A Musical Journey into Beck
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
It’s hard to describe why people enjoy music, whatever the genre it may be. Starting from our early years, we go through our lives, experiencing various styles, sounds and flavours in music. They could be introduced to you by your family members, friends, or that random radio station you tuned into. We wade through the sea of musical choices there are until we find that one song, that one line in the lyrics, and something just clicks inside one of the many switches we have in our brain. That feeling is very hard to capture. While many have tried to do so, very few have actually succeeded.
Beck is one such title that has succeeded, without even needing to use sound. Yes, Beck is a comic book. To be more accurate, it is a Japanese manga series published from late 1999, to 2008. The original series was later adapted into an animated television series, and also a video game and live-action movie. The series received such an avid fan following that they managed to release their own line of guitars as well.
Authored by Harold Sakuishi, Beck followed the story of a group of teenagers as they form a rock band and work towards fame and notoriety. We do this by following the life of Yukio Tanaka, nicknamed Koyuki. A 14 year-old youth who gets by in life with no major ambitions or goals in life. However, everything changes with a chance encounter, when he gets to meet guitar prodigy Minami Ryuuske, who inspires Koyuki to learn to play the guitar. From then on, Koyuki and the story undergo a number of storylines, and the reader gets to experience both Koyuki, and the newly formed band he joins named Beck grow and mature whilst pursuing a passion for music.
All about the journey
Comic books are often expected to share surreal, high-impact stories, full of fantastical elements and characters. However, this is not the case when it comes to Beck. The story is as grounded as can be. Koyuki is never portrayed as someone inherently talented in guitar. In fact, it takes him many months of dedicated practice before he is able to barely keep up with the rest of his bandmates. It is shown pretty early on that he is also a good vocalist, but his voice cracks under pressure sometimes, and can easily become overexcited. The same can be said for all the characters. Each and every one is grounded in reality, with just the right amount of eccentricity that is needed for a group to form a band and pursue music as a full-time career. Instead, the author and illustrator Sakuishi focuses purely on the journey. There is some drama to keep things exciting, but the main attraction of Beck is the opportunity to see the characters grow and make their dreams a reality.
The elephant in the room
You might be wondering, ‘how can you make a successful comic book about music?’ How is it possible to capture the energy and feel of a live performance onstage with only black-and-white print on paper? I don’t know how it is possible, but this is exactly what Sakuishi has managed to achieve with Beck. Reading through the panels of the comic, your eyes will be treated to crisp artwork, of both the performers and the audience, all portrayed purely through visual art. Remember, this is a story that was adapted into animation and live-action after its success. The animated adaptation is definitely amazing, and although doesn’t tell the full story, is still worth the watch to actually listen to the music. While doing so, my disbelief at the author-illustrator’s achievement only baffles me further.
If you were to pitch the story of Beck to a publisher, it would definitely be an uphill struggle for someone to believe that this would become a smash-hit, but it was. Early in its publication, in 2002 Beck won the prestigious Kodansha Manga Award and nearing its completion, the series had sold over 12 million copies in Japan alone, ignoring the English translated publications in the western world. If you are passionate about music, especially rock, then I highly recommend you give Beck a try, either on its original print-form or the animated adaptation. Of course, not everyone is a fan of rock music, but Beck is a comic book and show that is still worth your time. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your spark in between these chapters and episodes.