Friday, September 07, 2012


At a panel at this year's Comic-Con, Carlo Santos named I Am the Beatles as the never-licensed manga he'd most like to see published in the U.S.* I happen to have read the first volume and part of the second, so I thought I would write up my impressions. Note that this review is mostly from memory, so there may be inaccuracies.

The Fab Four are the top Beatles tribute band in Japan, and have been invited to compete for the Beatles tribute band world championship. Makoto, the band's "Paul," has even greater ambitions for the Fab Four: he dreams of the band writing its own "Beatles" songs and becoming the 21st century's Beatles. Before the world championship, though, Rei, the band's "John," stuns the rest of the band by announcing that he's quitting. While he and Makoto are fighting about this, Makoto and Shou, the band's "George," are mysteriously transported back to 1961, a year before the Beatles' recording debut.

Makoto and Shou have to make a living, but there's obviously no demand for a Beatles' tribute band in 1961. So Makoto comes up with the idea of recreating the Fab Four and playing Beatles songs, but presenting them as their own original songs, since nobody in Japan has heard them. In effect, they would become the Beatles, only Japanese. This might seem like a crappy thing to do to your idols, but Makoto has a justification, or at least a rationalization: when the Beatles discover that the songs they were going to write have already been written, they'll have to write new songs, thus doubling the number of Beatles songs in the world.

Despite this tantalizing premise, I quit reading partway through the second volume. Near the start of the series, the manager of a club for Beatles tribute bands remarks that the Fab Four are unusual in being young, since most Beatles tribute bands are middle-aged. And the primary audience for the series seems to be people like the members of those other tribute bands: nostalgiac middle-aged men who fantasize about being the Beatles. I like the Beatles, but I don't dream of being them. Nor am I excited by the thought of playing instruments exactly the same as the ones the early Beatles played, as Makoto and Shou are and as the reader is supposed to be. Still, the art is good and so is the writing so far, despite my reservations. If I have time, I might pick it up again one day.

The series, which finished recently, is ten volumes long, and is published by Koudansha in Japan in their Morning KC line. Here's the amazon.co.jp page of the first volume, and you can follow the links from there to find the others. As you'll see, the series has mixed reviews on amazon.co.jp, but some of the bad reviews are by Beatles fans outraged at what Makoto and Shou are doing to the Beatles. If I thought that the authors endorsed Makoto and Shou's actions, I'd agree with their criticisms, but I don't think so, based upon a spoiler for later volumes I happened to come across.

*In the article I've linked to, the title is translated as "We Are the Beatles," and elsewhere I've seen it translated both ways.

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