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Manga / BECK (1999)
aka: Beck

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BECK is a coming-of-age musical drama manga by Harold Sakuishi, which was originally serialized in Monthly Shonen Magazine from 1999 to 2008 and compiled into 34 volumes. It was later adapted to a 26-episode anime series that first aired from 2004 to 2005.

Ordinary Middle School Student Yukio "Koyuki" Tanaka wonders if his life will ever be interesting enough to write an autobiography. This all starts to change as he steps in to rescue a frankenstein-looking dog from a bunch of pestering kids. The dog, Beck, turns out to belong to Ryuusuke "Ray" Minami, a Japanese kid with a checkered past that was largely spent in New York in the company of a currently world-famous singer/songwriter. Ryuusuke introduces Koyuki to rock music and lends him a guitar.

Ryuusuke is also setting up a band, which eventually gets named BECK, after the dog. After Koyuki has learned to play the guitar to a somewhat passable level, he gets accepted into the band. There he impresses everyone with his fantastic voice. From then on, the whole story is mainly about BECK's struggles to become famous, both nationally in Japan and internationally. Well, that and Koyuki's romantic troubles with Ryuusuke's sister, Maho.

The other members of the band are:

  • Ryuusuke Minami: The lead guitarist and front man for BECK. Raised in America, he and his sister Maho often stick out because of their personalities. While in America, he had befriended Eddie Lee, a prodigious guitarist who goes on to be famous in his later years. Ryuusuke vows to Eddie that he will make a band worthy enough to play alongside him, and goes on to learn guitar. Ryuusuke himself is rather talented, and has a bit of an ego.
  • Yoshiyuki Taira: The bassist of BECK. As the oldest, he is the most mature member and has the most experience with music (his father was the bassist of a jazz band.) He has no problem with staying in the background, but will speak up if he feels he needs to. His play style is based off Michael "Flea" Balzary of The Red Hot Chili Peppers fame. He also has bleach blonde hair and doesn't wear a shirt on stage.
  • Tsunemi Chiba: The lead vocalist of BECK. His rougher vocals suit the band's faster songs, but he raps for the majority of the songs. His brash and hot-blooded nature usually gets him in trouble, but he's just passionate about what he does. In his spare time he participates in rap battles, and apparently he knows some martial arts. His look and rapping style is a shout out to Zack De La Rocha of Rage Against the Machine.
  • Yuuji "Saku" Sakurai: The drummer of BECK, and a transfer student. He quickly befriends Koyuki through the music of The Dying Breed. Not one to conform, he is unafraid to speak to Koyuki after a school-wide silence is imposed on him. He is surprisingly talented, and the moment the band hears him play, they recruit him.

Not to be confused with the alternative rock musician of the same name, nor with the Swedish movie and TV series.

BECK contains examples of:

  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game: Ryuusuke likes making impossible bets involving Beck, and somehow he seems to expect his band to win. It might have to do with him believing that his band can win crowds over with their soulful and skillful performances, and not management touch-ups. The others still always call him out on it anyway.
  • The Ace: Downplayed with Koiyuki. He's considered by those around him to be naturally gifted at singing, but his guitar skills are considered mediocre at the start of the story. The latter continues to grow with the more he practices.
  • Anime Theme Song: The Beat Crusaders performed the song "Hit in the USA" as the theme. This band tended to sing mainly in English and were influenced by the United States heavily. On a side note, they also performed "Tonight Tonight Tonight", the fourth opening theme for Bleach.
  • Aroused by Their Voice: Koiyuki's singing voice is considered this In-Universe; it was what initially got Beck noticed and Koiyuki finds himself developing fangirls amongst his classmates after a performance at the Cultural Festival.
  • Art Shift: The characters are much more detailed in the manga than in the anime - especially noticeable when they are seen on profile (Sakuishi has a rather unique way of drawing noses, and likes to push his characters' expressions).
  • Author Appeal: Creator Harold Sakuishi is a very big fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so it's no surprise that Taira is pretty much modeled after RHCP bassist Flea and that Ryuusuke always wears a Red Hot Chili Ppers shirt.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Chiba's a loud, passionate goofball, and his temper is largely played for laughs. He's also hands down the toughest fighter in the band, and kicks ass on behalf of his friends more than once.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Ryuusuke has a bad habit of making impossible bets. Later in the manga, at Avalon Fest, he wagers that BECK will get the most viewers, everyone else goes out of their way to help. Matt Reed flies Koyuki in with his helicopter when it seems like Koyuki will be late for the show, and colleague band Room 13 tells people to go to their performance. Even Hype's singer Dexter Adams tells his fans to head to the show. Even the festival's organizer, Jodie Riley, helps out by opening up the gates and let anyone into the stage, even those without passes (since they would end up rioting to get in anyway). Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work out.
  • The Big Guy: Chiba is loud, proud and a little dense, but the most loyal friend you could ask for. Beck is a non-action series, but whenever there is a fight to be had, you can be sure Chiba is in the middle of it or on his way.
  • Bland-Name Product: The characters' shirts often have Band names usually with one letter swapped, like The Pixis, The Rammones, and Tho Who, and Samsang in place of Samsung. Episode 5 features a bottle of Dack Janiels.
  • Burger Fool: Hiromi used to work at a donut joint when Koyuki met her. She was fired for making a mistake (which is never described or brought up again).
  • Butter Face: Mr. Saito, who looks like a below average middle-aged man is surprisingly ripped underneath his clothes.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Chiba has No Indoor Voice and a temperament to match, and is the band's de facto muscle when trouble arrises.
  • The Cameo: Almost every chapter has a cameo somewhere in the background, some of them such as other manga characters in the crowd are fairly hard to see, while a few are more obvious, like Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipović walking on the beach in his ring attire.
  • Can't Catch Up: Ryuusuke is later revealed to feel this way towards Eddie, fearing that he is quickly left behind and forgotten by his old friend as despite their childhood promise of playing in the same stage one day, Eddie's successes is still far and away eclipses Ryuusuke's own. In fact, Ryuusuke's last words to Eddie is lashing out and accusing him of having forgotten their childhood promise, something that he regretted deeply later.
  • Celebrity Lie: Subverted. Ryuusuke's claim to be an old friend of Dying Breed guitarist Eddie Lee is largely believed to be a lie, but is in fact true.
  • Central Theme: Success doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, effort and even some major risks to make your dreams come true, and everybody has to start somewhere.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • One of Koyuki's coworkers finds a banged-up SG while collecting garbage. As it reminds him of his past before becoming a Corrupt Corporate Executive, Ran takes it in exchange for no longer getting in Beck's way.
    • "Devil's Way," Eddie Lee's unreleased song. From playing it privately to Koyuki over the phone, it becomes an important plot point late in the manga.
    • Remember that fabled helicopter of Matt's that was offhandedly referred to in an earlier chapter? The one that Ryuusuke said was just gossip written for the tabloids? Well, it exists. And it shows up just in time for a Big Damn Heroes moment.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
    • The English dub.
    • All of Chinese Bookie's songs after Yuta left seem to consist entirely of random expletives shouted as loud as possible.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Chiba is often the Butt-Monkey of the band, and his bravado is usually Played for Laughs, but when push comes to shove Chiba is a phenomenal fighter. In the manga and anime he easily defeats Tanaka's much larger bully, an experienced street fighter in his own right, and in the movie he singlehandedly wipes out an entire gang of delinquents with no trouble.
  • Egocentric Team Naming: When the main characters are trying to come up with a name for their band, lead guitarist Ryuusuke spends a moment on the floor writing ideas. When he's finished, he holds it up proudly, and every suggestion contains his name, like "The Ryuusuke Experience" and so on. Of course, no one was impressed, though the fangirls that hang around them were amused.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Subverted. Koyuki attempts to change his hairstyle to something wilder when he enters high school, but since it's such a bother to style it every day, he quickly drops it and goes back to his usual 'do.
  • Eyes Always Shut: Saku doesn't open his eyes. Lampshaded when he justifies not showing his driver's license to Koyuki: he says the photo didn't come out well because he had to open his eyes. But since said photo is never seen, the trope's still in effect.
  • Face of a Thug: Taketoki Kanemoto, the frontman of Shiboyugi, may look like a cross between Scary Black Man and Yakuza, but he's an overall nice guy (just like the rest of his band, in fact) and close buddies with Chiba.
  • Fanservice: Maho definitely has her moments, usually for Koyuki (her Sexy Shirt Switch after the first time she sleeps over with him is one example). Also, Taira for the male side.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band; Well, no. "BECK" gets settled on because all other options Ryuusuke and Chiba can come up with suck worse. By the time they make their international debut, their first agent comes up with the name "Mongolian Chop Squad". It's used whenever they're outside Japan, usually abbreviated to MCS.
  • Gratuitous English: Koyuki sings in English without knowing the language. To be fair, he's not that bad with getting it right, it's only his accent that's too thick (for example, his "gently" in "Moon in the Water" sounds like "gentry").
  • I Know Karate: It's mentioned that Chiba is a martial artist, though for most of the series it's an Informed Attribute we only see when he harasses his friends with kicks and pro wrestling moves. His skills are finally put on display when he uses Karate to rescue Koyuki from a recurring villain and periodically trounces schoolyard bullies. It's even more impressive in the live action movie, when he knocks around a large gang at the skatepark. Most of the fight happens off-screen, but the bullies limp away frantically as Chiba triumphantly cheers, so it can be inferred he's just as tough as he claims to be.
  • Jerkass: Quite a few characters in the series are jerks.
    • Kevin in the manga. He does everything to push the members of BECK (rather, MCS) around while they are touring the USA as the opening act for F.V.E. (the band for which he and his brother, David, who is sympathetic towards the guys, play) just for the hell of it. But then again, he justifies this by the fact that MCS's performances in USA are subpar (which they had been, until Ryusuke rejoined them in Seattle). From what David tells Ryusuke later on, this may be simply prejudice since Kevin had a Japanese girlfriend in high school, but she cheated on him.
    • Heck, any prominent character under Ran's wing (including Ran himself) is one of these. Eiji seems to enjoy looking down on BECK as a whole, while Yoshito outright hates Koyuki just because of Maho. As for Ran, well...
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ryuusuke may be a jerk, but he has a nice personality under it all.
  • Language Barrier: A rare serious example, Koyuki's utter failure to understand a word of English despite singing in it when he runs into some of Maho's American friends, who callously make fun of him to his face, and he has no idea.
  • Large Ham: Saitou, Koyuki's swimming teacher-slash-guitar teacher-slash-employer. The man is just about as hammy as a middle-aged Japanese man can get, or even more.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: For a series which features real musicians and instrument brands, it's surprising, but there are some, like Music Vibe instead of MTV.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: Subverted after Ryuusuke hears the members of Beck joke about how much Koyuki and Maho spend time together. His response is to pull Koyuki to the side and give him a condom.
  • Never Learned to Read: Maho can't read kanji, making her almost completely illiterate. She grew up in America and can read English just fine, but she's lost when it comes to written Japanese.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
  • One-Steve Limit:
    • BECK is known as Mongolian Chop Squad overseas because there's already an American group called Beck.
    • Yukio is called "Koyuki" because in one of the classes he and Izumi had together, there was another Yukio Tanaka; as the smaller one, he was called "Little (ko) Yuki."
  • Pac Man Fever: At one point, Taira's racing game appears exactly the same when he's playing it as when he isn't.
  • Progressive Instrumentation: At the climax of the Greatful Sound 5 arc (and the anime), everyone but Koyuki has given up, so he is left on his own on stage, and begins to play without the rest of the band. Inspired, one by one the rest of the band joins in, building on the song this way. The song in the original Japanese audio was The Beatles' "I Got A Feeling," but the export soundtracks (including the Japanese tracks) change the lyrics.
  • Re-Release Soundtrack: A cover of The Beatles' "I've Got a Feeling" features in the climax of the anime. The home distribution version keeps the backing tracks the same, but the lyrics change to something completely different. The English track changes it even further, integrating lyrics from "50-Cent Wisdom" (a Dying Breed song in the show).
  • Running Gag: Koyuki realizes he doesn't speak English every single time someone around him speaks it. ("I-can't-engurishu!")
  • Rushed Inverted Reading: Koyuki and Maho were spending time together, thinking they were alone in the fishing hole. Cue Chiba and Taira's arrival. They then quickly clothed themselves while all sweaty along with forced expressions (Koyuki is reading a book upside down and Maho is wearing her shirt inside out.) Hilarity Ensues.
  • School Festival: Koyuki gets roped into helping organise a choir for one and performs with his guitar at another.
  • Sensei-chan: A Deconstructed Trope with Momoko. Because she is young and attractive she gives off this vibe, but because of it none of the students or faculty actually respect her as an authority figure. This, combined with the rumors about her, ends up getting so bad that she is forced to leave her job.
  • Shirtless Scene: Also Tetsuo, the vocalist of Room 13, who always takes the stage wearing only his underwear (or a Speedo, whatever's more probable).
  • Shoot the Dog: Victor Slater kills Keith to try and intimidate Leon Sykes.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Several in the manga: many of the opening illustrations of the chapters allude to album covers, single covers and even screenshots from music videos. Movie posters are referenced as well.
    • The scene where Koyuki plays a DyBre song over the school PA system, later alluding to The Shawshank Redemption to explain himself to his teacher.
    • Chiba's afro is a Shout-Out to Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha. The two have a number of similarities, from the way they look to the rapping used in their songs.
    • Taira is one to Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, from the playing style to the bleached hair. Pretty much expected since Sakuishi is apparently a big Red Hot Chili Peppers fan.
    • The name BECK is more than likely an obvious reference to the musician of the same name. Considering the naming conventions for pets in the series, such as the cockatoo Page and the other dog Keith, it's also more likely BECK's named after Jeff Beck from The Yardbirds. This becomes unfortunate when Funimation was (eventually) forced to rename their release of the anime, allegedly because the real Beck complained.
    • The rail platform where Maho and Koyuki have their reunion happens to be the exact same platform in Dartford where Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had their famous reunion in 1961, a meeting that eventually led to the formation of The Rolling Stones.
    • Also, aside from rock, another of Sakuishi's great passions is soccer. That can be seen by the soccer player names scattered about in the backgrounds, especially in the late chapters (for example, there's a bookstore named after Spanish midfielder Cesc Fàbregas, and one of the new opening acts at the underground club where BECK started off is named Aguero, after Argentine forward Sergio Agüero). There are even cameos for Ronaldinho (at the Avalon Fest, twice) and Lionel Messi (just before Greatful Sound 9).
    • A strange shout out is the cover illustration of the English EP of the band, which consist of a baseball bat in the bottom of a well, as described in Haruki Murakami's novel The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: The manga features this despite not having combat as the main focus. Koyuki went from tumbling against middle school bullies to a big name Japanese Producer, to a big name American Producer with gangster ties, and then a big name English Producer who operates more like The Mafia.
  • Start My Own: Both Ryuusuke and Eiji, disbanding Serial Mama and starting BECK and Belle Ame, respectively.
  • Stout Strength: Saitou, despite his gut, is an incredibly adept swimmer (which is a sport that requires a good amount of physical power).
  • Sunglasses at Night: Dying Breed's frontman Matt Reed is almost never seen without his shades.
  • Supporting Leader: Although Ryuusuke started the band, Taira is involved in all of the important decisions made for the band, especially whenever Ryuusuke goes AWOL.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Saku fearlessly stands up to the school bullies... and is quickly pulverized. To be fair, he didn't expect to win- he just couldn't live with himself if he let them walk all over him.
  • Tomboyish Name: Kazuo Sato, the manager and co-idealizer of Greatful Sound, and the one who helps BECK get their big break to stardom, is a woman.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Maho explains that before he started training in Karate, Chiba was timid and a constant victim of bullying. Now he's a brash delinquent with fighting skills to back it up.
  • True Companions: No matter what hardships they come through, BECK will always come together when it really matters.
  • Wrestler in All of Us: It's not rare for the male characters to pull off wrestling moves when they're pissed - in a magazine spot, it was even claimed Chiba was a Mongolian wrestler before joining the band!

Alternative Title(s): Beck, BECK Mongolian Chop Squad