Beck Vol. #2 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, August 24, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, August 14, 2007



What They Say
Bullies, chicks a la complications, and pissed off friends... Not really a smokin' start for the new school year. Life might sort of be a drag for Koyuki Tanaka today, but things have a way of changing in an instant. Sitting alone in the bedroom playing guitar can be satisfying, but nothing compares to the live performance, the passion and fury of a well-oiled band. Koyuki gets a chance to rock with Beck and the stage is waiting.

Includes an exclusive guitar pick!

Contains episodes 6-10.

The Review!
With little fanfare but plenty of effort and conviction, Koyuki works his way towards several goals without even realizing it.

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 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. Using the visual of Ryusuke with his guitar in an almost dumfounded look is amusing in and of itself but it fits his general demeanor. The blue background doesn't have him standing out unlike the first volume 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 main extras that we'll see in each volume are here again in the form of the clean opening and closing sequences. Also included is a music video for "A Life on the Road" which runs a couple of minutes.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While the series has issues in terms of copyrights and the like, the end result is that the show still shines through brightly. Maybe not quite so much for those that have seen it before, but for anyone who hasn't there isn't much really lost here. This second volume takes us up through episode ten in the series and it keeps things flowing just right while still feeling somewhat laid back and easygoing.

While there is the main storyline running throughout the show about Koyuki and his becoming a part of the band, there are so many little stories along the way that help to really flesh it out. Unlike some series where you can get a couple of basic plots to deal with along the way, Beck has numerous layers to it that all complement each other. More than most other shows, this really feels like a drama in that it plays out on so many different levels. While some characters don't get as much time on the screen as you'd like, the overall view through Koyuki's world is one that is very entertaining and far more engaging than you would expect.

Koyuki's life takes a few interesting turns during the course of these five episodes which help to color his view of the world. One thing that affects a lot of time here is his continued musical interest during the school hours. While guitars seem to be plentiful, his luck with them is incredibly poor as he damages one that he found in the music room. To his detriment, it belonged to the notorious Rikuya, a bully who is easy to set off. Koyuki is in a world of trouble from that alone but he ends up falling into the trap set by Hyoudo who is friends with Rikuya and convinces Koyuki that he won't say anything. For a price of course, which then leads Koyuki into a number of bad situations that he can't find a way out of.

The music side of the series goes through some more changes with these episodes as Koyuki is growing as a player since he has a good deal of dedication to it. His training is coming in diverse ways and he's gaining plenty of exposure while discovering what really appeals to him. Between his personal moments and that of the band itself as it goes through changes, demos and practices, Beck really comes together in a way that surprises some of its members. Taira in particular is an interesting case since he thinks Ryusuke will go far due to the way he can see things that just click better than others. Some of the events of these episodes have him questioning that but even he can see things coming together in a way that just wasn't obvious to everyone.

While the music in the show is fun and fascinating to watch, the one subplot that continues to draw me back more than the others is the way Maho and Koyuki interact. The two have definitely been growing closer since their skinny dipping incident and it's caught the notice of others. Ryusuke in particular has a really great reaction to all of it, one that gets Koyuki into a fair bit of trouble because of it. But it is this kind of simple moment and the casual glances along with the racing pulse that really make it work. It's not easy to read Maho though you can see there is a glimmer of some sort there. Koyuki is like an open book and his attempts to get closer to her through music and other means is very heartwarming.

What proved to be the most enjoyable new part of this volume however comes in the form of Saito. The paper man has been amusing from the start but he gets even more so here as there is an actual romantic interest brought in for him. Koyuki gains a substitute at school named Momoke Ogasawara. She's rather young, enough so that she tells her students to call her by her first name since they're all so close in age. She's a typical mildly quirky young teacher in how she deals with things at school in a realistic way but it's when Saito meets her that things get more interesting. He's got an obvious interest in young women as we've learned from his southeast Asia trips so he's clearly interested in her and that's something he uses Koyuki for in getting closer to her.

In Summary:
With a varied cast in this ensemble series, Beck is simply a lot of fun from start to finish. Each character has enough to them to differentiate from everyone else while not feeling like a stereotypical cookie cutter character from another series. With its simple but detailed visuals, excellent music and honest story, Beck just pleases on so many fronts that it appeals almost instantly. It's the kind of series you can show to a lot of people outside of anime who are just into music and it can appeal to anyone who is tired of the kinds of shows that are seemingly pumped out on a regular basis. It's a wonderful breath of fresh air that is very easy to recommend.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Music Video,Guitar Pick,Textless Songs

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, 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
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Beck