"Black Heaven" and "Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad" are two anime series inspired by classic rock and the music business. Both have flaws and strengths, but in the end, I found Black Heaven to be much more enjoyable to watch. Since I'm making fun of Beck in this comic, I'll take the time to explain what I think about both these series. Here we go!
I'll begin with Black Heaven, which is the story of a middle-aged has-been rock star named Oji Tanaka. Oji was a member of the world's hottest rock band 20 years ago, but they disbanded after the death of a member, and he's become a regular family man. Just when he's at his lowest, a hot blonde space babe comes down to Earth to ask for his help; her people are in a space war, and the only thing that can power their weapons . . . is his music. Some scenes can be incredibly cheesy, for instance, there's a scene where someone is struggling to play an instrument, and it goes something like this: Girl: "Why?! Why can't I get this?" Guy: "It's not just about playing the notes right, you have to feel the music." Girl: "Oh, ok." > plays song perfectly. But despite the frequent cheese, Black Heaven is still a very well told and solid story with likable, relatable characters, and a simple, well executed story arc. The main character Oji is lovable as a middle aged guy trying to relive his glory days, and you really feel for him and his relationships as the series progresses. And the plot is good too: there's a clear conflict, with a clear arc and resolution, all told neatly and succinctly over 12 episodes. Sometimes it feels a little childish, but instead of making you lose respect for it, all it does is manage to touch that happy comfort zone in your brain and make you feel good. Every time someone said something cheesy, I found myself smiling a huge stupid grin in enjoyment, never once in exasperation. The place where Black Heaven suffers is with its music. Besides some awesome shredding solos, there are only two songs that they play throughout the entire series, over and over again. It's definitely not the kind of anime you'll be needing the soundtrack for.
Beck, on the other hand, suffered from exactly the opposite problems as Black Heaven. The 26 episode series follows an average boy named Koyuki as he slowly learns to play guitar, joins a rock band named Beck, and works his way towards fame with his fellow bandmates. The music in the show is AWESOME, and incredibly varied. The music Beck plays is like a combination of Rage Against The Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers, with a little Radiohead thrown in as well, and it always kicks ass. (The English dub has better vocals than the Japanese version.) In addition, the show is packed to the gills with rock references - there's a dog named after Jeff Beck, a bird named after Jimmy Page, a dream sequence involving anime versions of dead stars like Freddie Mercury and John Lennon, an homage to a famous rock band on every piece of clothing, and countless mentions of classic rock artists. And to top it off, the series very realistically portrays the struggles of a new band trying to find work in the music business. And this is where I make my transition from pros to cons.
The show is, as I said, very realistic. And by that I mean it's fucking BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNG. The pacing of the whole series is so goddamn slow, and there is no conflict driving the plot forward at all! The only drama involved in the series is personal relationship drama, with absolutely no overarching conflict or narrative outside the band's continual progression (which also goes really slowly). At one point, all the way in episode 18, it seems like there's finally going to be some conflict, but nope, that only lasts for one episode. And then the personal drama is not handled well, either. Koyuki's main romance plot constantly switches between different characters every couple of episodes, and it is totally frustrating and it ends with no real resolution. Whereas Black Heaven handled its story well, but was lacking in music, Beck brought the music in spades, and was equally lacking in satisfying plot. As a main character, Koyuki is mundane and he's not easy to relate to at all, because as a viewer you are never entirely sure of what he wants or his motives for doing anything. In Black Heaven, when a character acted stupid or was feeling frustrated, it made you feel frustrated FOR them - you were connected and felt sympathy. In Beck, when a character is acting stupid or feeling frustrated, it makes you frustrated AT them - because you don't understand why they're being so stupid. I was yelling at my screen while watching Beck, whereas I was giggling and cheering while watching Black Heaven. To sum up . . . Black Heaven: story cheesy and very enjoyable, only two songs. Beck: story boring, slow, and frustrating, music freaking awesome. Anime.