Beck opens with 14-year-old Yukio Tanaka complaining about how boring his life is. But the manga is never boring, and Yukio quickly finds his life changing.
He has a number of things going on with him that teenagers can relate to, including getting a crush and feeling like a loser. But Yukio also has a heart of gold, even if he sometimes has foot-in-mouth syndrome. After getting beaten up by bullies when he swooped in to help an old woman, Yukio notices a dog being attacked by kids. He comes to the rescue, never mind what might happen. The dog is thankfully okay, but it sure is weird-looking. It reminds him of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack. Westerners might relate it to Frankenstein’s Monster from all the stitches.
It turns out the dog is named Beck, after the singer, and he belongs to 16-year-old Ryusuke. Ryusuke is super cool and basically the opposite of Yukio in every way. But thanks to saving the dog, the two start hanging out. Yukio learns that Ryusuke has lived in America and was part of a successful band there.
Yukio is ultimately going to join a band with Ryusuke, but the first volume just sets up the situation and the characters. Sometimes setting things up can be boring. Not in Beck. Beck remains fast paced and amusing, with each character standing on their own. Pretty soon Yukio meets Ryusuke’s little sister, who is also super cool and way beyond him. There are many references to singers and bands, and while a few are Japanese, more often the references are nods toward Western crooners and jammers. All these references can make it extra fun for fans of music, but you don’t have to be musically minded to enjoy this series.
The manga was previously published in America by TOKYOPOP, though the entirety of the series was never released. Now the whole series is being made available digitally, all 34 volumes. As of now, there are no plans for a print release, alas. Though it started more than 20 years ago, the storytelling and characterizations keep Beck fresh and fun. It breaks the fourth wall a little bit in its self-awareness, but it works. It has also spun off into a popular anime, available through Funimation.
Story & Art: Harold Sakuishi
Danica Davidson, along with Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya, is the author of Manga Art for Intermediates. In addition to showing how to draw manga character types in detail, the book describes how professional Japanese manga creators work, including common techniques and what drawing utensils they use.