Beck Vol. 1
The "rising star" genre is one that anime and manga fans alike should be very familiar with by now. There's Kaleido Star, Gravitation, Sensual Phrase, B.B. Explosion, Forbidden Dance, Hikaru no Go and Princess Nine, just to name a small sample of series that fit within this particular style of storytelling.
This kind of tale usually features a young protagonist with latent talent in a particular specialty. Typically, the lead character faces hardships, rivals and inner demons that must be dealt with before success will be granted to the person.
On the surface, Beck is nothing new or adventurous. Instead of a circus performer (Sora in Kaleido Star), street racer (Takumi in Initial D), songwriter (Aine in Sensual Phrase), or baseball player (the spunky Koharu from Princess Nine), we have Yukio Tanaka, affectionately known as Koyuki, the aspiring guitarist.
Actually, in the beginning, Koyuki is not really much of an aspiring anything. His closest friend enjoys playing arcade games and snapping covert pictures of the lovely upper-class ladies on the school swim team, but Koyuki isn't especially interested in either. In fact, there is not much in life that Koyuki does care about.
Then two people and a dog change his life forever.
The first is his childhood friend, as well as his sempai in school -– Izumi Ishiguro. However, time opened up a gap in their young relationship that was larger than the physical distance between the two when her family moved away for a few years.
Oddly enough, Koyuki owes a lot to his pervert of a friend, Tanabe. He was merely tagging along on one of Tanabe's reconnaissance missions for photos of the girls' swim team when he started to reminisce about one of their star members, his former friend Izumi. Rather than stare at the incredible gifts that puberty had granted her, Koyuki, as is his nature, turned his thoughts inward.
While he was on his introspective journey, he didn't realize that the two of them had been spotted and half-correctly labeled as peeping toms. He did notice, however, that Izumi recognized him as one of the perpetrators.
Later that day, Koyuki spent some time thinking about how his life had gone from uneventful and boring to just plain ruined. His former best friend, now a beautiful and talented woman, was once again aware of him. Sadly, he only appeared on her radar as a stalker. His current best friend... well, he was almost as much of a loser as Koyuki himself.
To add insult to injury, on the way home from his exploits with Tanabe, Koyuki is beaten up by a couple of thugs. Then the second and perhaps most important catalyst of change appears in Koyuki's life. Beck, a scrappy dog with a look not unlike that of Frankenstein's monster (or as true manga fans will realize, Osamu Tezuka's famous doctor, Black Jack) rounds a corner while being pursued by a bunch of little brats.
After running off the kids, Koyuki meets Beck's grateful owner –- Ryuusuke Minami. Koyuki doesn't know it at the time, but Ryuusuke is the key that will unlock the chains binding him to a monotonous life. Unfortunately, I fear if I were to explain any more of the story that I would spoil the fun of reading the first volume of Beck.
The book's artwork is very distinct. While Sakuishi has a talent for drawing attractive women, many of his illustrations lean more towards realism and less in the direction of the exaggerated style of your average manga. The visual focus is on the characters and their expressions, and Sakuishi manages to generate a lot of empathy for his creations by rendering their feelings clearly. Beck himself is an interesting homage to a classic. The patchwork pup certainly adds to the book's flavor, and he is worthy of having the series named after him.
Sound effects remain unscathed, with translations usually appearing in the white space between panels. Aside from an effects glossary, this is my favorite way to read a manga. There is awkward, over-the-top profanity in the book, but as it is present in the Japanese version of the anime series, I'm willing to believe that this is a relatively faithful adaptation.
I suppose that if you watch American movies enough, you can't help but assume that we curse with every other word. Also amusing is the suggestion that all people from New York carry guns, and they get into fights on a daily basis. Ryuusuke is a little too skinny to pull off a threatening act, but it's easy enough to suspend disbelief when such cultural inaccuracies occur. Lord knows that we mishandle plenty of Japanese cultural details.
The plot is not as easy to predict as I thought it would be, especially considering the feeling that things are going to keep on getting better for Koyuki. I can't exactly put my finger on in, but there is something magical and mystical about Harold Sakuishi's Beck, and I'm not just referring to the obvious Beatles references strewn throughout the series.
It has the heart of an against-all-odds fighter, symbolized in part by Beck, but by Koyuki as well. After all, although Beck might be composed of disparate parts, Koyuki doesn't quite have his act together at all. Will Ryuusuke and Izumi help him to find the motivation to live his life? Even after having seen the anime version of this series, I can't wait to find out what additional details reside within the manga edition.