BECK (Mongolian Chop Squad) Bekku

Beck (Mongolian Chop Squad) 2004

For a while there I was on a real supernatural binge but I soon shifted to quite the nostalgia trip, hurling myself down memory lane.

So far, that has involved watching a lot of 80s and 90s anime but more specifically, a lot of coming of age things. Last month that included Kids on the Slope and Almost Famous and more recently, I’ve finished Beck (Mongolian Chop Squad).

Here’s the premise from wikipedia:

[Beck] tells the story of a group of teenagers who form a rock band and their struggle to fame, focusing on 14-year-old Yukio “Koyuki” Tanaka, who until meeting guitar prodigy Ryusuke Minami was an average teen with a boring life.

Poor Koyuki – that absolute joy, right before bitter misfortune.

And things for Koyuki definitely do get more interesting – he goes through all the classic coming-of-age storytelling markers; love, betrayal, doubt, loss, jobs and success. And because he’s a nice kid, the significant musical success he achieves doesn’t leave him with a monstrous ego. (There are also plenty of scenes showing Koyuki and the band putting the work in, which is great).

Beck uses a fair amount of serial storytelling, but it is all leading to something big – it’s more the sub-plots which have that feel. And there’s a good share of school drama on hand but the music and interpersonal relationships within the band take more of a front seat. Secondary, is probably the stop-start, romantic sub-plot, between Koyuki and Maho.

[Minor spoilers from here on in]: The episodes build really well to the big festival, where one of the more feel-good scenes happen, and it was interesting to see that uplifting conclusion undercut by the ‘break up’. Of course, there was time for another shift in the storyline but because I’d grown to care for the characters, I wished that the tour had been more ‘on screen’ rather than shown in montage, but I can see, since the anime only had one season, that the tour had to be compressed.

Time to switch to dot points:

  • I’ve seen a few complaints about the character design in my reading up on the series, but I think they’re distinctive, even if the animation doesn’t appear as seamless as in other shows.
  • Pretty much everything about the band feels spot on – players moving in and out of the group as ‘real life’ pressures kill dreams, the rivalry with other groups, the small steps with first gigs, the hard work that has to happen, it’s all there!
  • For those of you who dislike love triangles, Beck almost has one, but it’s more of a bittersweet realisation of change, and it gets ‘solved’ in a sensible way, which I liked.
  • Saitou provides most of the comedic moments – he’s hyperbolic, but has more than one dimension at least.
  • Since Sakuishi’s manga started in 1999 you’ll probably note a lot of references to 1990s rock and metal music throughout, and RATM fans will see more thanone clear homage too, all of which was fun to pick up on.
  • Koyuki might seem a little meek in some ways… and yet, he’s really not, especially if you consider the swimming pool and the Dying Breed gig for just two examples.
  • In terms of the sub vs dub, I think most folks will enjoy the songs more in the dub.
  • Related to this, I like the way that some of the English that Maho and her friends use (and her brother at times) isn’t always given subtitles in the sub. That way, if you don’t speak fluent English, just like Koyuki, then you’ll experience the same uncertainty he does, which is an important part of the romantic sub-plot.
  • While Leon is supposedly the film’s primary antagonist, I think the real villain just might be Ryusuke, whose secrets and tantrums often threaten band and even the lives of his friends. Seriously, he has redeeming qualities but oh boy.
  • And yeah, part of that last one is me wanting teens to act like well-adjusted adults, when it’s never that simple when you’re growing up; it’s hard work, and more, the mistakes the characters make fuel the story and the drama after all 🙂

Okay, I’ve likely missed some things I wanted to mention but I think that’s enough for now.

Ultimately, I doubt I can fully separate my memories and associated feelings around being young and playing in bands with the show itself – but even if you’ve never joined a rock band, Beck will probably still satisfy so long as you enjoy coming of age/teen dramas (and hard rock and certain metal sub-genres in general).

Thanks to Curtis for the reminder about this series too!

5 Stars

Review Count: 147 (I thought I might mark my 150th review, so I’m counting down at the moment).

Anime OP-ED (September 2020)

Trying to do a new ‘monthly’ thing here at the heap, but knowing me, it might not work out exactly that way based on my posting ‘schedule’ – and me using that word is quite optimistic 😀

Still, hopefully once a month I can share an opening theme song and also an ending one too.

Ideally, I’d include a little paragraph (or less) which each song. Maybe trivia, maybe what I liked, and incredibly rarely, perhaps a bit of analysis. And first up I’m going to kinda cheat – and use the same show for both songs, since I’ve been a little busy of late.

And yep, it will appear that today at least, this post is also a poorly veiled excuse for me to talk about Ergo Proxy.

‘Kiri’ by MONORAL (Ergo Proxy, 2006)

I do love the grunge-soaked opening to Egro Proxy but this is an ace song by itself, separate to the visuals. I like how it’s almost a power ballad too – but of course, the downbeat feel that suits the anime perfectly too.

‘Paranoid Andriod’ by Radiohead (Ergo Proxy, 2006)

I remember sitting up a little when I first heard this, it was a fun surprise.

Of course, it’s not the first time that a UK or US band has licensed a song to an anime but I didn’t think that Radiohead would bite when it came to any such offer – and at first, it seems they didn’t (but after being shown a preview they were on board.) I wish I could find a little more about their reaction, but so far I haven’t been able to find much. (Trivia note – My band in high school wanted us to cover this and I was the ‘singer’ at the time… and basically, well, let’s bring out the word optimistic again, in relation to the possibility of me even being able to come close to doing such a thing).

And there we go, the first Anime OP-ED post complete! Next time I’ll actually use different shows for a bit of extra variety though.

Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Aporon)

Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Aporon) 2012

No preamble here, just two (and a half) reasons on why this short series joined my top ten the other month.

Kids on the Slope is a great romance with very few instances of manufactured drama, which is really nice in a genre that sometimes suffers from such contrivances. In a way, the series is almost about the cruelty of youth, where the sweeter, coming-of-age elements are contrasted with the mistakes that are all too easy to make when you’re trying to figure things out.

I found myself quickly invested in the lives of Kaoru, Sentaro and Ritsuko, and I wanted them all to end up happy. (I was even able to almost remember how it felt to be that young and unsure).

The second reason will probably be no surprise: the music – both literally, and the way it forms part of the storyline and a bond between characters. If you enjoy jazz, especially (but not only) Hard Bop or the Cool sub-genres, along with the piano of Bill Evans, this will definitely appeal. And yep, Kids on the Slope is another collaboration between Shinchiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno, but the OST isn’t as eclectic as say, their work on Cowboy Bebop.

Instead, I think Yoko Kanno looks after most of the incidental music and motifs, whereas a pair of young (certainly back in 2012) musicians perform the jams and standards. And the rotoscoping really shows fantastic fluidity in the performances – I’ll share one of the highlights at the end, but maybe if you want to see this series skip the youtube clip because it’s far better in context. (Elsewhere, the story really captures what it’s like to play in a group, another memory the anime managed to activate for me.)

And finally the ‘half’ reason!

Most of what I’ve talked about seems to be nostalgia, but it’s not just my own I guess – Kids on the Slope takes in a historical setting: sea-side Japan in the 1960s, and is fairly dripping with a nostalgia that I obviously cannot truly experience, but which seems to be captured so well in the settings.

5 Stars

Seatbelts – Cowboy Bebop (OST)

For me, this is the greatest soundtrack of any animated series – no hyperbole at all there, right? 😀

Seatbelts, Cowboy Bebop (1998)

Case in point is probably the theme Tank! – where the hard bop just leaps out of the gates with its Latin percussion and Masato Honda’s wild alto solo that I never get tired of hearing, not to mention Rush or Too Good Too Bad… and I could go on.

As a jazz fan I guess I’m pretty biased (and I really like progressive big band too so that’s another tick) but the Seatbelts are such versatile players that this OST is never boring. They cover a lot of ground here; the Latin-influenced hard bop, the space-like saxophone ballads or sparser songs like ‘Waltz for Zizi’ which is both bittersweet and relaxing.


Most fans of the anime will know that Yoko Kanno (composer, piano) is behind the incredible breadth of music in Cowboy Bebop and while some of the other soundtracks from the TV series feature heaps of real standouts (like Elm or Call Me, Call Me) that are missing here, the self-titled OST is the more jazz-focused of them all and I reckon even ‘general’ jazz fans would find a lot to enjoy.

Usually the CD import has a fairly steep price-tag attached and I’m not sure re: streaming, but if you like Jazz you’ll probably like this.

5 Stars