change he needed…
Ryusuke as a thank you invites Koyuki to see his band and Koyuki’s eyes literally open around what the world can offer him – he will later go through both the good and bad of this but for now, something has ignited his passion – in this case for music. Worlds expanded from J-pop, the idea of foreign music, English, all these concepts amaze him and he gets slowly sucked into Ryusuke’s world – whilst Ryusuke himself has his own issues, from looking for new band members and dealing with ones with different ideals – some become rivals to the bitter end.
The relationship between Koyuki and Ryusuke also comes with other people and issues – an early one is when Koyuki is given a rare guitar by him to practice and it is destroyed by incompetence and bullies, it seems to end their potential friendship – fortunately the misunderstanding and a person who becomes a rock to Koyuki, Ryusuke’s younger sister Maho, will rectify these issues but more continue in the story of the new band Ryusuke wants to form, the band known as Beck.
Beck eventually becomes Koyuki, Ryusuke, and three others throughout the show – the bassist Taira (who is a shout-out in his style to Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), Chiba the rapper, who is a bigger hand in Koyuki’s bullying issues and is a good source of comedy throughout, and later Saku – a transfer student who becomes Beck’s drummer and Koyuki’s best friend after his school goes on a silent bullying for him for no reason aside from one of the bullies being a dick to him.
Along with Maho, Koyuki also has another surprising helper in the former of a middle-aged man named Saitou – who is a former Olympic swimmer and also plays guitar. Saitou despite the trademark of a perverted old man is a surprisingly good help to Koyuki, both as a performer and in swimming (to help Koyuki’s lung capacity and endurance) as Koyuki turns out to having quite a good voice. This leads Ryusuke to Koyuki joining the bad as he is learning guitar to do some soothing songs to counter Chiba’s high energy songs, giving the band some good variety.
The group are doing the club scene, and Beck goes through their journey with some normal twists and some more surprising ones. One is the relationship between Maho and Koyuki, which surprisingly is one of the best slow romances built I’ve seen. Both in their teens, Maho is Koyuki’s opposite – very rebellious and spent a lot of time in the US, she does see Koyuki as someone she can depend on but more importantly enjoys time with even if his awkwardness. She also brings him more out of his shell (an early point in their relationship is them sneaking into the pool at school after a performance when they duet at a festival) and with Maho having other potential suitors, their friendship into romance blossoms gradually, sweetly and with strength until near the end of the series. Koyuki has his struggles in school (a new teacher Momoko who becomes a love interest for Saitou is quite nervous and doesn’t seem to be helpful when the bullying occurs, thankfully with Koyuki being friends with Chiba who studies karate, things do help up especially when a particular bully Hyodo tries to extort money from Koyuki by using an even more intimidating bullies name, things change for the better once everything is cleared out and Beck members call the school out on their bullying when Koyuki performs at school) but thanks to Saku he finally has a friend to count on and the band is complete.
Throughout it though there is underlying other things – mostly through Ryusuke. For example, he has a connection with a popular band called Dying Breed from the US, and they head over to Japan – this leads to a big breakthrough when a record company who is into a bubblegum pop band fronted by Ryusuke’s more singer Yoshita called Belle Ame, is humiliated by Dying Breed as their music hasn’t got the feeling, they drag Koyuki on stage to sing one of their songs, which becomes part of a music tour video leading to some fame for Koyuki and Beck. Whilst good for the band, there are other things from the US that has concern for Ryusuke, and it turns out he has got into some stuff which aren’t so good for the band and for him. The humiliation of Belle Ame means Beck gets screwed over when it comes to performances and record deals (they go get a deal in the US via an indie label but because Ryusuke didn’t get the print, no royalties despite being a decent success), and when famous starts die and Ryusuke checking, you know he has some worry in his head, especially when his guitar has quite some history for it, and is being looked for by a big record producer Sykes…who isn’t too shy about dashing violence when dealing with his ‘business practices’…
Indeed, when Beck (known as Mongolian Chop Squad) in the US shows the cover art including Ryusuke playing Prudence (the guitar) it catches the eye of Sykes and has a quiet word with him…he survives the encounter (though the guitar and his dog Beck, the inspiration for the band’s name, gets kidnapped) thanks to Syke’s uncle enjoying his music but looks like any hope of business is out of the window…until a manager of the big music festival in Japan Grateful Sound looks for Beck, and wants them to perform after seeing Koyuki in the Dying Breed video. This leads to a clash between Sykes and the manager Kazuo – with the added interest of the rival band Belle Ame also playing, and with the Dying Breed video causing so much interest, Ryusuke talks to Sykes and puts a bet on…
To say the bet is ridiculous is an understatement – basically, if Beck can get more attendance than the other two bands clashing with them, Sykes leaves Beck alone, but if not, he gets the right to all the band’s release and promotion, pretty much screwing them out of any money and overworking them. With Beck on the smallest stage AND clashing not only with Belle Ame but with US superstar Malcolm, they already look dead in the water. That and conflicts in the band between Ryusuke, Taira and Chiba means they split up just before they perform (not helped when Chiba is kidnapped to try and stop him performing anyway) – however Koyuki’s character development becomes full circle – he has a bet of his own with Yoshito that whichever band Maho sees the other must give up on her, he is the one who stands on stage alone to play and sing, and that encourages all of the other members bit by bit to perform. And the weather decided to play with them as rain causes delays to the other two, means a miracle may just occur…
The conclusion of the series does seem to have a happy ending, in its own way and seem to expand further in the manga but the idea is that this is Koyuki’s discovery, to find himself, to evolve as a person, to find love, to be more confident (the last 3 episodes are Koyuki at the peak of his development, making sure the band plays, refusing Sykes to make him alone a star (where even Sykes admires his gumption and doesn’t want his bodyguard to make an example of him in comparison to Ryusuke) and find something meaningful in his life. He doesn’t lose the wishy-washy nature to be fair, he is still the nice guy but the moments all add up, from actually confronting and even fighting one of the bullies when he wrecks one of the guitars, to strengthen up after a disastrous performance and not getting depressed, to not backing down from Yoshito’s bet with Maho, to not letting his minor fame get to him but also able to use it to help the band, his journey and the character with it is the major selling point of the show and it is told wonderfully.
Helped by a great supporting cast – Ryusuke is the other lead but is very different to Koyuki’s journey as there is an establishing past there with his history with the US and when you learn the story of his guitar and the problems caused by it, it adds more trouble to the band and his friends. Ryusuke is very mellow for the most part, but he still helps in his own way (albeit usually causing more trouble) and the theme that the power of music can bring people in is best exemplified by him and Koyuki. The other band members don’t get the same amount of development, but they are set in their roles – Taira is the mature one of the band that keeps everything together, Saku is the nice guy who acts as Koyuki’s best friend and helper (and even gets a love interest of his own in the girl Hiromi, a worker near Koyuki’s part time job) and Chiba is the comic relief but also a badass in his own way, very likeable and fun and pretty much is the beleaguered sempai to Saku and Koyuki. And of course Maho is the no-nonsense girl with a heart of gold who can either jump into a pool naked or slip into Koyuki’s bed with no embarrassment, whilst also cheer the most for him during swim meets and give him heart shaped picks as their relationship develops (with Ryusuke being a cheeky shipper on deck – giving Koyuki some condoms when she is around was NOT the smartest idea considering Maho’s temper ^^).
This is also one of the few series I’ve multi-watched in both languages because it is a rare dub that sings all the parts (only Nerima Daikon Brothers comes close to this sort of quality in both languages with singing) and supplies musicians for some parts, and the Japanese bring in actual singers themselves for Chiba and Koyuki’s voices outside their speaking voices. This is a series I can recommend has a good track for both (am a big fan of Greg Ayres and I consider his Koyuki his magnum opus) and the music influences are many and multi – it is a joy to watch and listen to.
The story is important but the discovery is where it is at – the journey Koyuki and Ryusuke get to have their happy ending is what drives Beck on and why it is such a fantastic series. I heard it apparently flopped in its initial release which with all the love it is given I really hope the re-release gets more noticed by fans – it is simply an amazing series, set in more realistic times compared to a lot of series nowadays, great acting, great story, and the music is just the coup de grace. If you haven’t checked it out beforehand, there is no better time to than now.
Beck: MCS is a series that may have been overlooked the first time and it really shouldn’t have. It might not have giant mechas, huge action sequence, cute magical girls or overly sexualised themes. What it does have is a great story of discovery, one of my favorite lead male characters in Koyuki, a wonderful cast, great acting in both languages, the music theme adds throughout and it drives through you wanting to pray that Beck gets the success and happy ending they deserve. The realism of the scenarios, the struggle Beck has to get through combined with relationships, both friendly and romantic, are discovered throughout and becomes a masterpiece of a series. Cannot recommend enough.
Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening/Endings
Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: C-
Released By: Anime Ltd
Release Date: 19/09/2016
Running Time: 625 minutes
Video Encoding: NTSC
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 – 1.78:1
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.