At just age 14, Yukio “Koyuki” Tanaka felt as though his life was already over. He was just an ordinary kid, with no aspirations and no confidence to stand up for himself when bullied or taken advantage of.
Then came a strange dog named Beck and his owner, guitarist Ryusuke Minami, who got Koyuki interested in playing music himself, eventually gifting him his own guitar.
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These acts led to Koyuki becoming a talented guitarist and singer, playing in a band with Ryusuke and, finally, feeling like he has a direction in life. This is a story about amplifying confidence and the long, uphill climb it takes to get there, and how passion can be a major ingredient to finding direction.
This is Mongolian Chop Squad.
NOTE: Spoilers ahead for Mongolian Chop Squad.
The view from 14
Though we see him feeling like he’s at a dead end, Koyuki clearly has the potential to create a future for himself. This is made clear from the first episode, when we see he has confidence when he’s passionate about something. Specifically, when his childhood crush Izumi is being harassed, he tries to protect her.
This surprises him, and crashes through his normally timid personality, a fluke that becomes a regularity after his fateful meeting with Ryusuke. After saving the guitarist’s dog, Koyuki meets Ryusuke again when Izumi gets him interested in Western rock music, and she takes him to see Ryusuke’s band play.
The two become fast friends, hang out a ton, and Koyuki is gifted his first guitar. With something to focus on, Koyuki creeps out of his slump, now with something to strive toward. Or, at least, a chance to be as cool as Ryusuke.
His seed of confidence blooms from this focus and the discovery of a new passion, and Koyuki goes from a timid, bored kid to one who stands up for himself and never backs down.
Strum the guitar
Between getting his first guitar and diving deep into the world of Western rock music, the dominoes start to fall on how Mongolian Chop Squad presents Koyuki’s confidence. We then hit these beats throughout the series, including Ryusuke learning from his guitar teacher, Mr. Saitou; his relationship with Maho Minami; his joining of Ryusuke’s band, Beck; and the realization that he can sing.
With Mr. Saitou, Koyuki learns to play, and even gets his guitar fixed for the first time, along with his first chance to play in front of a crowd. Maho, Ryusuke’s younger sister, takes an interest in Koyuki, encouraging his singing talent and pushes him to be strong-willed as their romantic relationship blossoms.
Koyuki also meets Yuji “Saku” Sakurai, who befriends him even though he’s bullied for it. And in joining the band Beck, Koyuki endures, with the band’s journey adding even more to his passion and confidence.
Along the way, Koyuki gets to sing on stage with one of his favorite bands, Dying Breed, and is featured in their music documentary as a result. He releases an album, they get popular in America, and the venues get bigger until they play at the Greatful Sound Music Festival, all driving Koyuki’s character arc forward through his fervent passion for music, all thanks to a spark of self-confidence.
Koyuki’s confidence isn’t instant, which is one of the most realistic parts of Mongolian Chop Squad—he isn’t suddenly a different character. Sure, he’s something of a music prodigy, picking up guitar and vocals relatively fast, but that doesn’t instantly change who he is. It’s a slow burn, one that makes his character arc and the theme of confidence that much richer.
As Koyuki joins Beck and the band becomes more successful, you can see Koyuki gain this impressive foothold on himself. He attempts to join the guitar club at school, loses a bit of his timidness, and even acts out a little at school. But…he’s not suddenly fearless.
After an incident at school results in a broken guitar that didn’t belong to him, Koyuki is extorted by a school bully, who forces him to buy him lunch as a form of payment for keeping a secret: the guitar he broke actually belonged to an even meaner delinquent kid.
Koyuki puts up with the extortion and even sells some of Mr. Saitou’s magazines to pay for the guitar. Despite all this newfound confidence, he still bows his head to a bully, a slippery stepping stone in the series’ slow build. It makes his character arc more realistic.
Eventually, Koyuki learns that the “meaner delinquent kid” story is a lie, and he’s free from one of the last things keeping him down. And when they try to extort him again, he doesn’t just do what they ask. At this point, he’s not quite capable of standing up to them, but he doesn’t let them phase him. He’s growing.
This arc of confidence comes to a head at the aforementioned Greatful Sound Music Festival, when the band breaks up just before its performance on the third stage. No one seems capable of rising to the challenge—except Koyuki, who repays the band for all it’s done for him with one brave and confident final act.
When it comes time to perform, Koyuki strolls on stage with an acoustic guitar and begins singing, something he wouldn’t have done in the past. And then, those dominoes keep falling, and Saku and Taira join in on the set, inspired by his confidence. Ryusuke and Chiba join as well, and Koyoki delivers back the confidence gained from Beck right back into the band.
Together, they gain the confidence to reunite, both in this moment of performance and then permanently, closing Koyuki’s arc. Once a shy, timid kid, he’s now a rock star on the path to greatness, instilling into others what he needed himself. It reminds us that passions can be empowering; sometimes it just takes a little confidence from others, and, eventually, in yourself.