Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad finally arrives in the UK in its entirety for the first time thanks to All the Anime. Rescued from a previous incomplete run in the UK, it’s great to see this brilliant series finally get the release it deserves.
You’ve probably heard it before, but Beck is a coming of age tale that fits the description aptly. Our protagonist, Yukio “Koyuki” Tanaka, is your completely average and totally unremarkable 14-year-old, living the boring day-to-day life of a student with only a handful of friends and the girl he likes is way out of his league. Koyuki’s whole life changes when he comes across a group of kids torturing a patchwork looking mongrel named Beck. This sparks Koyuki’s first meeting with the dog’s owner Ryosuke Minami, a talented guitarist for a local band called Serial Mama. Rumour has it Ryosuke is friends with Eddie of Dying Breed, a band currently taking the world by storm. Ryosuke takes a linking to Koyuki and begins a relationship and adventure full of ups, downs and many bumps along the way.
Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is far from a Cinderella story where everything changes due to that one fated meeting but, rather, takes it’s time to grow and build throughout the series. Koyuki, for the most part, continues to live his unremarkable life but works hard to learn the guitar and finds he has a talent for singing. None of this comes easy and his continued struggles throughout the series are what makes it an enjoyable watch. Nothing comes easy in life and even those with talent are not always destined for the best time. Working hard and pushing forward is a clear theme throughout Beck and it sure pays off come the end, especially for us the audience.
One of the best things for me personally in Beck is how the romantic relationships are dealt with. Koyuki starts the series with the hots for his childhood friend Izumi who is clearly out of his league. The interesting thing is that the series doesn’t focus on this one relationship for the entirety of the series but, as with real life, feelings change and new people come and go all the time. Koyuki’s attention is much like that of a real-life 14-year-old where his feelings change constantly and there is no one girl that he is totally dedicated too. This is certainly a breath of fresh air compared to today’s standards of how romantic relationships are handled.
What really makes the series though is the brilliant cast of characters, from our main set of regulars all the way to the supporting cast. I really felt that each character had a reason for being there no matter how small the role there was a reason behind it. I don’t know how much of that is down to the manga or the adaptation as I have never read the manga but it definitely makes a change. Maybe it’s down to the age of the series — a lot of the token characters and tropes of today didn’t exist back then — but I couldn’t say. I just felt that Beck worked on so many levels for me personally and will easily rank highly in my all-time favourites.
Given the series is over ten years old there is, of course, a noticeable difference in visual quality compared to those of today. For starters, the series is presented in 4:3 aspect ratio and is only available on DVD. All the Anime have stated that while a Blu-ray upscale of the series does exist in Japan the quality is very poor and felt that the DVD version was the only viable option. Even taking into consideration the series’ age there’s no doubt that it didn’t have the highest budget and it’s definitely not what you’d expect from studio Madhouse. However, the series oozes charm and when the story and characters are that intriguing then have less than stellar visuals doesn’t matter so much.
There does appear to be an issue with aliasing during the opening but don’t be alarmed as this only affects the opening. We tested this on a number of devices and came back with the same issue each time, though it can be masked slightly using various players on PC. This issue thankfully doesn’t affect any other parts of the release and could be part of the reason the Blu-ray upscale is subpar quality-wise.
When it comes to the audio in Beck, it far outweighs the visual in terms of quality. Both the English and Japanese dubs do an excellent job of bringing the character to life and are both easily recommendable. If you only plan to watch it once though I’d recommend the Japanese as it includes a fair amount of Engrish used by the characters which really makes for some fun moments that don’t come across as well on the English dub. As a series focused around music it certainly helps that the soundtrack throughout is amazing. I would love to own the OST for this series as the songs have made a huge impact on me and I find myself singing along while watching. It’s also worth noting that the English dub actual features re-recorded audio for the songs sang by the English VA’s which is another reason to check out both audio options.
The only on-disc extras included are the opening and closing animations “Hit in the USA” by Beat Crusaders, “My World Down” by Meister, “Moon on the Water” by Sowelu and Beat Crusaders and “Slip Out” by Beck/Mongolian Chop Squad.
Having started Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad during its original run here in the UK I'd never been able to finish it off until now. Thanks to All the Anime, fans get to experience the series in entirety and while it might be DVD-only it's still a series that holds up brilliantly given it age. A visual masterpiece it is clearly not but the series exudes a charm that is rare by today's standards. I recommend anyone that hasn't seen Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad to give it a try — you won't be disappointed.