It has been said that music, like a good story, is a journey. Both narrative and composition have a beginning, middle and end, and are carried along by a mix of pacing, textures and contrast. I think it’s an apt comparison, especially with Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad.
To strum it out on my own allegoric guitar: Beck started with a slow yet confident overture, sampling the elements and characters within the show. It burst into full flow around volume three with a hook that exemplified all that Beck stands for. The pace remains constant throughout the intro and main section before changing tempo and tone in volume four when the middle-eight took centre stage and played out the Leo Sykes arc.
It is at this point we pick up the tale-to-music, as volume five resolves the Leo Sykes drama and brings us neatly to the final disk for the high crescendo outro as Beck plays its big number and struggles to make its break in the United States.
For those who have arrived late to the gig, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is the manga-inspired tale of budding musician Koyuki and his aspiration to make it big in a feisty, funky punk rock band. Beck follows this school lad’s musical highs and lows as his band, Beck, attempts to break into the music market of Japan and further find its footing in the money mausoleum of music, the United States of America. Along the way there is romance, homework and a variety of bullies. Welcome to the final volumes of Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad.
Volumes five and six resolve what has been a consistent if somewhat low-key series. While Beck has striven to capture the essence of the underground music scene, it has sacrificed some realism in an effort to reach a satisfying resolution. Depending on your drama-poison, this can be either a good thing or a bad one.
Volume four commenced the tonal shift as the Leo Sykes arc kicked into force, shifting those amp settings to an entirely different sound. In this arc, we have the powerful American Sykes traveling to Japan to locate his stolen guitar. Unfortunately for Beck, it was the band’s lead guitarist, Ryuusuke, who pilfered it. Sykes intends to find Ryuuske and make him pay the ultimate price. After the fairly pedestrian tales of will Koyoki find money to buy a new guitar?, or will Koyoki find some good lyrics for his song?, it is clear Beck has kicked in that distortion pedal for the final bash.
With Ryuusuke kidnapped and suffering at the hands of Sykes, volume 5 has a refreshingly different ambience, with a greater emphasis on tension and dramatic interplay. Here the production has a chance to explore a different approach, and it certainly works effectively. “Blues”, the first episode on Volume 5, is probably one of the strongest episodes of the series, though it’s hardly an example of what Beck has been about.
If the Leo Sykes drama plays out Beck’s middle-eight section, then the final Greatful Sound Festival is certainly the series’ big epic musical outro. Here we have Beck‘s crescendo as the story brings all its previous components and characters into one place for one final shindig. Here we have Koyuki’s musical and social anxieties being tested to the limit, a deadly power game being played between Beck and Leon Sykes, and the possible break-up of Beck itself as it starts to implode under its own internal politics. Beck‘s final installments look to cram in everything the series has stood for—and more.
Volume six is the base for the majority of this drama au festival, and despite its rather contrived layering of events and resolutions, it feels far more at home with the earlier installments of Beck than volume five does. Certainly the events at the Greatful Sound Festival stretch the show’s credibility, but they do so in an entertaining fashion. The show’s final episode, “America,” is more of an epilogue than a finale, bringing a gentle end to Beck that satisfies without bringing too much closure. The only real disappointment is how short and irrelevant the trip to America turns out to be. With the intro sequence for the show set entirely in the US, it is a pity the story has only one episode to explore this voyage overseas. I guess the point of the show was more about the journey than the destination.
The DVDs carry the usual FUNimation mix of textless songs and music videos—and it wouldn’t be cricket if I didn’t finish my reviews of Beck with a final call-out to the free guitar pick that comes with each DVD. Volume Six does have a further bonus, a fascinating commentary for “Third Stage” that explores the musical process behind the show’s melodic elements. Worth a listen, budding music dudes.
It’s been a simple yet enjoyable journey on the road with Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad. It’s not a series that I think will appeal to everyone, but it deals with a niche that has been respectfully handled and will certainly resonate with rockers young and old. If you are looking for a cosy yet honest ride into the highs and lows of a rock band, Beck is your gig.
So raise your lighter, scream loud and head-bang to the majesty of the power chord. Beck’s leaving the building—though I reckon they might just be worthy of one more encore.