Trying to make music the main theme in a manga is a very tricky undertaking. The mangaka is trying to get the reader to utilize one of the 2 senses that you don't use when you're reading; hearing. Yet Sakuishi is able to portray the feeling that music gives you without having the reader hear a single note. He leaves is up to the reader to imagine how amazing Koyuki's voice actually is and he also leaves most of the lyrics out as well; which I actually really liked. Instead of being focused on the words that were being displayed, the reader could focus on the images that were playing out before them.
The problems that the boys have involving the band and the music industry are very well played and thought out. Sakuishi made himself a solid manga here and any music lover will love it.
In recent years, the manga industry has been putting out more and more Slice of Life manga and honestly, some of those manga just are not all that good. It takes a certain mangaka and a certain plot to make a Slice of Life manga actually appeal and connect with the reader. In my opinion, the only way Slice of Life can work outside of shōjo is to make the plot line something everybody can recognize but not actually have firsthand knowledge of. We can use the Japanese music industry, coast guard, and search and rescue teams as a very good examples of what kind of settings can create a good Slice of Life manga. Which is one of the big reasons why BECK was able to work so well.
The music industry is one of the biggest commercial industries. It affects almost every person on this planet either directly or indirectly, yet it is only insiders that actually understand and know what goes on behind the scenes. I found the industry that Sakuishi invisioned in the manga, be it real or not, very interesting and also a little funny. The relationship between bands and record labels was really entertaining and also a little eye opening. It made me wonder how much of it was true and how much of it was drama for the story line. Following the view points of the bands who just wanted to release good music was the revolving door of record label producers and presidents who were openly stating that music was just a business and it was all about making money. The constant struggling of the music industry and the new digital age is a strong image here and it came up right away for me while I was reading it.
This manga is able to really capture the shift in the music scene after the boy band boom in the late 90s and early 2000, when the Indy rock scene flourished in the US. Bands like Foo Fighters and Incubus were able to push through and deliver music that wasn't completely contrived from a producer. This movement was all about making music that was good and not music that would make them millions of dollars, though thats always a positive in any job. I think Dave Grohl stated it very well in his grammy acceptance speech the other week when he stated that what is starting to be lost in music is the non-perfect "human" element. Instead of making everything sound pitch perfect musicians needed to remember that the imperfections in music also make it what it is. Of course, he then went and performed with obviously computer engineered Deadmau5, but I understood what he was trying to get at and I was reminded of it time and time again while I was reading this manga.
Character-wise, I loved all of them for different reasons and I honestly could never really decide on a favorite among the band. Koyuki and Ryusuke are both pretty dynamic characters, but all the characters grew and developed throughout the manga, even side characters. Though Koyuki ended up turning in a slight "wonder boy" at the end, he wasn't completely the "main character" in my mind. Koyuki was a center point in the giant circle that encompassed the band, but he was not THE center point. His innocence and pure motivation for music is what impressed those around him. Chiba was just hilarious and he provided the perfect mix of comic relief and seriousness throughout the manga with the slight flashes of his serious side thrown out about his mother and brother. Saku is the perfect support member who follows but always works hard and puts in the effort and Taira the level-headed mediator. Ryusuke may have been the catalyst for the band in the beginning, but his role fell into place after the first tour the band went on.
One thing that I really enjoyed and appreciated about this manga was that Sakuishi was able to keep that "indy" vibe of the band to the other genres of music that he brought in. While his main focus was on the indy rock scene in Tokyo, he was also able to carry on that vibe with the other genres he brought into the mix. The main example of this is Chiba's MC battle. The setting is just like the other little live houses that BECK plays in and you get the feeling of "underground" from the whole thing, even though there are famous MCs that end up battling it out like in '8 Mile'. By keeping that vibe throughout the manga it makes it much more well rounded in my opinion.
Another subtle point I enjoyed about the manga was that with the exception of Maho and Ryusuke's family, no other family gets directly involved in the plot. Instead of cluttering the story with unnecessary drama, Sakuishi keeps the manga all about the band, their problems as a band and music in general. There was enough going on with just those issues alone without adding more problems on top of that. And lets be honest, what guy would really care about that part of the plot anyway? This manga, while easily able to appeal to both guys and girls, is obviously slanted to the male mindset.
I have yet to see the anime or the love action movie that were based off of this manga, but I have heard it on good authority that they were both done well for the changes between them. I'll have to watch the anime, if only to hear the music that the animation studio felt would go well with it.