Anime I’ve Seen: BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad
Posted by travizzt on August 19, 2011
This is NOT a review. This is just thoughts and feelings I had on the show in question and if it’s something that non-anime fans would enjoy.
BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad follows an up-and-coming rock band out of Japan. After entering middle school, Yukio Tanaka or Koyuki, thinks that this is all that’s left for him in life. The fourteen year old finds his life boring, but that all changes after saving a peculiar looking dog from a group of kids. As the kids run off, the dog’s owner shows up and thanks Koyuki for saving Beck. Then while hanging out with a childhood friend, the most popular girl in school, Koyuki runs into the owner again who saves the group from a bunch of punks. Koyuki learns that his name is Ryūsuke Minami and he is in a band. Ryūsuke invites Koyuki to a show, and he goes.
After that, Koyuki and Ryūsuke become friends, even inspiring Koyuki to learn to play the guitar. As the two start to hang out more, Ryūsuke introduces Koyuki to his sister, Maho. From then on, Koyuki finds out that his life is about to become more interesting.
I have to say, you need to see BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad. There is no excuse not to. It’s really a fantastic anime and anyone would enjoy it. It’s a slice-of-life anime series that really feels like it could happen and that’s not something you normally see in those types of anime. It’s mostly grounded in reality and the characters really do feel like people you would know and see.
The story is very deep and complex. On its surface, the show is about Koyuki’s experiences with playing in a band, trying to juggle how he feels about Maho, and how he deals with school. But deeper down, there’s more than that. The show is really about how music can influence people to do great things in their life. It’s the more apparent concept of the show because you see how it influences Koyuki to learn the guitar. While the show may be grounded in reality, there are some fantastical moments to the series that help remind you that this is fictional. There’s Beck, who is a patch-work dog and seems very farfetched. Then there is the ridiculous gangster/mobster subplot involving Ryūsuke and a record producer named Leon Sykes. However, these don’t take any of the enjoyment out of the story. They are more along the lines of, “Really? You’re going there? Okay.” Also, it may turn off people who don’t like profanity. This show drops the f-word at least four to five times an episode, so be prepared. But BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad is about how influential music can be and after watching it, you may feel inspired to learn how to play an instrument.
One of the highlights of the show is its characters. Everyone, and I mean everyone, feels developed and important and you really do feel their absence if they aren’t in the episode. It’s strange to have such an attachment to characters that you may encounter only once, but it just enhances the overall feel of the show. It also helps that these characters come off as real people. They weren’t played up, and for the most part, they seemed like people you could know. There are too many minor characters to talk about, but they were just great. Some of the better minor characters are Mr. Saito, the man who helps Koyuki learn the guitar and how to swim, Yoshito Morozumi, a rival of Koyuki for Maho’s affections, and Hiromi, a girl who Koyuki and Saku meet while in high school. These three brought something special to the show and made it very enjoyable. That’s not to say that the other minor characters weren’t notable, they were. It’s just these three stood out in my mind as some of the better minor characters.
The band members of BECK where good characters. Each of them brought a uniqueness to the show and chemistry. You really feel the friendship that they all share. While they were good characters, there was one that didn’t really leave much of an impact, but still was very good. Yoshiyuki Taira is BECK’s bassist, but he doesn’t say much. This does affect how you like him as a character because he does feel like he doesn’t care, but that’s far from the truth. He really is more reserved and when he does talk, you listen in. While Taira is the quiet one, Tsunemi Chiba, BECK’s lead singer, is a loud mouth that really draws your attention. At first, he is very hard to like but he quickly grows on you. He brings a lot of humor to the show, which is also a plus. Finally, we have Yuji Sakurai or Saku, the band’s drummer. He’s quiet like Taira, but he has more of a presence. His friendship with Koyuki is very believable and they have great chemistry together. He just seems cool without acting cool. But I’m forgetting the three main characters aren’t I?
The three main characters of BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad are Ryūsuke, Koyuki, and Maho. They are the main focus and without a doubt, the best and most developed characters in the series. Ryūsuke is the bands lead guitarist. He’s mostly a lazy bum, who just happens to be an amazing guitarist. He is an important member of BECK because he basically runs the band. The plot also revolves around him as much as it does with Koyuki. His involvement with the plot is more focused on his past and the mystery bullet-holed guitar named Prudence. He’s an interesting character. However, the real show stealers are Koyuki and Maho. Everything about these two are just wonderful. They are likable and really seem like real people. Heck, even some of the situations they go through are what I went through around that age. They had a real chemistry together and every time they were on-screen, it was enjoyable and dare I say, cute. Just take one of the more memorable scenes in the show for example. After a summer festival, Koyuki and Maho sneak into the schools swimming pool to go skinny dipping, and they just talk. Suddenly Maho starts singing the best song in the show, “Moon on the Water”, while Koyuki joins in. It’s a very cute moment and the song is just beautiful. As the show goes on, you really see their relationship form and grow. There were even a few times when I wanted to yell at Koyuki to just tell Maho that he likes her. As separate characters, Maho and Koyuki are very opposite each other. Maho is a foul-mouthed, in-your-face kind of girl while Koyuki is a reserved, almost shy guy. I really identified with Koyuki and could see some reflections of myself in him, which is strange to say that about a fictional character. You really couldn’t have a better main lead in this kind of show than Koyuki. He really pulls it off and you really cheer for the guy.
Moon on the Water
There were quite a few great episodes in BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad, with having only a few weak ones. For the most part, all the episodes are good to decent. Like I said, there are a few weak ones and it is unfortunate that these weak episodes end the series. It’s not that the final two episodes are bad, in fact, the first half of episode twenty-five, “Slip Out”, has one of the best moments in the series. The second half and the final episode, “America”, didn’t feel like they belonged. The second half of “Slip Out” was a rushed mess with a lot of things happening. It’s a let down to what was a fantastic first half. Then you have the odd final episode, but doesn’t have the same feel as the rest of the series. It’s awkward, not that interesting, and it ends with a slide show of pictures. It’s just disappointing. Thankfully, there a quite a few great and must see episodes. The exact moment that I really started to like BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad was with episode five “Beck”. This episode has the be one of my favorites next to the one I’m going to talk about next. This is the episode were Koyuki and Maho go swimming. It’s an incredibly cute episode and this is the point where I really started to like Maho. This is also where you hear “Moon on the Water”. I just love that scene because it is just that good. My next favorite episode is the twelfth, “Secret Live”. This is where the fictional band Dying Breed plays Tokyo and invite Koyuki up to sing “Moon on the Water”. That’s just a wonderful moment in itself, but it goes further than that. Later on, Koyuki bumps into an old crush, Izumi and she take him shopping with her. One thing leads to another and we find ourselves back at the pool again after the summer festival. The ending of this one really did bring a tear to my eye, it’s just that sad and beautiful at the same time. Another good episode is the twentieth, “Greatful Sound”. The band learns of a festival called Greatful Sound and wants to play in it, however they hit a road block. But that’s not the best part. This episode really develops Koyuki’s and Maho’s relationship even further and truth be told, I had a flashback to a similar situation in my life. It’s incredibly cute and touching. It’s a good moment that they share. Finally, we have the episodes that deal with the Greatful Sound Festival and they are, by far, the best series of episodes in the show. I won’t spoil anything about them, but when I first watched BECK start their performance, I got chills and I felt like I was there. BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad has a number of great episodes that make it one of the best animes I’ve seen.
You may be asking yourself, how’s the music in this musical anime? Well, if that above video is any indication, it’s good. It’s so good that after watching the show, you’ll want to go out and pick up the soundtrack. Very song that BECK plays is good and catchy, something that you want with music. I don’t think there was a song I didn’t like. I loved “Moon on the Water”, “Face”, “Slip Out”, “Brainstorm”, and the Beatles cover of “I’ve Got a Feeling” towards the end, just to name a few. They were just inspiring and fun to listen to. As you continue to watch the show, you see a lot of the musical influences that went into making the series. It’s a lot of fun in trying to catch-all of the references to various bands and instruments. If you like music, why haven’t you checked out Beck yet?
As you should all know, I don’t watch the subtitled versions of anime. Don’t ask me why, I just don’t. However, I tried to listen to the subtitles on this show and my ears hurt from it. I’m not saying that the original Japanese cast was bad, but it didn’t come across right. In fact, this anime is better watched dubbed. Why? It feels much more genuine in English than in Japanese. I don’t understand why, but it feels right to watch it dubbed. You can attribute it to the easier on the ears singing, because let’s face it, non-English singers trying to sing songs in English almost never works out well. The odd tonal inflections make you cringe when you hear a word misspoken and the flow and pacing of the songs always feel off. Truth be told, it was like I was listening to someone who is just learning to sing. It’s not a good way to listen to a song and takes away some of its allure. Maybe it’s just me, but I could not listen to any of the original Japanese cast singing any of the songs without wanting to poke out my eardrums. The voices of Koyuki (Greg Ayers), Maho (Brina Palencia), and Chiba (Justin Cook) in the dub really made a lot of the songs great. Out of those three, Justin Cook really impressed me with his punk-style vocals and did a fantastic job. It’s really up to you how you want to watch, but in my opinion, I think this is one anime that this better watched dubbed.
If you’re a fan of music, a good romantic story, or like slice-of-life shows, you have to watch BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad. With interesting and developed characters, a deep and believable story, and wonderful music what’s not to love? There really is nothing that would hinder the enjoyment, as long as you can tolerate a lot of profanity, this is one fun show. Seriously, go watch it. You can thank me later.