Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad by Harold Sakuishi (amazon)
Many teens go through a process where they start defining themselves through pop culture as they transition to having radically different tastes in music and clothing compared to what they used to enjoy a few years earlier. Someone might be able to build their teenage identity around the culture they’re introduced to in one mixtape.
Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad captures this transition through the way the main character Yukio Tanaka begins to change when he starts hanging out with a new group of friends.
Yukio is a shy 14 year old who finds his life extremely boring. He’s viewed as a non-entity at school and even though he does his best not to stand out, horribly embarassing incidents always seem to happen to him. Yukio feels compelled to speak out when he sees some kids beating up a strange looking dog, who looks like he’s been stitched together out of different types of different types of skin like a doggie Frankenstein. The dog’s owner shows up – he’s Ryusuke Minami, a guitar player who has recently returned from America. The dog’s name is Beck.
As Yukio’s circle of friends widens, he begins to see that his old taste in music (anime songs and pop music from Okinawa) isn’t cool enough. Izumi, a girl Yukio knew in grade school, starts talking to him again and they both start hanging out with Ryusuke. Will Ryusuke be able to put together the ultimate rock band? I have a feeling Yukio’s horrible taste in music might have helped his singing voice. Will that help him become cool?
In some ways, the first volume of Beck is mostly set-up, and I’m curious to see how the band gets put together in later volumes. The story isn’t filler though, because Sakuishi is great at portraying the woes of teenage social life and shifting friendships. Plenty of manga tell stories about teens who need to work hard to become the best tennis player, bread baker, ninja master, ballet dancer, or guitar player. I think Beck stands apart from the genre a little bit because it is so interesting to see Yukio’s reactions to the new world he is introduced to through music.