because cool kids are boring


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So I’ve got a new manga title to follow. The series is called Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad.

To give you an idea of what I think of this series, I picked up volume 1 on Saturday from a local Borders (best source for manga around here). I usually buy series two volumes at a time, just a weird little quirk I have, but they didn’t have volume 2 and it was an impulse buy. I read the first volume on Sunday afternoon, while I was doing laundry. After I finished it, I hit* and tracked down which store had the second volume. With that info in hand, I ran out and picked up volumes 2, 3, and 4. They were read by the time I went to bed that night.

Today, at work, I tracked down the rest of the volumes (they’re up to volume 8) and made a detour on the way home to pick them up. Volume 5 has been read and now I’m debating reading volume 6 tonight or savoring it and only reading one volume a night for this week. That means I’ll be caught up by Thursday. Then Friday night I can get caught up on Dr. Who and Eureka, or may be watch the first volume of the Beck anime. Saturday I should be getting my copy of the new Harry Potter book which should hold me over for the rest of the weekend.

Unfortunately, the next volume of Beck doesn’t come out until Sept. I’ve never hated the release schedule of manga more. Why can’t they release series on a monthly basis? Or weekly? Or daily?

Yes, I know the answer to that question, but it still sucks.

In the mean time, I guess I do have a small pile of manga to read. And a bigger pile of graphic novels. And then there’s History of Western Philosophy and the zombie book that a guy at work lent me. None of them are Beck though.

Anyways. The story of Beck follows a 14 year old kid named Yukio Tanaka, Koyukio to his friends. Koyukio has lived a pretty dull existence up until this point. The verbiage for the series tries to paint him as a kid with horrible music tastes (his favorite artist is a b-grade idol singer). In my opinion though he’s just never heard music that’s touched him. He’s one of those folks who see music as a soundtrack for their life, instead of a part of it. (I’ve met folks who seem to think this way, but I still can’t wrap my brain around how they’re able to survive with such a mind set. How do you get through life if you can’t retreat into a pair of headphones now and then?)

Things change when he saves a weird looking dog from being tormented by two kids. The dog’s owner is a 16 year old ‘guitar god’ named Ryusuke Minami. The two become friends and Koyukio discovers what music can mean if you let it. In short, he begins the process of turning into a full on music geek. He learns to play guitar and ends up playing in Ryusuke’s band. There’s also some of the typical ‘coming of age’ kind of plot elements, but their handled really well.

There’s a blurb on the back of the fourth volume from Ain’t It Cool News, that reads as follows,

“If it was worth ranking manga by whether you’d want to hang out with it, Beck would be in position numero uno.”

I tend to agree with that sentiment. The characters are handled really well in the series. There’s a little bit of the over the top element that’s so common in manga that has a comedic element, but the general tone of the book keeps its slice of life vibe really well.

The strength of the book is in the subtitles though. If you’re anything resembling a record geek you’ve read Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. Nick is pretty savage in the book as he takes apart of the record geek subculture, but it works because there are to many nuances in the book for Nick not to be a record geek. (and truth, he’s not only a record geek, but he actually has released a book of his music writing) For someone like me, who has loved music his entire life, its easy to tell when a writer actually understands what that is like. Whether or not they are ‘one of us’ so to speak.

Well, its obvious from Beck that Harold Sakuishi is definitely the kind of person who would understand the meaning of my naming this blog Headphone Sacrament. Even if his favorite band is apparently the Chili Peppers (sorry, they were never more then a novelty for me).

For one there’s the moment when Koyukio discovers music. The girl he’s crushing on plays him a song by the fictional band Dying Breed. Her mini disk player dies during the song, but the little bit he hears is enough to change his world. The way the scene is handled just struck me as dead on. The use of decompression in the scene is what really sold it for me.

Speaking of which, there’s also a very interesting reoccurring visual trick in the series. Shortly after Koyukio starts playing guitar, we find out that he’s an amazing singer. Each time he sings though, the comic just shows a long view shot of him standing there with his mouth open and eyes closed. There are no lyrics or any kind of sound effects. Lyrics do pop up when he’s quietly singing to himself or, in one scene, when he’s a little off due to nerves, but when he nails it, there’s just that shot. The shot always seems to convey a sense that he’s not really there anymore. That he’s focused on the song and has become lost in it. If you’ve seen your fair share of live music, you know that look. And that connection just nails what the story is trying to get across.

There is more to the series as well. The story is pretty tight in execution. Its pure music geek fantasy, but handled in a way that keeps it grounded. The art is expressive and not overly cute. I’m not that well versed in manga, but it reminds me of GTO in how it handles its visual vocabulary, occasional exaggerations with a style that is typically more grounded.

The old rule of thumb that’s been used as to why manga has been more successful then comic books, both in Japan and in other countries, is that the subject matter is so diverse. No matter what you’re into, there is a manga for you. Beck is definitely the manga for me. As I said, its pure music geek fantasy told in a way that isn’t far off from the common fantasy that runs through all real music geek’s minds now and then. In fact, its so dead on, that it could only be coming from someone who’s day dreamed that same fantasy himself. If you’ve ever have had that fantasy yourself, I recommend giving it a read.

* if you’ve never checked out and do shop at Borders, I recommend giving it a look. You can not only find local shops, you can mark off which shops are local to you and then search their inventory. This way you can make sure that the book you’re looking for is in stock before heading over to the store. Or, if you’re like me and have a couple of stores near by, you can figure out which one has the book instead of driving all over. You can also search music and movies.

Written by Matt

July 16th, 2007 at 9:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized