Impressions: BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad

WARNING: Do not start watching this show for the first time at 2 a.m. or you will likely find yourself still clutching the remote at 2 p.m., staring at the TV screen with bleary eyes.

Or at least that’s what happened to me. I slipped that first disk in, expecting that I would watch an episode and then go to bed. But after I finished the first episode, I decided that I’d watch one more. And then twelve hours later I was still rocking out with Koyuki and the rest of Beck. I swear to God it is that addictive of a show.

Part of what makes it so great is Koyuki himself. Now I’ll freely admit that none of the characters have a great amount of depth or breadth to them. They aren’t really flat, so much as just straight-forward. Koyuki is a nice guy, who feels like he’s already stuck in the rut that the rest of his life will run through. He starts off average, a little wimpy, but not anymore than what I’d expect out of a fourteen-year old protagonist. Then he meets Ryuusuke and the rest of his life will never be the same.

What is great about this show is that nothing is ever easy for Koyuki. It isn’t like he picks up the guitar and suddenly knows how to play. In fact, for about the first third of the show, he and Ryuusuke aren’t even talking. He’s stuck learning how to play from a creepy, washed up, ex-swimmer named Saito (who is arguably one of the more interesting characters in the show.) He has to practice and practice and practice some more, and even when he gets better, he isn’t great. It isn’t until much further into the show that he has a breakthrough and learns how to play well. But he has to get extorted by bullies, come face to face with dozens of never weres and has to even overcome class lines to get what he wants.

And the music, well it rocks. Even in (heavens forefend) the dub, the music still rocks. Oh and the small nods and large nods to other musicians, in particular Koyuki’s T-shirts, were really neat too. But mostly to the amateur music geek like me. Although I have a feeling the professional music geeks could have picked up a lot more in there.

While I can say that there’s nothing horribly offensive about the characters, there’s nothing amazingly spectacular about them either. There are large chunks of back story that we never really get. And Beck also has a really bad tendency of not showing characters that aren’t important. And not putting dialogue in that might be interesting, if not necessary. In fact the whole thing has a sense of being pared down to what’s necessary to tell the story and the main subplots. Other than that, it doesn’t waste a lot of time.

In a lot of ways this is the type of show that you shouldn’t pay too much attention to, or else other little things will creep up on you. In particular the really idealistic theme that “they’re making music that will change the world.” Man, if I heard that one more time toward the end of the show I would have started hitting my head against a Stratocaster until it bled Chuck Berry red. Really. And none of this was helped by the wishy-washy ending, which didn’t so much feel like a conclusion, more like a way out of the story.

And that’s the thing about Beck. It’s a feel-good story. For a show that talks so much about art and music, it’s exactly what it preaches against – bubblegum pop.

But even I like some sugar in my coffee sometimes.

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