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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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08/19/2005 Archived Entry: "Manga review: Beck, vol 1"

Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, Volume 1
by Harold Sakuishi
Published by TOKYOPOP

Review by Tom Good

I once asked a Russian friend whether it bothered him that Russians mainly appeared in American movies as the bad guys. "It doesn't bother me," he said. "In fact, I don't even think of those characters as Russians: they usually don't speak very good Russian, and I know we are not really like that." I remembered this while reading Beck, because the Americans in the story are either drunken bullies, obnoxious guys who sexually harass Japanese women on the streets, or rich, stuck-up students. The only friendly "Americans" are Ryusuke and his sister Maho, who are actually Japanese, but have just returned from living in New York.

So is this a case of America-bashing? Probably not. This story's fourteen-year old main character, Yukio "Koyuki" Tanaka, does feel threatened by the Americans around him. But then again, he finds almost everything around him threatening, including Ryusuke's dog Beck, who repeatedly bites him. Koyuki is a small, awkward, painfully shy kid. So the portrayal of Americans fits within a larger pattern of depicting his character and the kinds of experiences that have shaped him. Everything around him feels foreign and bad, so why not include actual foreigners?

Koyuki struggles for words around his beautiful schoolmate Izumi, but then she invites him to go bowling with her. He also admires Ryusuke's cool, tough-guy worldliness, and starts to hang around with him. When Ryusuke's rock band needs a new singer, it just might be Koyuki's big chance to come out of his shell.

As often happens with a first volume, this book mainly introduces the characters and prepares the way for the real story. It is a good setup, but with the world of rock music ahead to be explored, the best is probably still to come. And I still have no idea what "Mongolian Chop Squad" means, so maybe that will be explained, too. I will be looking forward to Volume 2.

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