Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 31st 2009
Detroit Metal City
Soichi Negishi is a mild-mannered hipster who's into indie pop and trendy fashions—except when he's moonlighting as Johannes Krauser II, frontman for the death metal band Detroit Metal City. As a makeup-wearing, guitar-thrashing rock icon, Negishi finds himself having to deal with freaks like the ornery daughter of metal legend Jack Ill Dark, as well as horny groupies who only want him for what's between his legs. But as his normal self, he faces an entirely different set of problems: Negishi's college buddy has eclipsed him on the indie scene, and the girl he likes is still on good terms with her ex. To make matters even more stressful, Detroit Metal City has been signed up for a worldwide battle of the bands. Can DMC prove the might of Japanese metal to the rest of the world?
Has it happened at last? After several singles, an album, a music video, and even a cameo appearance in a movie, has the culture-clash hilarity of Krauser's exploits worn out its novelty? Detroit Metal City has always been, at heart, a one-joke manga—"Ha ha! This guy is a total pussy in real life but his alter ego is a wacko death metal freak!"—and now comes the true test of the series' staying power. The latter half of Volume 3 presents a make-or-break moment for DMC, with its tournament arc diguised as a battle of the bands. Nothing eats up chapters like facing off against a parade of increasingly powerful opponents, but it's going to be a long, boring slog unless Krauser and friends find a way to keep the laughs coming.
The problem is, the laughs already started slowing down a while back. The early chapters in this volume are a hit-and-miss affair, with much of the humor recycled from earlier in the series—oh, here's the bit where DMC's fans take something way too seriously (the supposed feud between Krauser and his drummer), and here's where Negishi tries to be all hipster-like but accidentally goes into Krauser mode (when his college buddy turns out to be an indie-pop sensation), and here's where Negishi gets caught between his true self and his metal persona (this time because he's trying to take care of a stray dog). Granted, there are still some genuinely funny bits here and there—Krauser explaining why eating sushi is totally metal (it's raw flesh, of course!), and a detailed scientific rundown of how Krauser can "rape" carbon dioxide into Krauser dioxide—but these moments are getting harder and harder to come by.
Then begins the battle of the bands. It's still too early to say whether this story arc is taking things in the right direction, but with all the new challengers showing up, at least there are fresh opportunities for comedy: the "masochist pig race," between DMC and a French metal band, is one of the classic examples of absurd gross-out humor that only this series can pull off. And when Krauser gets stuck waiting in the Port-a-Potty line, we discover that his bandmates can also hold their own as entertainers on stage. However, there are still some dull stretches in these chapters, like the whole "stuck in a pit" episode, which offers none of the offensive culture-clash humor that makes this series what it is. If Detroit Metal City is to continue being funny, it needs to stay away from generic situations that could be found in any other comedy.
For all its ups and downs in humor and story content, however, the series' most obvious weakness—the artwork—actually turns out to be a strength at times. It's true that Kiminori Wakasugi can barely draw to save his life, and that his characters are devoid of any subtlety, but that unpolished visual quality is exactly what makes the over-the-top humor work. After all, this is death metal we're talking about, and what is metal if not a showcase for extreme displays of emotion? That's why the broad, caricatured style is so effective: Negishi's faces of utter shock, Krauser's predatory sneer, and the bizarre, often offensive imagery are all part of this satirical take on the genre. However, conveying humor is pretty much where the artistic effectiveness stops; fundamentals like light and shadow, decent backgrounds, and even staying consistent with the character designs are clearly an afterthought. The awkward visuals might make us laugh, but let's face it, they're hardly the selling point for the story.
The rough language and off-the-wall dialogue, on the other hand, is definitely one of the selling points. With all the references to genitalia, sex acts, violence, bodily mutilation, and general flouting of social norms, this is clearly not a manga for the weak-hearted—but those who understand the comical exaggeration of the dialogue will get a good laugh out of it. The no-holds-barred translation also proves that Japanese gutter slang translates to English gutter slang just fine, indulging in numerous F-bombs and phallic overtones. Sound effects don't fare so well in this edition, however, as the editorial policy of replacing all Japanese text with English translations results in a lot of stray letters ("What is this mysterious 'A' doing over here?") hovering over the artwork.
If Detroit Metal City could be likened to the career of a promising young rock star, then Volume 3 is the point where the initial thrill has worn off and it's time to see what kind of substance lies beneath the glam exterior. The fear, of course, is that there may not be any substance to be found—certainly not when each chapter seems to be recycling the same few jokes over and over. However, the battle of the bands in the volume's second half may be just the kick-start that the series needs: new characters, new situations, and new sources of inspiration for the raunchy and absurd humor that makes DMC what it is. Johannes Krauser II has already conquered the music business, his fickle fans, and even the original Prince of Darkness himself. Now we'll see if he can conquer a storyline slump and come back funnier—and crazier—than ever.
Overall : B-
Story : B
Art : C+
+ Continues to deliver moments of over-the-top humor and gleefully offensive banter that can't be found anywhere else.
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