Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad

That’s better than any opening lines I could come up. Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is a manga cum anime that exemplifies the breath of the import flood of Japanese-created diversion that has my homegrown sorts of entertainments offsides lately. In brief, it’s coming of age time for Yukio (aka Koyuki), as an encounter with the bizarre dog Beck finds hi befriending its owner, Ryuusuke Minami. And adventurous hijinks later, in a band named after the dog. And what about Ryuusuke’ss sister Maho? See, interest piqued.

A pretty great premise I think, for a serial of any sort. I’d opted not to pick up the manga before as the art wasn’t for me, but read an interview* with the editor that talked about adapting it to an inevitable anime. A hard sell with manga, what with audio not being a sense that pages can convey, but the music seemed chosen with care—and the 30 volumes (6k+ worth of pages, probably) got compressed to one(!) season. Worth a shot.

And it does have a lot going for it. The characters are rounded, and the story grows naturalistically, if slightly cramped at times. I imagine a smoother revelation of the Olympic class swim coach also being a rock fan and guitar teacher, but maybe it’s just awkward because Yukio learns guitar in one summer, or one episode. But I’m happy not to read the 6 volumes it probably took. It pulls off a pretty hard feat of not being a melodramatic and subdued anime. There’s a moment when Koyuki is having a phone conversation with Ryuusuke early on in their relationship, and maybe because the latter was raised in America (or Holland, I can’t tell) he asks Koyuki not to add –kun and just say it suffixless. He says it’s because he doesn’t want to sound like a kid, and of course he’s all grown up, and Koyuki sits on the stair with the phone silently for a bit, and smiles. And if you know using a name without attachments indicates the closeness of family or lovers in Japan, it’s a pretty sweet scene.

Mind you, pauses don’t always work. Paul Gravett says that the financial constraints of Japanese cartoons sometimes makes animation less than fluid, and quiet moments could just be the studio being cheap. (He says cheap moments can have gravity actually, but I’m of the mind they’re just cheap here). So when longhaired figures mutter things sullenly in the rain, their eyes are covered by sulkiness—well, whatever, they’re teenagers, let’s let that go. The problematic part is the engrish (see: intro song). It’s one thing to have “Coko” instead of “Coke” and the cringe inducing “41nd street” or Ramonne Johnny—trademarks being what they are—but since they decided to “hit in America” and opt for lyrics in english, the misuse of language starts being a liability. The manga can’t do it, but here the music should be a star and not a misfire. I can ignore them in the joyful bop of the intro, but end of the day, some of the music sucks. “Full Moon Sways” (typing this out, I made a little vomitty sound).

Could be that this is just cultural misapprehension, or lack of effort—which is frankly a global game—but they don’t need to be complete sentences. Just you know, make more sense.**

In general, they sound like cheerful grunge, though doubtless the future holds more grand stylistic experiments with blues or punk, which I'm terribly frightened of. (Cowboy Bebop integrated music well, too, but “Real Folk Blues” was neither folk or blues--and that was the succesful anime. Samurai Champloo and Furi Kuri are a mite more successful. ) I don’t think the creators were shooting for the jovial Pearl Jam sound they ended up with in the Beck proper, but they seemed influenced by the biggest bands of the nineties mostly. (Ideally, I think they should go for a cleaner Dinosaur Jr., personally).

Well, I say it's worth watching.

* I’ve lost the link to it.
** I also question the use of foreigners for two incidents of gaijin related tomfoolery in four episodes: One a dangerous encounter with drunk marines(?); another two propositioning tourists (possibly it’s about the angry teen girl, but I dunno), but that might be a bit of national pride on my part. And as always, foolishness abides. Though the first scene is about more than plain idiocy.

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