Beck Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, June 30, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, July 10, 2007



What They Say
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 bands ever-challenging road to fame, as told through the eyes of the impressionable boy.

Contains episodes 1-5.

The Review!
Unsure of where to go in life, life hands Koyuki a few options as well as some skirts worth chasing.

Audio:
With a show revolving around music the audio department comes across pretty well in its stereo mixes. Both the Japanese and English stereo mixes are done at 256 kbps and have a solid enough feel to them that it's easy enough to get into the music and be problem free with the dialogue. There's also an English 5.1 mix which does add a good bit of added clarity and impact to the music across the forward soundstage. With this being such a dialogue driven piece outside of the music there isn't much directionality to it but the overall forward presentation is solid. We didn't have any dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. With the stylistic choices for the shows design as well as the real world setting, Beck has a fairly distinctive look about it. Some of the scenes that deal with the live shows have a soft focus to them and some intentional noise to give it that real concert feeling. This softness shows up in a few other areas as well where it's with the characters themselves. Also visible throughout a lot of this are the color gradients from how it was painted which is fairly distracting in some scenes but not so much in general. Where the authoring really falls apart throughout this is with the amount of background noise that causes macroblocking going on. So many scenes have a greenish tint in the backgrounds as well as other colors that it seems like it's pretty alive. The opening sequence, which I'm willing to give a little on for the visual edits they had to make due to licensing issues, has a lot of really bad looking areas with background noise right from the start but also a huge number of jagged lines throughout. Beck isn't a show that's going to look drop dead gorgeous but it has a very distinctive look to it which is thrown off by how it's been authored.

Packaging:
The cover artwork for Beck utilizes the same as the Japanese release but with the logo in full use. The simple image of Koyuki squatting down with the guitar between his hands stands out against most other shows as something you generally just don't see. The red background makes him stand out all the more while the lighter colored logos on it get you to look more closely at the package in general. The back cover veers strongly away from the Japanese version with a cluttered look of various music knickknacks such as cassettes, books, ticket stubs and so forth along with several shots from the show. Everything is angled slightly and spread out across the cover with even the technical grid being used at the top and the episode listing at the bottom. The look overall is good but it's just a bit too all over the place. No insert is included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
Utilizing the amp design that was also done for the LE box, the menu looks good with the selections along the top as the various dials and connections. The logo is along the bottom portion along with a shot from the opening done as a photo taped to it. The upbeat instrumental music sets things up nice and overall the menu is a solid in-theme piece that really clicks just right. Navigation is simple and easy to use with quick load times and no interstitial animations. The use of angles and poorly labeled subtitle tracks has us using the menu to set things up as our player defaults aren't read properly.

Extras:
The opening volume has a few extras to it that are worth checking out. In addition to the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences (which look better than the in-show versions since they aren't constrained by the alternate angles " amazing what higher bitrates can do. Compare the top of the dinner in the clean opening to one in the full show for just some of the most obvious differences). Also included is a music video for Spice of Life as well as a commentary track for one episode by Christopher Bevins and Taliesin Jaffe.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga that began in 2000 by Harold Sakuishi, Beck is a 26 episode series that stands out by doing things that generally aren't done. Having read several volumes of the manga and enjoying it, the series is intent on not following the traditional route for things and leisurely going towards its goal of having the lead character of Koyuki grow up and truly enter the world. The anime version is a bit more streamlined version of the manga that was available at the time which has some better pacing but loses some of that lackadaisical attitude you find in teenagers during this time of their lives.

The series is focused around fourteen year old Koyuki, a decent enough kid who isn't thinking about his future or much else for that matter. He's always had difficulty in getting together with other people and making friends though he does have a couple. A few years earlier when he was younger there was a girl named Izumi that befriended him at calligraphy school when nobody else did and that helped him to come out of his shell a bit. Once they parted though he regressed a bit but otherwise fell into the mold of an average student that you rarely notice. Izumi's return to his life in junior high school has him feeling a bit more alive again but even still he can't bring himself to approach her.

A chance encounter Koyuki has with a patchwork dog that's being abused by some kids leads him to meeting Ryusuke, a sixteen year old guy who has spent most of his life in America. He lacks a lot of basics when it comes to being Japanese, such as not caring for the honorifics, little ability to read kanji and so forth, but he has a real passion for music as he spent time playing with Dying Breed's guitarist Eddie. At around the same time, Izumi suddenly comes up to Koyuki and asks him to go on a bowling outing with some friends which leads to them essentially picking up where they left off several years ago. The two simply click wonderfully as friends though Koyuki certainly harbors enough interest in her for more. Chance encounters are the sign of the day at this time and a meeting between them and Ryusuke opens up this world of music even more to Koyuki.

Across the first five episodes we basically get the first chapter of a large picture. The series doesn't work with conventional episodic pacing though it does try to end on interesting notes. It's instead progressing the storyline it wants to tell of how Koyuki ends up with a group of friends whose lives all change each others. His interest in Izumi has him trying to figure out what she sees in Ryusuke, which in turn has him trying to actually learn things like playing the guitar as well as taking swimming lessons from a hilarious former Olympic champion. The focus isn't entirely on Koyuki though as it weaves about some of the others as well, notably with Ryusuke as his band, Serial Mama, starts to fall apart and he sets out on starting up the next ultimate band.

There are several musicians which complement the cast as it builds out but none is more fun than Ryusuke's sister, Maho. A singer herself who knows that she doesn't have the real talent to go far, she's simply living her life one day at a time and trying to make the best of it. Like her brother, she has problems with polite Japanese society that has caused her to lose jobs and essentially have little faith in. In some ways she's similar to Izumi but her more outgoing style mixed with a real softness that becomes evident with the songs she sings when she's around Koyuki has him very interested in her as well. As the main storyline of the band forming plays out, Koyuki and everyone else move about in strange little orbits that intersect periodically in fascinating and enjoyable ways.

A large part of what makes this series work is its love of music. Though there are people that can pull this off into their later years, there's a certain kind of energy and vibrancy that you can siphon off of music in your teenage years. Some people more than others, but sometimes it's just a matter of exposure. Koyuki is initially someone who we see as being into a particular idol singer whereas you have Izumi and her friend Kayo who are very much into a different scene and almost look down on Koyuki for what he enjoys. His exposure to this different scene however opens something up for him and the music that's used has to be key for making this work. With numerous solid bands that will be used throughout the series plus reverence for many other groups be it the Beatles or Nirvana, there is an honesty about the impact of the music that I can't recall any other series ever really achieving.

An area that is somewhat problematic for the series is in how it handles the surprisingly large amount of English language that's used in the original. When you watch it in Japanese, the language issues are wonderfully done as you have just about every westerner showing just how vulgar they can be. It's comical but it also fits the scene where all of this takes place. When it comes to the singing, having people like Maho and even Koyuki sing in English, it has a fascinating kind of charm to it but also a kind of intensity that comes from trying to overcome that language barrier. The English language adaptation has the difficult job of trying to convey these aspects and it's a mixed bag depending on what you enjoy out of the presentation.

When it comes to regular dialogue, they talk about it in the commentary about how many scenes they just try to downplay it or chalk it up to confusion. An early scene outside of the bar where some guys are threatening the kids has the same intensity from the English language speakers but the kids lose their panic as they speak clear enough English instead of halting English in trying to downplay the situation. A later scene in which you have Koyuki and Maho singing a song from The Rockets and later in the pool is beautifully done as Greg Ayers and Brina Palencia pull it off to great success. But for me, the slightly cleaned up lyrics and smoother and clearer accents (or lack thereof) means it loses the charm of the original performance. I don't think there's any real win/win way of doing this kind of show in English that will please fans of the original but I do think they succeeded in taking the show and for the most part making it just right for the majority of people that will come in and watch it only in English.

In Summary:
Beck is a series that has few real comparisons to it. Filled with lots of great music, fun characters and engaging situations, it's all charm with an honest feeling to it. Though some of my favorite subplots look to be excised from the manga, the pacing works much better in the long run for it to be presented in animated form. Watching as Koyuki grows into something that's so new to him, something that speaks to him in a way that nothing else has before, is very well done here and is one of the real charms of the show. These kids all feel like honest portrayals with no serious dumbing down of it. Beck has a lot to offer " especially if you fall in love with the dog or the parrot " and has a chance at being a real standout series among a sea of shows that tend to follow the easy path. Beck as a show is very easy to recommend checking out and getting into.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles, Director Commentary, "A Life on the Road" Music Video, Guitar Pick, Textless Songs

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 480p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: C
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: TV MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.98/44.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Beck