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Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
The evil-core death metal band Detroit Metal City and its lead vocalist and guitar player Krauser II are the latest sensation to rock Japan's music scene. And as their popularity has grown, legends have sprung up around the man that is Krauser II—he's a serial rapist, he killed both of his parents, etc. Little does anybody suspect that Krauser II is actually the 23 year old Soichi Negishi, a timid farm boy from rural Japan who loves Swedish pop and nurtures a sickeningly sentimental, romantic streak. Even worse? The girl that Soichi likes cannot abide Detroit Metal City, and if he hopes to keep her friendship—and maybe see their relationship develop into something more—he is going to have to keep his day (or is that night?) job a secret from her.
The first two pages of the first volume of Detroit Metal City are among the best that this reviewer has seen in a long, long time. With elegant—and hilarious—economy, they set both the tone and the stage for everything to come. On the first page, you see a freaky metal vocalist with the Chinese character for “kill” on his forehead onstage wailing away to a packed, adoring audience that he is going to have ahem non-consensual sexual intercourse with both of your parents. Then, on the next page, a total one-eighty: a close up of a shocked, sunken-cheeked young man sans makeup…except for that “kill” left on his forehead.
And those two pages pretty much sum up this delightful yet irreverent send up of performative masculinity by Kiminori Wakasugi. All of the chapters in the first volume are essentially vignettes, various days in the life of Soichi Negishi a.k.a. Krauser II as he tries to reconcile the path that his professional career has taken him with his own innate creative proclivities. He also spends quite a lot of time trying to hide Detroit Metal City from Yuri Aikawa, his secret crush from his school days. She does not like metal, and Soichi is consistently humiliated by the misogynistic and abusive lyrics he finds himself singing in front of her—to absolutely hilarious effect. Other highlights of the first volume involve Soichi's visit back home with his parents and siblings and a metal battle with a veteran American luminary of the field. Each scene is more patently and deliberately ridiculous than the last, and you will not be able to remember the last time the “f-word” (repeated over and over and over again) in a seinen manga made you laugh so hard.
In isolation, there really is not much about Detroit Metal City that is all that original. Simpering shounen manga protagonists are a dime a dozen, and pop idol alter egos are one of the clichéd tropes of shoujo manga and anime. Yet it is rare to see these two tropes combined. Especially when the ostensible subject is so-called evil-core death metal. You really have to admire Wakasugi for his simultaneous devotion to the style and good-humored acknowledgment of its fundamental artificiality and campiness. It's a credit to him that he uses the codes of the manga medium so effectively. Actually, in his own bizarre way, one might argue that Soichi is a magical boy. Or maybe even a magical girl…you get the feeling his character might be a shoujo fan (in addition to the passion for Swedish pop, of course), ha ha.
The artwork is, admittedly, a bit of an acquired taste. Oddly, its heavily screentoned, thick-lined style does bear a certain similar to Harold Sakuishi's Beck, which is also about a boy turned guitar playing rock star. Wakasugi, though, seems to struggle more with proportions and angles, and some of the layouts to be found in this volume could definitely use a revision or two. But in the end, story always trumps art, and the art here is more than serviceable enough to convey the discord between the protagonist's public and private lives and sustain all of the visual—and often bawdy—gags.
Unfortunately, the first volume does not answer the one question that any even remotely critical reader of this review or the book itself will by dying to ask: How in the heck did Soichi end up in Detroit Metal City in the first place? We can presumably stay tuned for the answer—and the suspense alone will surely bring readers back for more of one of the best new manga series to debut so far this year.
Viz Media's release of Detroit Metal City, released as part of the Viz Signature line, has been printed in a larger than average trim size and includes a bonus sheet of removable DMC-related tattoos. It's not clear whether the publisher intended the inclusion of these removable tattoos as an ironic gesture or not, but there is a nice synchronicity between the Krauser II, who wipes off his greasepaint and becomes Soichi Negishi, and edgy-looking tattoos that come off with a dab or two of baby oil.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : B+
+ The author knows his subject well--and knows well enough to laugh loudest at it.
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